Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Poplar Spring Farm Tour, 2009

Saturday was a long day. Montgomery County has a “Farm Tour” weekend every year, and Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary is on the list of participating farms. From a volunteer standpoint, this means that we get to the sanctuary at 7am to begin animal chores and/or setup tasks, depending on what’s needed at the time. And while that meant I had to leave home at 6am, there are some compensations for being up that early.

It was foggy near the sanctuary, and the long driveway was thick with it. I was startled when Jacob appeared out of the fog.

It was good to see that the cows were headed back towards the main part of the farm. Sometimes they’re nowhere to be found on these event days, and people will wander around asking if we have cows. For the sake of outreach, it is nice when they’re present, at least for part of the day!

Volunteering for the events is done in shifts, so the fact that it was such a long day was by my choice. I chose to start with the early morning animal chores and work both event shifts; it certainly isn’t expected that we’ll work the entire day.

There were enough people there for the early shift that I helped with setting up some tables first. At one point one of the other regular Saturday volunteers called me over to the pig barn. “Quick! You have to see this!” And it was Wilbur, standing on his own! He’d stood up on his own the day before, and the farm manager took immediate advantage, and bribed him to walk outside by holding a food dish as a reward. And so Wilbur walked, completely on his own, those few steps out of the barn. It amazes me; just a few weeks ago we didn’t know if he’d ever walk again. We didn’t know if he’d live, and now we’re expecting a full recovery, and probably quicker than we had even hoped for.

The pig yard itself was in that beautiful state that is practically legend. Dry and smooth, it makes the job so much easier, and likely makes us sound insane as we talk with real joy about the state of the pig yard on days like Saturday! The pigs clearly agreed, though it is their self-created mud hole that makes them happiest.

The expected attendance was 800-1000 people, and most of those people at this event are non-vegans, non-vegetarians. I’m not sure yet how many people did show up, but I do know that Terry and Dave bought more vegan hotdogs and burgers than they did last year, and still sold out earlier. Either people were hungrier, or there were more people. After the event we were talking about it, and Terry was saying that in the first few years she had people refuse to eat either, that she’d give some away for free just to get people to try it. Every year people are less and less resistant to the vegan dogs and burgers, and it is now rare to hear anyone pass up on eating lunch.

I’d only sold 2 of the cookbooks I put up for sale as a fundraiser here on my blog a while back, so I donated the rest to the annual Yard Sale, which is part of the Farm Tour event. It made a lot of sense to have some vegan cookbooks available; I think I’ll donate some every year, even if it means I have to buy some to donate! The point is to have them there, more than anything. From what I heard, they sold, I just hope they went home with some non-vegans. (Or even better, some soon-to-be vegans!)

The experiences during the day range wildly. One of the first people I talked to asked, when I pointed out the guineas, “Do they taste good? I’ve heard that guineas taste good.” The woman who was with him was shaking her head at him as I explained that it was a sanctuary and so we didn’t eat any of the animals. He didn’t really get it, my feeling is that he thought of the sanctuary maybe on par with conservation groups, who often promote hunting.

Another woman was overheard saying “I don’t want to pet a rooster…I eat roosters.”

Those are the frustrating comments to overhear…but just like the incidences of people refusing to eat vegan food have declined, it seems that there are also less overheard comments such as these. Of course it could be that people have become aware enough to hold their tongues, not necessarily that they aren’t thinking those thoughts…it is hard to know, but it does seem to be a trend in a positive direction.

There were a lot of positive conversations as well. As I talked to a family and introduced them to the rooster I was holding (who was eating up the attention), a little boy declared that he didn’t want to eat animals. I encouraged this, though I’m not sure his parents appreciated my efforts! Another little girl, maybe 4 years old, was thrilled to be able to touch a chicken, and laughed with glee at the experience; she told me with a grin that she was vegan. She overheard her mom asking about whether the animals on the farm are vegan, which is what sparked her comment, and so I wasn’t sure if she really was vegan, though she seemed confident of the statement; it seemed to be a term that was part of her life. And sure enough, when I asked her mom, she confirmed it. Their family is vegan.

I found that thrilling, though I know it is preaching to the choir.

A young family with their 8 month old baby came down to the chicken yard to meet Liesel and Sylvia to decide who to sponsor. I showed them where Liesel was dust bathing inside the barn; she’s not much for attention from humans, which they took in stride, and were content to watch her be content in the barn. Sylvia enjoys attention, and one of the other volunteers went to find her under the tree, where most of the chickens had been spending the day. (Unlike the humans at the farm, the chickens were smart enough to stay in the shade!) The baby was getting fussy, and the parents were feeling pressure to head back, but I assured them Carole would only take a second to bring Sylvia to them. And I’m so glad I encouraged them to wait for that extra minute, because the transformation in their baby was absolutely a joy to watch. He felt Sylvia’s feathers, and his eyes went wide, he looked up at his mom, and all his fussiness just melted away. His scrunched up about-to-cry expression turned into big grins, as he bounced and giggled in his mom’s arms.

At the end of the day I ended up in a conversation with a woman who I was reading as vegan, but who I wasn’t sure was actually vegan. Does anyone else do this, gauge where on the spectrum someone is? Maybe this is peculiar to me. It was the end of the day, I was tired, and my normal filters were pretty much shot. She seemed to be mostly aware of the issues, and I found myself talking to her perhaps more directly than I usually do (unless I’m talking to other vegans), and with an assumption that she was on the same page with regards to my views towards animal exploitation. As it turns out she’s not even vegetarian. She has some out of town vegan friends, and they’d recently been visiting, so she’d been eating vegan with them. She’d been thinking about the issues.

This part of the conversation came up after she asked about the Japanese Silkies, Leopold and Cornelius, and why chickens would have feathers on their feet.

Being tired, and thus punchy, filters failing, and getting the “vegan” vibe from her in any case, I approached it from the standpoint of humans messing with the very genetics of other species, as a type of power, of control. This led to us talking about the turkeys (since Victor, impressively gorgeous, but also overly-huge and cumbersome, was in eye-sight) and that led me to talk about the dairy cows. The males, the impossibly enormous cows, and the reality that when people tell us they’ve never seen a cow that large, they are right, because they’ve never seen an adult male dairy cow in their lives. Unless they’ve spent time at a sanctuary. This took me down the path of explaining the exploitation and death that surround the dairy industry…and somehow we talked about a pretty broad spectrum of issues in agriculture. Environmental, social, in addition to the animal rights.

She had specific health concerns, pre-existing conditions, that had been holding her back from trying to go vegan. We talked about those, and I recommended “Becoming Vegan“, pointed her to PCRM, and encouraged her to talk to a vegan-friendly nutritionist. I also recommended “Get It Ripe,” because I love that cookbook, and it is written by a nutritionist. She left intent on tracking down these books, looking up information on PCRM, and having decided to get some blood work done now, and then get more done after. After, of course, meaning that she’s going to do it, she’s going to try going vegan.

Most of the groundwork was laid long before I ever talked to her. She has vegan friends, she has eaten plenty of vegan food, she knew the issues pretty well. I think she just needed a push. Needed to talk to people who would listen to what she had to say, really listen about the specific health issue that she had, and give her the confidence that she could work through it.

You know how we get so tired of the protein question? She was finally someone who actually had legitimate protein concerns. She had been protein deficient, due to lead and magnesium (I think magnesium) poisoning, which inhibited the absorption of nutrients. She’s pretty much the exception that proves the rule! It wasn’t permanent, though she does remain cautious because I believe she is more vulnerable to the problem again. We talked about the different grains, like amaranth and quinoa, and the fact that greens are great sources of protein, and of course beans. I explained that I rarely think about nutrition, as long as I’m eating variety. I did mention Vega, since it makes a great fall-back for someone with general protein and nutrient concerns. I use it in my smoothies in the mornings after I get to work, as part of my post-ride meal. Do I need it? No, but it doesn’t hurt either. It is sort of like insurance.

I am hopeful that she’s really going vegan. That it was the right time on the right day and that she got the information she needs. When she left, she thanked me for taking the time to “walk her through it”, as she said.

She was especially appreciative, because she didn’t think it was necessarily part of the farm tour day, so she felt she’d taken me off-topic. I assured her that it was perfectly on topic, that the more animals I could prevent from being killed, the less that needed to be saved.

And indeed, the point of days like the Farm Tour is advocacy. Outreach. Education.

6 responses to “Poplar Spring Farm Tour, 2009

  1. Mary Martin July 28, 2009 at 7:07 am

    That’s all so encouraging! From the food to the books to the conversations, it seems like an all-around success. And of course, Wilbur walking makes my day!

  2. Deb July 28, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Wilbur walking was the highlight, for me!

    Though it definitely was exciting to talk to someone on the verge of going vegan and hopefully give her that push she needed. The problem is there is no way to know for sure how it turns out. I think I need business cards to hand out to people…though “social cards” more accurately. That way they can follow up with more questions, if needed. Though hopefully she’s got some poplar literature, and would email Terry.

    I will try to be more prepared next year and have a variety of literature handy that I think would be helpful for the questions that seem to come up. For some reason, it wasn’t until this event that I really started to see this as a time to do outreach, even though I knew that was the overall purpose. I had it in my head that I was just there to protect the chickens from the crowds, and the outreach was done by others, or something.

  3. nothoney July 29, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Erin and I went back to the pig barn after eating our veggie dogs and saw Wilbur moving around. He was looking at us so intently, and Erin was so impressed by his expressive eyes, and she called his name and I swear he tried to move toward her but sort of scooted and collapsed into a nap.

    As we left, Erin told me that meeting all the animals had given her a lot to think about. She really enjoyed holding Harrison – thanks for picking him up for her. She has a tough situation at home so I can’t push, but I can gently guide. She wants to come back in October to volunteer for the Open House and we’re walking together in Baltimore’s Farm Sanctuary walk.


  4. Deb July 29, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    @nothoney – that’s cool about Erin! It is good to hear that having a chance to meet the animals gave her a lot to think about. Maybe she’ll come along some other weekend too, for just a regular volunteer day. Keep up your good work of gently guiding. If nothing else, it is planting the seeds so that when she’s in a better situation she can make that decision.

  5. Pingback: V for Vegan: » Blog Archive » The easyVegan Weekend Activist, No. 14

  6. VeganLinda May 16, 2010 at 1:34 am

    Terry and Dave are amazing and the number of people they reach is countless. The biggest thing I miss about living in Maryland is Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary. I miss all the animals, the beautiful land, the incredible volunteers, and Terry and Dave. Reading this post makes me “home” sick, but so happy things are going well there.

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