Thursday, August 07, 2008

The origin of Orland's "Farm Sanctuary"


In 1985 Gene Baur worked at Greenpeace in Chicago, became a vegetarian, and (with his then-wife Lorri) founded Farm Sanctuary.

The story is told in "Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food" ($25 in hardcover from Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster). The organization focused on "downers," animals "down on the ground, unable to move on their own because they were sick, injured, or dying." Rather than tend to such animals or humanely euthanize them, which would be expensive, factory farms and stockyards routinely put them in the "dead pile"; sometimes such animals wound up in the food chain.

Farm Sanctuary volunteers photographed the abuses and in some cases removed ailing animals and restored them to health.

Eventually Farm Sanctuary relocated to a farm in Watkins Glen, in upstate New York, where victims of the factory farm system were named and nursed. Later, "one of our supporters, a professor at California State University, found available land suitable for a sanctuary near Orland . . . and donated about a hundred acres to us." Baur writes that the "Orland shelter has a visitors' center with an outdoor pavilion. . . . We've built barns and shelters where the animals can come and go as they please."

Actress Kim Basinger filmed a public service announcement on behalf of Farm Sanctuary featuring Henry the Holstein, "a frail baby calf" Baur rescued from "a crate at a calf ranch." Henry is now "a happy resident of the Orland shelter" and "weighs in at over two thousand pounds. He gets plenty of fresh air and grass to graze on."

Ultimately, Baur writes, "the best way to promote health, compassion, and sustainability is to adopt a vegan lifestyle. . . . Animal foods, including meat, milk, and eggs, waste vast resources and are inherently violent." But, he says, "if you continue eating meat and dairy products and you are concerned about animal welfare, then I hope you'll avoid factory-farmed meat, milk, and eggs."

The book is written in a quiet, reasonable tone (underplaying the controversy that has attended the work of Farm Sanctuary over the years), inviting the reader to consider that each farm animal "has a distinct personality as well as his or her own needs, fears, and desire to live."

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