Poplar Spring’s Open House and being flustered by a ten-year-old


Yesterday was the annual Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary open house. It’s one of four major events Poplar Spring has each year. The first is the 5k run and walk. The second is the Montgomery County Farm Tour, which is similar to the open house except that most of the people that come to the Farm Tour aren’t vegans and may not even have a clue what an animal sanctuary is. While that event offers a lot of opportunity for outreach, it can be frustrating to hear yet another idiot make a joke about bacon when visiting the pig yard. The third event, the open house, is one where a lot of the farm’s supporters and those curious about what Poplar Spring does come out to visit with the animals, eat catered food, and hear a speaker (this year, Jonathan Balcombe, who, I should note, isn’t afraid to get down and dirty cleaning up in the pig yard, either). The fourth event, Thanksgiving With the Turkeys, is probably my favorite, but I’ve talked about that one before.

Yesterday’s open house went really well. It was very well attended this year and seemed to bring in a fair amount of money for the farm. As usual, my job was that of a “floater,” going from animal spot to animal spot to help out where needed. Some of the day’s highlights included meeting one of the guys responsible for bringing the initial batch of 140 pigs to Poplar Spring 12 years ago, watching Rocky the goat charm every single visitor that walked through the gate, and getting to see Rasine hold Alina:

Rasine's new friend Alina, a seabright hen

(Rasine also pet some pigs yesterday, which was a big step for her. She’d been a little tentative on previous visits.)

While I still stumble sometimes with questions that people ask when I’m manning the animal areas (ie. “Shoot! Why do roosters have the comb and waddle? I forget!”), I’m not too bad at remembering animal names and stories and key facts about lifespan, diet, etc. But yesterday, I was completely flummoxed by one little girl who was maybe ten or 11 years old. She came up to me when I was in the goat pasture and started a conversation.

“Are these goats in captivity for their whole lives?”

“Um… you mean here?” I responded.


“Well, they have full roam of this pasture and the rest of the farm when the gates are opened up,” I told her.

“But this farm has a fence around it so they can’t get into the woods.”

“So you’re keeping them here so they can’t get into the woods and run free.”

I think I sputtered off some response about how sometimes the animals come in sick and need food and medication so the farm makes sure they’re well cared for. Who knows if she was convinced. The look she was giving me seemed to indicate she was enjoying holding my feet to the fire.

I told Sandy, the farm manager, about this exchange. “I’m glad I didn’t have to answer that question,” he told me.

Every time I leave one of the farm’s events, I make a mental note of the questions I didn’t have answers to so I can find out for next time. Clearly, this question is one I’ll have to give a little more thought so that I’m not taken down a notch by a tween again.

The world’s worst sanctuary


“What is the essence of pig?” Virginia farmer Joel Salatin asked an audience of about 200 University students and Charlottesville residents last Thursday.

Dubbed “high priest of the pasture” by The New York Times, Salatin said life for his pigs is a “Hog Heaven.” His 550-acre farm, Polyface, Inc., is like an animal sanctuary, he said…

Sounds pretty nice, right?

Until you read the second paragraph of “Holy cow!” from The Cavalier Daily (VA) in full:

Dubbed “high priest of the pasture” by The New York Times, Salatin said life for his pigs is a “Hog Heaven.” His 550-acre farm, Polyface, Inc., is like an animal sanctuary, he said, created to produce high-quality pork, beef and poultry that his consumers can trust.

Wash my mouth out with vegan soap, but: what the fuck?

It gets worse:

As he describes in his latest book, “Holy Cows and Hog Heaven,” Salatin believes that the journey “from farm to fork” is a sacred one. Beginning the lecture with a quote from the Book of Genesis, he said the road to success in the agricultural world is rooted in Christianity. The reflection of Christian values onto the land and the happiness of the animals is one of the main focuses of Polyface, Inc., Salatin said.

A self-described “Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-lunatic-beyond-organic farmer,” Salatin promotes six principles he believes every farmer should follow: order, forgiveness, peace, relationships, honesty, humility and healing. These principles develop a peaceful, beautiful environment and a food system consumers can appreciate.

So, apparently the ideas of “peace” and “healing” involve slaughtering animals based on something in scripture and then selling it as happy meat.

“I’m in the healing industry,” Salatin said. In his opinion, healing is one of the most important and enjoyable aspects of farming, meant to nurture the land and livestock with the utmost care and respect. His ultimate goal is not to increase productivity and efficiency, but to “make an animal sanctuary.”

Dude, if you want to build an animal sanctuary, build a place where animals, you know, have sanctuary.

If he was just promoting happy meat, that probably wouldn’t even be worth mentioning here. But Salatin’s assertion that what he provides for animals is “sanctuary” is offensive to the truly compassionate people that run actual animal sanctuaries, the people that do what they do for the animals and not for the financial benefit that comes from their death.

I think I’ll close with this quote from Salatin, a question he should ask himself a little more carefully:

“There is a respectful, righteous way and an evil way to produce — which one are we feeding?” Salatin asked.

The Race Report

Sunday marked the sixth annual Poplar Spring Run for the Animals. I’ve run this race each year, the first one just a couple of months after I’d started volunteering at the farm. I look forward to the race, hills and all, every year.

This year, my cheering squad was in Charlottesville for my brother-in-law’s graduation from UVa (congrats, John!), but I had the distant cheers of many generous sponsors in my head. We managed to raise $500 for the farm, so big thanks to Bahar, Barabara, Brandi, Chris, Deb, Katherine, Leeann, Mary, Michelle, Natala, Sunil, and Mom and Dad for the support!

I finished in just under 25 minutes, averaging about 8 minutes a mile (official time was a few seconds more), which for me was a big win. I’m not a hardcore runner and the course itself is really hilly, so I’ll take that time any day of the week. It was more than a minute faster than my previous best for this race, which was good enough to place to me 55th out of 320.

It was another great event for the farm — over 300 runners (plus quite a few walkers), great vegan eats after the race, and it was by far the greenest race I’ve ever run.

Race results are here and a few photos have been posted.

Final week of pleas

In six days, I’ll be running the sixth annual Poplar Spring Run for the Animals 5k and this year I’m raising money for the sanctuary. I can guarantee you that your money will be used well and wisely, directly affecting the lives of the hundreds of residents of the farm. So, if you have a few dollars to spare for a good cause:


And if you need a little more convincing, hit play on this slideshow of photos I’ve taken at Poplar Spring and Poplar Spring events over the last 5+ years:

Asking for your support, times two


Juniper the goat. Read her story (PDF).

In about a month, for the sixth straight year I’ll be running the Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary Run for the Animals. I started volunteering at Poplar Spring over five years ago and it’s always been a great source of inspiraton for me. When I started there, I was still lacto-ovo vegetarian. It didn’t take long (but longer than it should have) for me to go vegan thanks to being able to work directly with the animals and become a part of the community that works and volunteers at the farm. Others that I’ve brought to the farm have done everything from eating significantly less meat to giving up meat altogether after only one visit. It really is quite a place. Terry and Dave don’t waver in their commitment to the animals and have done an amazing job over the past 10+ years.

I’ve set a bit of a high goal for myself and I have a long, long way to go, so please, won’t you…


Also, my pal Josh is doing something similar. Except he’ll be going 596.9 miles further than me and will do so on a bicycle. It’d be cool if you helped him out in his effort to raise money for Farm Sanctuary by donating here and becoming a Facebook fan of the event. Do your thing, Josh!