Upon pulling into Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, I was awestruck by acres of green grass and large enclosures for animals to run free. Rabbits, ducks, and even turkeys were happily spending their day basking in the sun, cared for by compassionate individuals. I found it hard to imagine that these animals ever lived any other way. However, I soon learned that each animal was once subject to unthinkable abuse by the food industry, left for dead but saved by dedicated animal advocates.

pasture, grass
Zoe Malin

Woodstock Farm Sanctuary was founded in 2004 by animal advocates Jenny Brown and her husband, Doug Abel. Their first location was located in Woodstock, NY and it grew with great speed; by 2014, just a decade after opening, the sanctuary was home to over 250 animals. Jenny and Doug decided they needed to expand and found a 150-acre property in High Falls, N.Y. The new location, which officially opened in 2015, allowed them to further their animal advocacy efforts and save an even larger number of animals.

duck, fowl, chicken, bird
Zoe Malin

One of the sanctuary’s goals is to educate individuals about abusive practices in animal agriculture and how they can help to end such practices. They advocate veganism, treating all animals with respect, and vow to create a space in which animals can seek refuge. Their mission statement states: “We rescue farmed animals and give them care and sanctuary, connect animals with people to advance veganism, and advocate for animal rights in alliance with other social justice movements.”

pasture, grass, straw, hay
Zoe Malin

Visitors are encouraged to spend a day at the sanctuary, which allows them to gain a first-hand understanding of the violence caused by the animal agriculture industry. They meet the animals, hear their stories, and develop a connection to them very quickly. The animals are friendly and loving, showing their appreciation for the compassionate people in their lives. If visitors are lucky, they will even get a kiss from a cow or have a turkey sit on their lap.

bird, grass, water
Zoe Malin

In addition to facilitating animal meet-and-greets, caregivers at the sanctuary educate the public about the exploitation animals are subject to in the food industry. They also inform them about legal action that needs to be taken to ensure the just treatment of animals around the world.

A bill very close to Woodstock Farm Sanctuary’s heart, in which the use of gestation crates was to be banned in New Jersey, was proposed in 2014. Gestation crates are often cited as “pig jail cells” by animal advocates because they are suffocatingly small and severely limit pregnant pigs mobility. Such crates are banned in Canada and nine states, yet Chris Christie vetoed the bill, causing uproar amongst animal advocates. The battle over outlawing these torture chambers continues, and by expressing their disdain for this practice, Woodstock Farm Sanctuary hopes others will do the same.

My #whywoodstock Experience 

I visited Woodstock Farm Sanctuary this summer, and after spending the day with the beautiful animals and their caregivers, I look at the food I consume in a completely different way. 

wine, tea, beer, water
Zoe Malin

The immense amount of knowledge I gained at the sanctuary opened my eyes to not only the importance of the type of food we eat but also where we get it from. I am now aware of the frightening fact that factories producing meat products where pigs and cows are raised in dirty, cramped environments are almost guaranteed to be guilty of inhumane animal treatment. Even scarier, by buying such products, the public is directly funding the abuse in animal agriculture.

Instead of grabbing the first package on the grocery store shelf, research companies who have a record of humane animal treatment and seek to purchase that company’s products. A bit time consuming and costly? Yes, however small acts such as this really can make a difference.

I also find myself reading labels on meat and dairy items with a critical eye and research key terms that are known to be red flags in the animal advocate community. Terms like “cage free,” for example, are often thought to mean cruelty-free; this is a common misconception that desperately needs to be corrected.

While cage free eggs come from chickens that are not kept in cramped, dirty crates, they are not always “allowed to roam free in green pastures or frolic in the sun,” as PETA states; farms that deem their eggs cage free may still employ inhumane practices.

Learning the definitions of terms that are thought to mean cruelty-free will make you a more informed buyer and consumer. In the process, you may even discover new foods that are vegan or vegetarian alternatives. I began experimenting with cashew cheese and tempeh, both of which are definitely growing on me!

Lastly, my experience at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary emphasized the way in which animals add to our lives and grant us unconditional acceptance and love. Despite humans once enacting horrific violence upon them, the animals at the sanctuary trust their caregivers without question. They appreciate visitors stroking their fur or sitting with them, and know that Woodstock Farm Sanctuary will always be their haven. Animals are loyal, lifelong companions who deserve nothing less than to live their lives with dignity and, of course, our endless respect.

Woodstock Farm Sanctuary has left a lasting impression on my mind and heart. I will forever think of the teachings it has gifted me with, especially in regards to what is on my plate and whether or not I can make a more humane decision.

cake, tea
Zoe Malin