Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Beautiful Farm

My parents are both turning 60 this year within months of each other. Initially my sister and I wanted to take them to Costa Rica for their birthday celebrations, but they refused to on account of being too old for such exotic destinations. So instead I took them to Farm Sanctuary in Upstate NY.

Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY is all East Coast country beauty. Rolling Hills, lush green terrain, and small quaint farm houses by dirt roads. Truthfully, my parents were not too thrilled with the idea of this place since they weren't sure what they would see and how much they would need to confront afterwards. I understand that but I have never made life easy for my parents. So why start now?

First morning we woke up to a bright and beautiful autumn morning. We stayed in a cabin within the farm. While we were having breakfast, my mother took off on her own to see the animals. A concerned kitty named Sorella found mom near the bunnies and probably thought she was lost. The cat followed my mom to escort her back to the people area so they could BOTH attend the morning tour. She meowed her commands all the way. We got to know Sorella very well this trip. She is one hell of a cool kitty.

What a thoughtful sign. If ever you are interested in seeing animals in a happy state, and not as some sideshows like a zoo or in a farm where you don't want to imagine their fate, do consider visiting a farm sanctuary. There is something very different about this place, being here makes you feel happy just to be alive. The idea is so simple, and yet so powerful. So begins our Farm Tour.

This beautiful lady here is Teresa. Every time we met her she came up to greet us. We petted her, talked to her, took pictures next to her, while the guide told us her sad tale. She, like all dairy cows,was kept pregnant constantly so she could keep up with high milk production rate of ~100 pounds a day. She gave birth again and again, but her babies were immediately taken away, to be made veal if it is a boy, another dairy cow for a girl. But in the end, mother and babies were sent for slaughter. Teresa is lucky, but not her babies. Someone once wrote of the slow oddities of cows, but I think it is only what we choose to see, we tug them away when they bellow themselves hoarse in search for their lost children.

These two are close friends. The one standing is Coco, also a dairy cow. When we met her, she was diligently licking her good friend, who was very grateful. We are taught at a very young age that animals live in a competitive world, merciless and deadly. But perhaps that is the only part we choose to see?

I wonder how they see us. So, how should we think of raping someone over and over again, then snatch and kill her babies just to steal her milk, and then brutally kills her in the end? And as if that is not enough, we do this to everyone remotely related to her. She must sees us as the devil himself! But the unbelievable part is, she befriends us instead.

Sorella the kitty was one of our tour guides. She was with us when we visited the cows, in fact she led the way. She was very dedicated to her job, we've quickly discovered that she gets snippy if you try to pet her while she is working. She is one of the staff thank you very much! You don't just go pet the guide do you? We were amazed at the professional pride of this kitty. Our human guide told us this was part of her daily routine, to give tours. But we found out later she goes far and beyond her morning duties.

The blazing sunlight gives a beautiful view of the farm. The history of Farm Sanctuary is one of true inspirational tale. Do check out the
book and film. Today, Farm Sanctuary has grown into an important animal advocacy group, but it has a humble beginning. It was originally funded by sales of vegetarian hotdogs at Grateful Dead concerts. The first animal rescued was a sheep named Hilda from a pile of dead animals in a stockyard. Since Hilda, Farm Sanctuary has grown into two large farms, one in Watkins Glen, NY, and another in Orland, CA.

Ah the pigs. In this farm, pigs have plenty of room to roam around and we curiously watched them mud bathe. First of all, they are freakishly huge. They are bred this way. And second, their eyes are very human like. The pigs you see in the pictures are from one family, mother and four piglets. The mother was a
breeding sow in a hog farm. One day there was a major flood and many pigs drowned trapped in their crates. But this lucky mom managed to escape and found a place to give birth and protected her piglets all on her own. Pigs are very intelligent and resourceful, even in the most terrible circumstances.

Now the whole family lives happily and we hear them call out to each other in the mornings. In the hog farm, pigs are put into crates so small and crowded they go insane, which is why it is standard practice to cut off their tails (without anesthesia) to avoid biting brought on by sheer boredom. People ask me sometimes, don't you miss bacon? Well, yes. But then I think of being trapped inside a cage in a pool of my own excrement scared to death with no hope whatsoever, and I think differently right away. It works every bloody time.

My mother was quite affected by what she saw. I think she can relate as a mother much more than I can. When she got home, she said she will most definitely quit eating goat and lamb. This picture shows why. The goat's name is Gloria, we were told she is famous. Gloria took an instant liking to mom and came up to nuzzle. Gloria was rescued from a racetrack after being tied up for eight years, so we are told Gloria can be socially awkward with others, but we didn't feel it, she was all sugar.

So we saw a young man who worked in the farm, and we chatted him up. He said he had worked in Farm Sanctuary for five months, and then he added, "But I will work here my whole life." I thought that was a strong statement, I don't think I can say that about any job. I asked him which was his favorite specie, and he answered, "Turkeys for sure. They always surprise me." He carried a walkie talkie, and off he went to see to some goats. When we visited the turkeys, they were rather shy. They wouldn't let us touch them. But I found that if I stayed still, as sure as eggs is eggs a turkey will come check me out. They are inquisitive and stately birds.

We visited the ducks and chickens the last. Most of the birds were rescued from factory farms as egg layers, broilers, and froi gras ducks. We saw them out and about in little groups, just enjoying the day. This rooster came up to me, and he had beautiful plumage, so I took many photos of him. He was rescued from an egg laying operation. Since he was born a boy, and therefore useless for an egg farm, he was dumped in a garbage bag together with hundreds of male baby chicks to suffocate. And if you think that is cruel, that is already the humane method. I dare say death is preferable to what happened to the hens though, they suffer a worse fate if that is possible.

We came back from the tour with a heavy heart. We sat in front of our cabin and talked. Sorella kept watch on all the guests, it was her duty to keep us comfortable and entertained. Our neighbor told us Sorella knocked on their door in the middle of the night and they thought it was a break in, they almost called 911. It turned out the sweet cat only wanted to sleep on their bed.

As night approaches our conversations livened. We talked to many who works in the farm. Most of them are just starting out in life, and I envy them. And when the staff left the People Barn after a day's work, we sat admiring the twilight together with Sorella.

I have traveled all over the world, and I proudly thought of myself as a worldly person. But now I feel I actually know very little of the world other than some trivial facts about ruins and temples and cities. I only went out to seek exciting things, I didn't really go out to see anything. I danced in night clubs, drank good wines, ate famous dishes, saw exhibits in museums. But this trip is a very different kind of travel. There is no TV, internet, or spa treatments. Just night skies full of stars, good company, stimulating conversations, and Sorella by our side.

On our final morning Sorella introduced us to her friend Tank. Tank is a rescued Rottweiler. Despite the bad reputation of his breed Tank is as sweet a dog as can be. The lady he lives with said to us, "Tank is not aggressive because he knows who he is, he doesn't need violence to prove himself." What an interesting idea! I think that explains it. If we know what we are about, and not feel afraid, we won't need violence either and speak up when we see something is wrong. If we aren't so damn scared, we would say enough is enough and go on to do the right thing.

So long Farm Sanctuary, we will be back next year. I hope you enjoyed reading my story and please drop me a line. And if you get a chance, do visit Farm Sanctuary, you won't be disappointed. Thank you.


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