Interview Series #6: Jenny Brown of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary
Posted Apr 13 2010 5:58am
Back in October, when my husband and I made the trip up to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary , we had the most energetic and passionate tour guide named Jenny. Jenny took us through the entire grounds of the sanctuary and spent an ample amount of time at each different place, regaling us with the animals' compelling rescue stories and the work that WFAS does to protect these sentient and kind beings. It wasn't until about three-quarters of the way through that I realized it wasJenny Brown leading us around - the original co-founder of WFAS. I was completely blown away that the same person who started it all was taking time out of her busy day to tour a bunch of visitors around - it was so humbling to witness.
I kept in touch with WFAS by putting myself on their email list. About three months later, I was so inspired I decided to organize a fundraiser to raise awareness and money for both WFAS and Farm Sanctuary . Not only did Jenny Brown (and her assistant Rebecca Moore) support the idea for my fundraiser, but Jenny and Rebecca even traveled two hours to Manhattan for Jenny to be a key speaker at the fundraiser and table at my event!
After watching Jenny in action both at my fundraiser and at the sanctuary, one thing is blatantly clear:
I want to be Jenny Brown when I grow up.
Jenny and her husband (and WFAS co-founder) Doug Abel .
This woman is fearless. Fearlessly protective of the pigs, chickens, cows, ducks, turkeys, sheep, and goats who live in factory farms. Fearlessly open with whatever audience she has captivated as she describes the abuse and terror these animals endure. Fearlessly relentless in her mission - to rescue the helpless and be a strong, brave, and loyal voice for animals who have no voice themseles.
Goat friends on the WFAS farm. Photo courtesy of Bob Esposito .
When I was a little girl, I used to dream of being like some of the beautiful actresses I watched onscreen. Now, I dream of being like Jenny. She has inspired me to be a fearless advocate for a cause that needs an unimaginable amount of help and commitment.
It only takes a few moments in the presence of Jenny to know that you have encountered a spirit so fiercely compassionate that the compassion rubs right off on you. Jenny is that kind of spirit, and her story is powerful, exciting, and best of all - true to the roots of who Jenny is - the consummate activist.
Kiss Me, I'm Vegan: What was the turning point in your life that led you to veganism? Was it one huge moment, or a collective group of small moments that changed you?
Jenny: It was during a trip where I was filming undercover (see below) where I saw the suffering of spent dairy cows who were on their way to slaughter at just four years of age. Their bodies broken and spent from producing far more milk than they were ever intended to. And to think that every calf that had been born to a dairy cow was taken away within the first day or two of birth just so people can drink her milk that rightfully belonged to her babies. Going vegan was the very least I could do to help their suffering. It took me a while to get to this conclusion, but it's the hens used for egg-laying and the dairy cows that suffer worse than animals raised just for their flesh. And of course those egg-layers and dairy cows inevitably become chicken mcnuggets and cheap hamburger meat. For them it's a life of deprivation, confinement, stress, fear, pain, boredom and eventually a trip to the slaughterhouse.
Rescued chickens on the WFAS farm. Photo courtesy of Derek Goodwin .
I also began to contemplate how wrong it is that we are the only species that drinks milk into adulthood AND drinks the milk of another species. It's just wrong on all accounts, and people need to realize that in order for us to drink that milk (or that cheese - cow, goat, sheep, whatever) that there was a calf, kid or lamb that was born in order to produce that milk, cheese, creamer, etc. -and that those animals are forced to have an offspring year after year to keep their milk production profitable. I just wish I came to those important conclusions earlier.
KMIV: What have been the greatest rewards of your vegan lifestyle? What have been the greatest challenges?
Jenny: I'm no longer a hypocrite-- when I say I love animals - I mean it! I don't want to contribute to animal suffering in any way, and, given that farmed animals are the most exploited and abused animals in the world, a vegan diet is truly the only way to have a guilt-free conscience when it comes to truly caring about all animals--rather than just certain animals, which I really don't get.
Eating meat is such a deeply engrained habit that people who visit the farm are often quick to come up with excuses for their carnivorous ways. It's challenging to get people to really think about what happens to these animals that they only know as food - to see their worth, and to rethink everything that has been drilled into their psyches. When you look at the history of our civilization, we've been a slave-owning society for most of civilization and not so long ago women & children were considered property- now we see that as a sad and disgraceful past. It's time to include the eating of animals for the trivial pleasure of our palettes the same way.
The biggest challenge is driving from, oh, let's say New York City to Louisville, KY where I'm from (and my family still lives) and trying to find something other than an iceberg lettuce salad with italian dressing and some french fries to eat! Good luck! I hate how difficult it can be to find HEALTHY food in parts of this country - especially while traveling, when all you can find is the same old corporate chain restaurant crap whose food comes from some corporate factory and is delivered prepared in bags that get heated and served. GROSS.
KMIV: What inspired you to create the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary?
Jenny: I went vegetarian at eighteen after learning about the horrible lives and terrifying deaths that animals intended for food endure. From there I went to film school and after learning quite a bit about videography, I began going undercover shooting video for several animal welfare groups. I saw things during that time (in the early to mid 90's) that affected me deeply and changed me forever. Years later, after establishing a career in television, I went undercover again for the first time in about 10 years. This time it was for a farm-animal focused organization (Farm Sanctuary) and 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 against these animals that so few ever stop to think about-- and to go vegan, which was the very least I could do to help their suffering.
KMIV: What is the easiest part of running a sanctuary? The hardest?
Jenny: The beauty of the sanctuary is that the animals do all the heavy lifting. Once accustomed to human kindness, many of our animals are as interactive as the family dog. Not even the most ardent meat-eater can leave this place thinking that these farm animals aren’t sentient individuals. Once you’ve cleared that hurdle, it’s easy to convey that you have no interest in participating in a system that makes the lives of a calf like Dylan or a hen like Scarlett miserable and short.
The hardest parts are, in this order: 1) losing beloved animal friends, 2) not being able to help all the animals that we get called upon to rescue, 3) raising the money it takes to keep the place running (currently our operating budget is over $450K annually!), 4) MANAGING PEOPLE (having a staff with all kinds of personalities, passions and pasts can be trying), and 5) not being able to get away as often as I'd like! Even when we are closed for the season we have over 200 animals here who require constant care, bills to pay, fundraising events to put on, etc. It's A LOT of work--so much so that I can never catch up to all I need/want to do, and that's frustrating.
KMIV: What advice would you give someone who is interested in veganism, but afraid of taking the leap?
Jenny:Anyone can do it, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise or try to scare you away from it. It's sad, really, how many excuses people will come up with about how they HAVE to eat meat - their doctor said so, or they tried it and lost weight, energy, etc. And the sad part is, some doctors WILL tell you that you need to eat meat, because they too have that engrained into their psyches--same for parents. As a vegan, you do have to have a balanced, healthy diet, though, and not one that solely consists of say, Taco Bell bean burritos or pasta or whatever. Ultimately, going vegan saves an average of 100 animal lives a year, and that's not even including fish. That's powerful. It just takes conviction.
Oh - and I like one thing that PETA points out: If you plan to make the transition to a vegetarian diet gradually, the most important foods to cut out of your diet first are bird flesh and eggs. While many people think that “red meat” and dairy products should be the first to go, this isn’t the case. By cutting bird flesh from your diet, you’ll save many more animals. Because chickens are so small, the average meat-eater is responsible for the deaths of many more chickens than cows. Plus, chickens and turkeys exploited by the meat and egg industries are the most abused animals commonly used for food.
For me, when talking about my path to veganism, one thing that helps is to let people know that, although I live in Woodstock, I wasn't raised here, and I wasn’t raised by hippie, vegetarian, tree-hugging parents on a commune or anything like that. Growing up in the South, there was hardly a vegetable that wasn’t stewed to death with a ham hock. My sister and I would fight over the chicken heart, which my grandpa told us was the best part. So at least I’m coming from a place that’s not so alien from the average meat-eater.
KMIV: Okay - you're stuck on a deserted island with three vegan food items - what are they?
An immense amount of thanks to Jenny Brown for sharing her story through this interview. To learn more about Jenny and the work that she does at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, please visit http://www.woodstocksanctuary.org/ .
A few P.S.'s from Jenny:
- Volunteers are ALWAYS welcome! We really need NYC based volunteers to help us stock brochures, table at events and "man" (or "woman") our "Ask A Vegan" booth that sets up at different public parks in NYC throughout the summer.