Jenny Brown sits on her porch in her favorite chair after a long day working at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, which she owns with her husband, Doug Abel. She enjoys the sight of her dogs joyfully playing. She takes a deep breath and a sip of cool iced tea as she starts to unwind on a hot August day in upstate New York. Brown is expecting a visit from friends later that night.
August has been a particularly busy month for Brown. She is in the middle of promoting her new book, The Lucky Ones, which she refers to as a “memoir with a mission.”
Brown has a glowing smile and infectious laugh, but her eyes tell a tale of a brave woman who survived bone cancer as a child, but lost her leg as a result. You would never know it when interacting with her or watching her work. She has a “take no prisoners” attitude, and is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in.
In the mid-1990s, when Brown was doing undercover work shooting videos for several animal welfare groups, she met a woman in Chicago who worked for PETA. The two became friends, and Brown was asked to document a large fur protest.
However, it wasn’t until she met Farm Sanctuary founder Gene Baur, who asked her to do an undercover assignment filming downed farm animals, that she saw things that affected her profoundly and changed her view of the world forever.
“My job was to visit as many stockyards and live auctions in Texas as I could within a week. It was during that trip that I saw farm animals suffering beyond my wildest imagination, and I knew then and there that I wanted to commit my life to doing something about what I saw, and raise awareness about the injustices.”
Brown learned there was more suffering in the dairy industry than in the meat and poultry industry together because those animals’ lives are the most prolonged. She also learned that “Farm animals make up 98 percent of the animals that we kill and exploit in this country.… Farm animals are the most abused and exploited beings on the planet.”
Weeks after her experience in Texas, Brown concluded that her heart was no longer in the film and television work she was currently doing. She and Abel packed their bags and went to work for Farm Sanctuary, learning all they could about how to rescue and care for farm animals, as well as what it takes to operate a sanctuary. In exchange for that training, the two agreed to do free video work for the sanctuary. Both worked there for almost a year, learning all they could. Up until then, Brown had never been around farm animals. “Seeing the conditions [of] the animals [who] came into the sanctuary truly showed me the worst of human kind,” Brown says. She knew from that point on that her
life’s work would be to advocate for animal rights, and especially farm animal rights.
In late 2004, Brown and Abel purchased a house on 23 acres of land in upstate New York, and built the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. Their wedding was held that October in what is now the new pasture and barn for rescued goats and sheep.
All the animals housed at Woodstock were at one time used for food production. “Many of our animals come from the streets of New York City because of the presence of over 100 ‘live-kill’ markets throughout the five boroughs. Most of these markets are storefront businesses that cater to various cultures and religions and aren’t even recognizable as slaughterhouses. Goat is the most-consumed red meat around the world. Some slaughterhouses will allow you to hog tie and slaughter animals at home for religious reasons. You can literally walk in and choose a chicken, turkey, goat, lamb, or calf and wait for them to be slaughtered and butchered.”
As of today, the sanctuary has 10 paid staff members. The rest of the people who work there are volunteers. They tend to about 200 farm animals. The animals, who all have been given names, also receive medical care, including physical therapy and hospice care for the older animals.
“We are on the front lines of activism. We are talking to people one on one.
Visitors to the sanctuary are able to see farm animals “in a happy, loving, socialized environment. This is an opportunity most people don’t get because we are so disconnected as a society and where our food comes from.” It probably goes without saying, but Brown and Abel are both vegan.
Image Courtesy: Greg Straight Edge