Down on the Farm

Posted by Matthew Liebman, ALDF Staff Attorney on May 12, 2008

Last weekend I had the privilege of going to Farm Sanctuary’s Country Hoe Down at its Orland, California sanctuary. The Hoe Down is an annual event at which participants have the opportunity to hear talks by animal protection advocates, eat lots of good vegan food, learn how to folk dance, and, best of all, meet the sanctuary’s rescued residents.  

I’ve already blogged at length about my experiences meeting animals at sanctuaries, so I won’t repeat that.

Instead, I’d like to share some of the important insights from the speakers at the event.  

Farm Sanctuary’s Julie Janovsky and the Humane Society’s Jennifer Hillman discussed the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, a landmark ballot initiative that, because of the hard work of volunteer signature gatherers, was recently certified for the November ballot by the state of California. If voters pass this proposition, some of the cruelest forms of intensive confinement of farmed animals will be abolished. No longer will it be legal for agribusiness corporations to confine hens in battery cages, calves in veal crates, or pigs in gestation crates.  As Julie and Jennifer noted, although we’ve already succeeded in placing the initiative on the ballot, volunteers are still needed for the push to November.

The next talk was by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, co-founder of Compassionate Cooks and author of the Joy of Vegan Baking, who spoke on the topic of "Being a Joyful Vegan in a Non-Vegan World." Colleen’s talk stressed the importance of joy in our dealings with others, not only for our own mental well-being, but also in order to be more effective for the animals. The stereotype of the dour vegan, grumbling bitterly over a plate of wilted salad has haunted us all, regardless of how inaccurate it is. Who wants to join a movement they perceive as one of self-denial and endless sacrifice? I certainly understand how easy it is to get defeatist about the world’s lack of readiness to accommodate us vegans, but every time we complain about our sacrifices, we make it that much less likely that those who hear us will consider veganism for themselves. This certainly does not mean we should not be vocal about who we are, why we eat the way we do, and how much we abhor the cruelty inherent in the animal exploitation industries. But as Colleen explained, we do much more good for the animals as joyful vegans than we do as dietary martyrs.  

Colleen was followed by Mark Hawthorne, author of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism.  Mark gave concrete advice on how to get involved in the animal protection movement as an activist, and how to avoid "burn-out," the dreaded consequence of fighting the seemingly ever-present abuse of animals. Mark used the mnemonic "A.C.T.I.V.E." to remind us how to stay effective in our animal activism. Here, in Mark’s own words, are crucial tips for maintaining balance in our lives while working on behalf of animals:

  • Allow yourself to be human — take a real vacation, spend time with friends, etc.
  • Create something tangible to remind you of your victories — could be a scrapbook, a collection of your letters to the editor, etc. 
  • Talk to someone you trust — open up to others; speak with a therapist if needed. 
  • Ignore upsetting text and images, at least until you’re feeling stronger. 
  • Visit (or volunteer at) an animal sanctuary — get some face time with the faces you’re working so hard to protect. 
  • Exercise — run, walk, hike, bike, yoga … whatever. Just get out there and sweat.

Finally, Gene Baur, co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, discussed the origins of the organization, including their first rescue, Hilda, a sheep left for dead in a pile of discarded bodies at a stockyard. This story and others are the subject of Gene’s new book on the history of Farm Sanctuary. Gene also talked about some of the failings of the animal cruelty laws and the need to strengthen and enforce the laws that supposedly protect animals.  

After Gene’s talk, the real hoe down began, with a live band, contra dancing, vegan sundaes, and plenty of opportunities to get to know other activists.  I had a terrific time, and I can’t wait until next year’s Hoe Down.

Photo courtesy of Laurie Lyons.