Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Sanctuaries…a comparison

I’ve posted a few times about Peaceful Prairie, the farm sanctuary in Deer Trail, CO. That was the first sanctuary I’d ever visited, and it was exactly as I pictured a farm sanctuary would be. A simple farm, the bare necessities, the dedicated people running the show, giving all of their time and resources to save the beautiful animals. Chris and Michele. Michele knows all of their rescued residents by name, by personality, by bleat and cluck and moo. She knows what they need when they call to one another, knows what she can do for them, and what they need each other for. It is a community, it is a family.

Recently I had the opportunity to go to The Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY, about 35 miles outside Ithaca. It was a beautiful location. I didn’t feel like I was at a farm, though. The buildings were beautiful, everything was almost eeerily spotless. Not that things are messy at Peaceful Prairie, but they’re definitely lived in.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is awesome that The Farm Sanctuary is doing everything it does to bring awareness to people. I don’t know if they’re the first of their kind, but they’re definitely the first that most people hear about. But they not only have several brand new barns going up, replacing barns that looked perfectly servicable to me, but they have this huge gorgeous “people barn” with a gift shop. And some cabins that you can rent to stay the night at the farm.

I have such mixed feelings about this. I think about Chris and Michele busting their asses at Peaceful Prairie, Chris literally busting his back without a complaint. I think about the fact that they’re begging the community to raise $24k so they can get a tractor. A tractor. Not another tractor. Just one. The first one they will have ever had, if they can raise the money for it.

And thinking about that, remembering the few hours we spent raking up one small part of the farm, the blisters (from the rake) and bruises (from goosifer) I earned, how tired we were from a mere 2 hours of work one day, and how great a need Michele and Chris have for any help at all, the comparison seems cruel. Farm Sanctuary is clearly bringing in a lot of money for them to be able to spend money on what seem like supurfluous luxuries. At least compared to Peaceful Prairie.

I can’t help but to wonder how many more animals could be saved if the money had been spent on the animals instead of the people barn? Yet maybe Farm Sanctuary gets so much money because they have these special things, these extras? Many of us were upset, knowing that many people visit the Farm Sanctuary, treating it as a sort of petting zoo. I can see how that mistake would be made, to be honest. I never did see any sign of the people who founded the Sanctuary. I saw some people working, but I was only ever told the name of our tour guide. And that bothered me too, though it is more difficult to explain.

It was an odd experience overall. I can say unequivically that I prefer visiting Peaceful Prairie. Several people were deeply depressed by visiting the Farm Sanctuary, seeing it as a drop in the bucket. I think part of this feeling stems from the fact that the entire experience kept us so far removed from the animals. Yes we got to pet the cows and goats and pigs, we were told a bit about the personality of a few select animals, but overall…we were on a guided tour, guided by someone who has limited experience with the Sanctuary, and it felt very distant to me.

I contrast that to being at Peaceful Prarie, no gift shop to be found, but stories about Graebel fighting off four coyotes (not a typo!) and having to be pulled off the last coyote so it could get away…I hear about Sherman hiding from the slaughter truck, John Lee taking care of his flock, and Goosifer’s neurotic behavior. They are family. And they are my family now. In comparison, visiting the Farm Sanctuary was as personal as visiting a museum.

Harsh, I realize. Still, I think we all would agree that the “little guys” are generally overlooked, whatever we’re talking about. And so I urge you to support the “little guys”. I can pretty much guarantee they need the support more. Your money, time, and effort will mean more to places like Peaceful Prairie, and I’m positive there are many more like them out there, getting much less attention, and therefore much less of the desperately needed money, than they deserve. These are people putting it all on the line, dedicating everything they have to the animals. And you know, this is how Farm Sanctuary started too. I’m not denying what they’ve done, or that they’re busy saving animals, more animals in fact, than Peaceful Prairie. But right now…right now Chris is in almost constant back pain from the 20 years work he’s put in on the farm. He works 60 hours a week in Denver to earn the money that supports the farm and comes home to put in backbreaking labor. Well, I think it is clear where I stand. I’ll leave you to come to your own conclusions.


One response to “Sanctuaries…a comparison

  1. Farm Sanctuary September 6, 2006 at 3:29 pm

    Hello Deb!

    I hope this letter finds you well. I recently came upon your Invisible Voices blog, (“Sanctuaries…a comparison,” dated July 24, 2006), about your trip to Farm Sanctuary and comparisons to Peaceful Prairie, a sister-sanctuary that we have worked with and hold in high regard. I was concerned with the ideas and feelings you left with after visiting Farm Sanctuary, and thought this letter might serve as a way to let you know more about our history and why we now appear differently than Peaceful Prairie.

    Just like Peaceful Prairie and so many other farm animal sanctuaries around the United States, we actually started as a very small operation with no funds and little support. In fact our co-founder, Gene Bauston, who you mentioned you did not see on your trip, began rescuing downed animals right from stockyards over 20 years ago, and brought them back to his small house in Delaware. There was no land or money for a sanctuary then, and his drive was through pure love for the animals and a desire to give them a better world. A lot has happened in the past 20 years. Farm Sanctuary incorporated in 1986. Word spread about the great work we were doing to rescue as many animals as was possible, and educate others about factory farming and meat consumption. With invaluable support, we purchased land in Watkins Glen, New York and we moved here in 1990. This move allowed us to grow beyond our wildest dreams and become the leading farm animal rescue, education and advocacy organization in the United States. Due to a greater need for space for all the rescued animals in need, we opened a second shelter in Orland, California in 1993.

    The reason you probably did not see Gene on the day of your tour is because his job has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Though he is still gets out to the farm as much as possible, Gene travels across the United States now speaking on television and radio, and to various people including animal activists, legislators and those within the animal agriculture industry. He works to change and enact laws that will help better the lives of factory farmed animals, with the goal of one day eliminating a need for factory farming all together while encouraging a vegan lifestyle. He is as impassioned as he ever was, but his role has changed. We have a full-time shelter director now, Susie Coston, who you might have seen on your trip, but she blends right in with the other workers and does not feel like attention needs to be called to her presence on tours. In fact, many other shelters call upon Susie’s expertise on a daily basis for guidance. Every year, at our Critter Care conference, we work with budding shelters to give them the tools they need to build and grow their operations. We teach them how to care for animals, fundraise, gain attention from local media and develop education programs within their communities.

    The reason we have new barns being built while other usable ones still stand is because we are rescuing so many more animals now that we need all the space we can get, and some of our old barns (particularly our duck and goose barns) are literally falling apart after 16 years of wear and tear. No space will go unused, Deb, I can guarantee you that. In fact, this fiscal year we have taken in over 1000 new animals at our Watkins Glen and Orland shelters. Our farm animal placement program is second to none, and without the growth and size of our entire organization, over 150,000 members and counting, we would not be able to educate the vast number of people we reach every year through our shelter, education, campaign, development and communications departments. And for the cleanliness of the place? We have an awesome staff at both of our shelters who work tirelessly every day to provide the best conditions possible for our farm animals. When people go on tours, remark on how clean and well-kept our facility is, and vow to return with others because of their positive experience, we know we have reached out to them. They will, in return, bring new folks to the farm to learn about all that we do. This is just one of the ways we reach the largest audience possible and grow each year.

    So to wrap up, we are still a struggling organization like Peaceful Prairie and so many other sanctuaries we work with throughout the year. We’re all in this movement together, so why fault us for being a little larger than most when there are benefits to our size? Funds are still tight, as the animal rights movement is still growing and gaining momentum, and every dollar is stretched to its limit to give the best to our rescued animals and the work being done to better the lives of those still trapped on factory farms. Like Chris and Michele, we still work long hours, injure ourselves and keep on working, because we know the whole reason we are here is for the sake of the animals and our love for them. I hope you take this letter to heart, Deb, and I hope it clears up any misconceptions you might have had about our organization. We wish you the best, and good luck with all you do for the animals. If you would like to speak further, please don’t hesitate to give me a call.


    Molly Hicks
    Communications Assistant
    Farm Sanctuary
    3150 Aikens Rd
    Watkins Glen, NY 14891
    607-583-2225 x227–>

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