Farm Sanctuary is special. While there are a number of animal welfare groups out there, some of which go beyond cats, dogs and wildlife to include farm animals, there are very few which devote themselves solely to the farm animals. Farm Sanctuary was founded in 1986 in response to the abuses of factory farming, and to encourage a new awareness and understanding about farm animals. Today, Farm Sanctuary is the nation’s largest and most effective farm animal rescue, protection and advocacy organization. Starting at the sanctuary in a rural region of New York State, they have now established sanctuaries in Northern California and in the Los Angeles area. While the work is hard, their attitude remains so positive and warm. Vegetarians of Washington is proud to be a sponsor of their upcoming event, Walk for Farm Animals, and we just couldn’t resist the opportunity to interview their founder, Gene Baur:
How did you first get interested in the plight of farm animals?
I first learned about the plight of farm animals in high school (in the late 1970s), when my grandmother told me about the cruel treatment of calves raised for veal. Over time, I learned more about animal cruelty, the environmental waste involved, and the inefficiency of animal farming, and I became vegan in 1985.
What moved you to found Farm Sanctuary and what kind of work do you do there?
I founded Farm Sanctuary because I was appalled by the widespread harm caused by factory farming. Citizens unwittingly support this abusive system, and they can play a huge rule in correcting the problem by becoming more educated and mindful, and by making food choices that better align with their values and interests.
At our shelters, Farm Sanctuary currently cares for about 1000 animals. We host farm events and conduct tours so that people can meet cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens, and other animals face-to-face, and to get to know them as living, feeling creatures. Through these encounters, they begin to see them as friends instead of food. We tell the animals’ stories, from their horrendous existences in factory farms to their healing and lives of peace and joy today at our sanctuaries. They are ambassadors for the billions of animals exploited by the food industry every year.
Tell us something about “Walk for Farm Animals”?
The Walk for Farm Animals comprises dozens of walk events in communities throughout North America. Citizens sign up to walk, and they reach out to their friends, family, and social networks to encourage people to support them. It’s a great way to introduce people to factory farming issues, to raise funds for Farm Sanctuary, and to get people thinking about the consequences of their food choices.
What are some of the things you wished people knew more about or understood better about farm animals?
I wish people thought more about the fact that farm animals, like all animals, have feelings and complex emotional lives. They are similar in that way to cats and dogs even though we treat them very differently. And I wish more people understood that we can live very well by eating only plant-based foods and no animal products.
Do you see progress, are you optimistic about the future?
Yes, I see progress, and I am optimistic about the future. I believe we are in the midst of a food movement whereby factory farming practices are being challenged and, in some instances, outlawed. Most importantly, there is a broader public discussion taking place about the need to reform our broken food system. Consumers are beginning to think about the profound consequences of their food choices on their own health, and about the well-being of other animals and the planet. Farmer’s markets with local produce are spreading across the country, and, for the first time, the number of animals raised and slaughtered in the United States has started to decrease.
Our thanks go out to all the wonderful people at the Sanctuary for their dedication and compassion, and we know the animals thank them too. The Seattle Walk for Farm Animals event is coming up on September 21st and we have donated a prize for their ever popular raffle. Learn more about this worthy and fun event, and register to participate.