My visit to Charlie's Acres 💚 What I learned from being with rescued farm animals and how farm animal sanctuaries change lives - animals and ours.
Many of us go about our daily lives and routines without giving much thought to how our food choices affect other living beings. We think nothing about gulping down a breakfast of eggs with a side of bacon or sausage, or grabbing a turkey sandwich for lunch or a deep dish cheese pizza for dinner. As consumers, it is relatively easy to disassociate a McNugget from a living, breathing chicken or a burger from a big-eyed, gentle cow. Most of us choose not to think about the reality of the foods we eat because the truth can be hard to stomach.
For years, we have been spoon fed images of happy cows freely grazing in bucolic fields of verdant grass. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Quite the contrary, most animals raised for meat, dairy, and eggs live unnatural, tortured lives. Cramped inside crowded, inadequate enclosures and warehouses, those who don't die from abuse end up in slaughterhouses. By choosing to ignore that reality, we are able to disconnect ourselves from the harsh truth of factory farming, the primary source of all meat and dairy products today. By closing our eyes to the horrors of the meat and dairy industry, billions of animals a year continue to suffer and die.
Farm animal sanctuaries and why they matter
In the mid-1980's, recognizing a need to raise awareness about the abuses of industrialized factory farming, Gene Baur and Lorri Houston created Farm Sanctuary, the first shelter for farm animals. Over the years, the farm animal sanctuary movement has grown. In the United States, there are over 100 farm animal sanctuaries and many more throughout the world. As interest in vegan and plant-based living has increased in recent years, consequently, so has the need for more farm animal sanctuaries.
What is a Farm Animal Sanctuary?
Farm Animal Sanctuaries provide lifetime care and safe haven for domestic farm animals who, by no fault of their own, suffer untold mistreatment and misery.
Most farm animal sanctuaries are not-for-profit organizations, providing support for rescued farm animals and educational programs for the public. Many of these sanctuaries offer on-site tours, allowing visitors to meet and learn about the animals rescued from abuse and slaughter. Interacting with the animals can be quite transformative - and a result - opens hearts and minds.
My visit to Charlie's Acres
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a farm animal sanctuary in Northern California. Charlie's Acres is a sprawling 32 acre ranch nestled between vibrant green vineyards in the rolling hills of Sonoma, California. Founded in 2016 by Tracy Vogt, Charlie's Acres is home to more than 120 animals rescued from the factory farm industry or other inhumane conditions.
Upon arrival to Charlie's Acres, visitors drive a short distance to an open, airy barn. On the day I visited, I was greeted by staff member Kaleigh Rhoads, and this very special little guy.
Johnny is one of the lucky ones.
Johnny is a baby goat born with disabilities which prevent him from walking or sitting up unassisted. His former owner, a commercial breeder, considered the young goat unprofitable. Fortunately for Johnny, he was rescued and brought to Charlie's Acres. He is a favorite among visitors and the dedicated volunteers who work with him daily. Using the assistance of a special harness, and now a wheelchair, Johnny is slowly gaining strength, mobility and independence. Witnessing Johnny's spirit and determination quite literally brought me to tears.
Update since original publication in November 2019: In addition to to his neurological and mobility issues, Johnny also suffered from a heart condition that sadly, ended his life at very young age. His memory will be carried in the hearts of his caregivers and the volunteers who loved him.
Kaleigh with Johnny (above) and Benjamin (below)
Real Happy Cows
Benjamin is a big, gentle, one year old male calf born to his mother Honey, a former dairy cow. After spending ten years in the dairy industry, Honey was spared from slaughter. For the first time, she has been allowed to keep and raise one of her calves. She rarely leaves Benjamin's side and displays much affection and attention to him. She loves tending to him and may continue nursing Benjamin for up to three years. Unlike most dairy cows and their calves, Honey and Benjamin, will remain together, safe and protected, in their new forever home.
During my visit to Charlie's Acres, I had the opportunity to produce two wonderful cooking videos with staff members Kaleigh and Ryan. As part of their mission to encourage plant-based alternatives to animal-based products, including egg and dairy, Kaleigh and Ryan showed me how to make the easiest and yummiest vegan butter and parmesan cheese.
Every animal has a story
Hombre and Martha are two of several turkeys rescued from slaughter. Despite the fact that they experienced abuse by human hands, these remarkably resilient and trusting animals enjoy the company of their caregivers. Martha, for example, loves being massaged under her wings. Hombre is happy to hang out close to people, and as a result, his influence has helped the other turkeys feel comfortable too. Best of all, these bright, friendly animals help people understand that turkeys deserve our respect and compassion.
Jade is one of two sweet cows rescued from a slaughterhouse. Upon arrival at Charlie's Acres, both cows ran, frolicking into their green pasture, as if celebrating their newfound freedom.
During my visit to Charlie's Acres, I learned not all the animals have adjusted to human contact. The strikingly handsome Brewster the rooster, for example, lives with psychological wounds. Raised as a pet, Brewster suffered serious injury inflicted on him by his previous owner, who didn't like his crowing. Brewster now distrusts humans. Thankfully, he needn't worry about being harmed by a human ever again.
There is so much I took with me from my visit to Charlie's Acres. I encourage you to spend a day at a farm animal sanctuary. If you're a city dweller like me, I can't think of a better reason to take a drive to the country! First of all, you can spend quality time with some very special animals who appreciate your company. Secondly, you will learn much from these remarkable beings about strength, forgiveness, and trust. Thirdly, and, most importantly, you may find yourself re-thinking your relationship with animals and the choices you make about the foods you eat and the products you consume. Thank you for being vegan.