This post is about six weeks overdue, but the subject still resounds clearly in my mind and heart. I've heard it called: vegan boot camp, vegan utopia, living in a vegan bubble, camp farmy... You get the idea. No matter what you call it, an internship at Farm Sanctuary is a magical, marvelous, memorable experience. This was mine...
Upon hearing that my summer internship was taking me to New York, everyone envisioned me making copies and coffee in a skyscraper, waking to the sounds of the traffic and sirens outside my window.
Many eyes widened as I explained I would actually be in upstate New York, writing copy on a farm and waking to the sounds of roosters in my backyard and sheep across the dirt road. If I was looking for a unique experience, I found it; not many students kick off their internship with an authentic vegan hoe down.
Farm Sanctuary is the nation’s leading farm animal protection agency, advocating for animals through direct rescue efforts, educating visitors at two shelters (California and New York) and online at www.farmsanctuary.org, and working to expose cruel “food animal” industry practices through investigations and legal action. And for the month of August, I was their communications department intern.
I applied to Farm Sanctuary’s internship program hoping to fulfill my requirement for graduation while doing something I genuinely cared about. As an aspiring journalist in high school, I interned with the Express-News and became disillusioned with a newsroom atmosphere. With university graduation less than a year away and my ideals well polished since high school, I recognized a unique opportunity in shifting gears from my city-girl life and taking the (farm) road less traveled. If the wide-open skies didn’t open my eyes to the beauty around me, spending nights piglet-sitting and weekends playing with goats and hiking around the cow pastures surely did.
Though I could have spent all my time visiting the amazing animals at the farm and observing their joy in being able to live a fear-free life, as they should, my position required a “traditional” workweek in the office. One of my main, and favorite, projects was researching and writing the unique stories of several of the rescued animals for a virtual tour in the making and the 2009 calendar.
At first, I could hardly see my computer screen through watery eyes as I read and wrote about the cases of cruelty and abuse surrounding these innocent creatures. I knew the lives of each animal we rescued represented 10 billion land animals in the U.S. that are raised, marketed, and slaughtered because they are viewed only as commodities, not as sentient beings deserving of our respect and protection. Some of them took their fates into their own hands, fleeing for their lives from urban slaughterhouses or meat markets. Some were rescued as a result of compassionate citizens taking action or Farm Sanctuary’s ongoing cruelty investigations. Wherever they came from, the ability of these animals to forgive and learn to trust humans after the abuse our species has shown them is remarkable – and it dried my eyes.
It gives me hope that there are people doing this work every day and thousands of supporters volunteering their time and resources to challenge the cruelty, wastefulness, and danger of factory farming.
Farm Sanctuary has relied on volunteers and interns since 1986 when co-founder and president, Gene Baur, first rescued a sick sheep off a “dead pile” at a stockyard where she had been callously tossed aside. Revived by the rescue effort, the sheep was named Hilda, in honor of the newborn organization’s first volunteer intern.
Farm Sanctuary staff thanked the interns daily for our dedication and giving our time to help the organization, but we gained so much in return. Not only did I make new friends (humans included), I had an opportunity to learn from leading activists, swap delicious, cruelty-free recipes with fellow vegans, and see the way things could be.
On my last day at the farm I visited the cows: Maya, the matriarch of the special-needs herd; Snickers, the gentle giant; and Moo, who licked my arm on my first day. I said goodbye to the goats, stubborn Simon and the amazing Zoop, who reared up to give me a playful “high five” with her horns. I smiled at the pigs, who always smile back (especially if a belly-rub is involved). The turkeys posed, noble and proud, for my camera. Pedro, a tiny yellow rooster, sang me a farewell. As hard as it can be to find sanctuary in our increasingly hectic world, it’s even harder to leave it.
I encourage anyone who seeks a challenging but rewarding experience to pursue an internship or volunteer opportunity they are truly passionate about. Over the course of 30 days, Farm Sanctuary transformed an internship from “that thing I have to do to graduate,” to “a reason I can’t wait to graduate,” and change the world.
Disclaimer: the above was originally printed in the "Opinions" section of The Logos, my university's paper. The editors butchered it just a bit, but this version is FFF approved.