Finding Sanctuary in Upstate New York
A Weekend at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary
By Julia Le
Just an hour and a half north of the city, we found ourselves following the rolling hills of upstate New York along a winding dirt path. It was a beautiful Saturday towards the end of March - one of the first warm days as spring began to unravel, and the sun drifted hazily among the clouds.
We arrived that afternoon at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary in High Falls, New York - a nonprofit animal sanctuary focused on rescue, education and advocacy. Home to around 370 animals, nearly 150 acres of land serves as a haven for many animals that have been saved from slaughter, mistreatment, or other forms of exploitation.
With a mission to “connect animals with people to advance veganism, and advocate for animal rights in alliance with other social justice movements,” the sanctuary acts as a community center in fostering these conversations in a respectful and peaceful environment.
With the plethora of documentaries that have graced our online streaming services in recent years - from Food, Inc. to Cowspiracy, and so many others, we have seen a dialogue similar to the one occurring at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary already. The reality of our participation as consumers in the modern, industrialized food chain has become an increasingly relevant discussion.
While the American diet and overarching moral basis for whether or not it’s okay to eat animals is hotly contested, the general consideration of animal welfare and suffering is not. Still, while 94% of Americans agree that farm-raised animals deserve to be free from abuse and cruelty, of the 10 billion animals raised for consumption per year in the US alone, 95% falls under the umbrella of industrial farming. Within industrial farming - a system which doesn’t provide necessary protections for the wellbeing and treatment of animals - animal suffering is perpetuated through cramped living conditions, disease, abuse and mutilation.
On an environmental standpoint, things aren’t much more hopeful. With a global carbon emissions footprint of 14.5%, animal agriculture contributes more to climate change than all modes of transportation combined. With pressure towards higher production levels, industrial farming utilizes massive amounts of land, energy and water, resulting in habitat destruction, land degradation and species extinction. With the 2018 U.N. climate change report revealing that we only have 11 years left to prevent the irreversible effects of climate change, studies have shown that reducing your consumption of meat and animal products can have a substantial impact in lowering global emissions.
A disparity lies between the consumer's perception of neatly packaged meats and sizzling bacon breakfasts, and the stark reality of the systematic raising and slaughtering of animals for food production.
By understanding how food gets to our plates, we can further evaluate the impact of our consumption on the environment, and the systems we play a part in.
As a disclaimer, none of us on the trip considered ourselves strictly vegan - more vegetarian or plant-based. However, we were very interested in further exploring the relationship between humans and animals, and the disconnect too often unrealized when it comes to animal food production.
We met with Lizz Defeo, Marketing Manager at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, who was kind enough to introduce us to the animals, and gave us a tour of the sanctuary. She introduced us to the goats, then the cows and the pigs. They had plenty of space to roam, and were happily well-fed and cared for. Many had been treated at the animal hospital when they had first arrived, and had ongoing treatment until they were nursed back to health. There was a herd of sheep we admired from afar, as well as chickens and a lone turkey. It was remarkable to see how magnificent the animals were in their size, and also how gentle their demeanor was. The cows, in particular, were very memorable. They stood with their backs over six feet tall, and even having often seen cows lining pastures in the summers growing up, I’d never seen any so large. As Lizz informed us, most cows are slaughtered at around six months old, when they’re only a third of their size in weight fully grown.
While I hadn’t started the trip with any sort of expectation, the experience of being so up close and personal with the animals resonated with me a bit more than I initially thought. More than anything, the trip was an opportunity to feel more connected to the animals often regarded as consumer products rather than sentient beings, and learn more about the exploitation so common in conventional farming. Getting to see such a loving environment where the animals were completely free from suffering, and so well taken care of, caused me to consider the systematic issues present in factory farming and animal agriculture, and further confront my own role as a consumer.
In what ways can we be more active in our decisions - especially when alternatives exist?
The animals we met were all sweet and playful - each with their own personality. They were all very gentle, and allowed us to pet them. All of the animals had names and stories, and Lizz knew them all.
She spoke about how each of the animals came into their care, their daily routines, and the contrast in what would have awaited them if they hadn’t been rescued. Lizz had noted how all the animals seemed to be smiling that day. It was so beautiful out. Listening to her share some of the stories of the animals, and about the sanctuary itself, it was so easy to fall in love with them too.