A Visit To Poplar Springs Farm Animal Sanctuary
March 26, 2011

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OK, first up: responses to my guest post at JL Goes Vegan have been amazing! Truly amazing. If you haven’t read them yet, please check them out: some of the most fun, varied, and interesting commentary on vegan ethics I’ve read in a long while. If that post represents the ideological foundations of my vegan beliefs, I hope this post illustrates the real life experience that helps me to feel compassion.

One of  my major turning points as a vegan was my volunteer experience at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary a year and a half ago. The event was called Thanksliving—a fundraiser held two weeks before the holiday that many vegans associate with a celebration of lost life—and I’d simply agreed to go because a good friend was volunteering.

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I left the farm a changed woman, literally. My work with the animals that weekend was the start of transformation that continues to this day. Whereas I once thought of myself only as a “dietary vegan,” I now consider myself a vegan who remains vegan for compassion’s sake. Health will always be a driving factor in my lifestyle, but it’s no longer the driving factor, whereas animal life is. This morning, I made my second farm sanctuary trip, and found it equally moving. I’ve decided to sponsor a pig at Poplar Springs Farm Sanctuary outside of D.C., and today I went to meet him.

I arrived to rolling hills, wooden fences, and a tranquil mood. The sanctuary is situated in a scenic and secluded part of Maryland, but it’s easily accessible to city dwellers.

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What happens here at Poplar Springs? Well, this 400-acre, entirely non-profit farm is devoted to:

  • Offering care, rehabilitation, and permanent sanctuary for neglected, abandoned or unwanted farm animals.
  • Providing protected habitat for wildlife.
  • Furnishing information to the public regarding farm animal and wildlife issues.
  • Promoting compassion and humane treatment for all animals.

Many people have asked me in the past what farm sanctuaries do: typically, they provide rehabilitation and shelter to animals who have been rescued from factory farms, live kill markets, and domestic cruelty. The rescued animals are cared for, fed, and allowed to roam freely. Farm sanctuaries often play a part in animal rescue from natural disaster, too.

For this reason, many of the animals at farm sanctuaries live with injuries: as you can see, this sweet sheep is missing a leg, but still managing to feed and wander on her own:

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Confession: I have always loved pigs. Maybe it’s random, maybe it’s their sweet, lackadaisical manner, maybe it’s reading Charlotte’s Web: who knows. I love them. And they’re one of the most highly intelligent farm animals, too: their intelligence is often measured as equal to, if not higher than dogs’.

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It’s difficult to spend time with farm animals like these pigs and not see the terrible contradiction between our treatment of domestic pets versus our treatment of farm animals:

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They are smart, affectionate, peaceful, and social—with each other, and with us.

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See what I mean?

In the end, I set my sights on a slightly ornery and older pig:

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Unlike some of the younger guys and gals, he seemed a little cranky, a little independent. But when Dave, the director of the sanctuary, explained his story, I was determined to help sponsor his care. Apparently this pig was chosen by a local farmer to be used in a pig roast. As the pig grew, he became so attached to his farmer that he would follow the farmer everywhere; the farmer couldn’t wrest the pig from his side. The farmer’s wife even named the pig Hamlet—whether because it’s a play on “ham,” or because the pig showed sensitivity and indecision in the face of grave family circumstances, I’m not sure Winking smile

The farmer was ultimately so moved by Hamlet’s loyalty that he decided he couldn’t use him for a roast, and donated him to Poplar Springs. They agreed to take Hamlet only on the condition that roasts of all sort would cease: the farmer said he probably could never do another one anyway—not after his experience with Hamlet—and agreed. I loved the dichotomy between Hamlet’s gruff demeanor and heart, which was so loyal that it managed to change the farmer’s intention. These are exactly the sort of stories that illustrate the depth of animals’ emotional lives, not to mention our own capacity to have our lives changed by their behaviors.

I hope that my small sponsorship can help to keep Hamlet and pigs like him safe from the trauma of their past experience.

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It’s often hard for new vegans who are curious about animal rights to put a face on the issue itself. Yes, we can all watch videos or look at calendar photos, but how to spark a true sense of compassion? How to awaken a real life appreciation of sentience?

Visiting a farm sanctuary is a great place to start. You’ll be enchanted, sure, but you’ll also leave with a sense of respect for animal life. Farm sanctuary volunteer work is a wonderful way to connect with likeminded thinkers, and visits are a great family activity, too. If you are moved by the experience, I highly suggest sponsoring a farm animal: it’s a very small fee, typically, and you know that, each month, you’re giving back to the animals who have suffered most profoundly at human hands.

I mean, just look at how happy sponsorship makes me:

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Click here for a list of all farm sanctuaries in the US, organized by state. See who’s near you, and see if you can’t help out for the day, or become a sponsor yourself. I promise you won’t regret it.

And now, bedtime calls. See you back here soon with some blooger meet-up recaps!

xo

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    43 Comments
  1. BEAUTIFUL photos! Wonderful post, Gena. Reading it practically made me squeal with delight. 😀 I love the story about Hamlet, though it makes my heart ache to think about the billions of other pigs who haven’t been so lucky to form a life-saving bond like that. (Wha wha whaaaa – Sorry to sound like Debbie Downer. ;)) Anyway, what an adorable, sweet boy.

    So crazy that your Thanksliving post was a year & a half ago! I remember reading it like it was just yesterday.

  2. Thank you so very much for shedding light on this issue. I live in a nearby state and thanks to your post I now know of this sanctuary and can offer my help. I also look forward to sponsoring one of these precious animals.

  3. My husband and I visited this exact sanctuary when we were in DC a little over a year ago. It was such an amazing experience! They hade two new piglets when we were there and they were so adorable!

  4. Feeling slightly teary. I love pigs too, and now I want to go to that farm and give all of them a big hug. Love what you are doing, and love the message you are spreading. Amazing.

  5. Thank you Gena for your wonderful post! It is inspiring to see your compassion in action and the directory so we can all do the same. I had no idea there was a list of animal sanctuaries and I am committed to bring the family to visit one and donate this spring. I also love pigs and want to adopt one too 🙂

    It is so helpful to have a pro-active way to support animals, instead of just the horrifying photos of typical pro-vegan information sources. Thank you for focusing on the positive and giving us the way to actually do something about it!

  6. That pig is adorable! Did you ever see the movie Babe? The sequel was awful, but the original made me fond of pigs. Fonder of pigs than geese at least– the last time I was at a farm, I was feeding a pig and got attacked by a jealous goose!

    I definitely agree on the bond one can get with animals, domestic or not. I’m not opposed to meat that has been raised in a legitimately good way (none of this happy dance organic feedlot stuff either)…but I totally get being unable to eat an animal you’ve grown close to. It’s why I can’t touch horse meat…I rode too many of them.

    It’s so lovely you’re living your ideals. I wish more people had the drive to do so.

  7. This is the cutest thing ever. Can I go visit your pig?

    Also, I checked out their website and for any MD runners they’re having a 5k soon. Just something to think about.

  8. Gena! I am slightly new to your blog and I love it! This is my favorite post so far! I want my kids (3 and 5 years old) to experience something like this and start to develop an awareness to the issues of the food industry and where all our food comes from. I don’t think it necessarily even takes a vegetarian or vegan to visit a plant/produce farm and then an animal farm/butcher, whatever it is called to develop a sensitivity to the source. We have gone from eating some sort of meat everyday, to once a week, to now only occassionally. Little do they know what my ultimate goal is! It is important for everyone to make decisions for themselves, for the right reasons; however, I am hoping to help inspire my family to feel sensitive to these animal rights issues. Thanks Gena for your awesome blog!

  9. What a beautiful story! Hamlet actually made me tear up a little bit.

    One summer when I was a young teen, I volunteered at a living museum set in the 1860s. I dressed up and played the part of a 19th century farm girl. There were four little piglets at the farm. Those little guys followed me EVERYWHERE! It became a running joke among the museum employees. The piglets used to be completely loose all day, but they had to start fencing them in (in a large, grassy field) when I left the farmhouse, since they’d follow me up the road to the schoolhouse. They’d all be lined up at the fence, waiting for me to come home at the end of school day. I loved those pigs, and they loved me. Sadly, there isn’t a happy ending to this story. Those pigs all became pork after a year. It breaks my heart to think about it, but it wasn’t a farm sanctuary. It was a reproduction of 19th century farming – which was a lot more humane than 21st centry farming!

    Anyone who tells me that farm animals aren’t as affectionate or as capable of emotions as companion animals obviously hasn’t spent much time with a pig.

  10. Awww, this post is so endearing! I love all of the pictures and the story of the piggy saved from the roast. That’s so sweet and I’m glad the previous owner changed his mind! I have heard that pigs have the intelligence of a 3-year old child, so I imagine being around them would really make that sink in.

    I’m not a vegan, but I love and respect animals. I hope to visit a sanctuary in upstate NY this spring. They’re so deserving of sponsorship!

  11. Hi Gena – Thanks so much for this post and for your post on JL Goes Vegan. You do a great job of explaining the need for compassion towards animals in a way that is life-affirming and not alienating, setting a good example for the rest of us. Great photos too. All the best.

  12. What a unique experience, Gena! I’ve always had a thing for pigs too; I beg for a piglet each year for my birthday (in jest) 😉 This video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iVcCaIw-gM) of a mini pig came to mind when you were describing the loyalty and emotional complexity of Hamlet. I think stumbling across silly things like that further convinced me that there is far more to animals than the majority of us grant them. I’m still sorting out the details of my ethics of eating, but this genre of posts is helpful and encouraging on my journey. Thanks!

  13. what a wonderful story – I wondered if you had seen the film “Babe” about the little pig – I knew someone who couldn’t eat bacon after this film

  14. This is such a beautiful and compassionate post, Gena! I’m so glad there are organizations that exist like this one to help out these animals. I’m sure that pig will be very happy to have you as his/her sponsor 🙂

  15. It’s official, I’m in love with Hamlet! That story killed me. Isn’t that what it often comes to? Shakes hands with that (or whom) you do not value and suddenly everything changes. Hamlet became the farmer’s pal — and he could not kill him. I’m going to check out your list — I have yet to visit Farm Sanctuary in NY — looks like it’s time for me to take things a step further.

    And I agree, the comments to your guest post are astounding. My head has been spinning all weekend!

    Averie — so sorry you cannot get into the comments section on my blog!

  16. I’ve visited Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary and found it to be a simply magical experience. I have companion animals of my own (dog, rabbits, chickens), which I love to pieces, but seeing these animals saved directly from the factory farm industry was really touching. I just attended a talk by Gene Baur yesterday and can not wait to make a trip up to Farm Sanctuary to see the turkey and duck I have already sponsored.

    Thanks for the link. Who knew my state is home to one of the largest waterfowl sanctuaries in the country? I lurve ducks 🙂

  17. What a truly fantastic, life-changing experience. I can imagine how much this confirmed your beliefs in your mind and allowed you to see up close and personal how you would be making an impact by being vegan. Thank you so much for sharing this story!

  18. Gena, such a wonderful post!

    It feels like YESTERDAY to me that I read your Thanksgiving/Sancuary post to me…and I think that was like 18 mos ago already…and this one reminded me of it.

    I love the pics of you with the pigs. Beyond adorable. You are grinning ear to ear and the joy on your face says it all.

    JL Goes Vegan…for the life of me, I cannot get into her comments. Her disqus commenting system does not load properly for me no matter what browser, computer restarting, cache clearing, etc tricks I do. So, I read your thought provoking post…I just couldnt comment 🙁

    Have a great Sunday!

  19. That is so wonderful! I have always said that the reason why I don’t eat meat is because animals are capable of so much more potential than a delicious meal. Hamlet totally proves that 🙂

  20. Oh Gena, this is such a beautiful, moving and heart warming post. You have inspired me to find a farm animal to sponsor also. I am going to find one this minute!
    Thank you lady! Xo

  21. Thank you so much for this post! IT was sooo so touching! I found some Texas (where I’m located) sanctuaries. They are far from my home but I will make sure to visit one soon! I’m kind of thinking of starting a vege club on my school campus and this would be a great weekend trip!

  22. Oh gosh, I can’t decide who looks happier – the pig in the first photo, or you with the other pig later on. So much joyfulness, it’s truly glad-heartening to see 🙂 I think I might go check out the current status of volunteer work at the RSPCA – I check back every few weeks but they haven’t been asking for anyone. One day I might get to help out!