Veganism is the Next Evolution: An LGBTQ-Led Sanctuary in Vermont is Changing the Future for Farmed Animals
When pattrice and Miriam Jones discovered a lone rooster in a ditch near their rural Maryland home, they didn’t just rescue him, they changed their life’s course. They founded Veganism is the Next Evolution (VINE), a farmed animal sanctuary that focused on chickens, before moving from the Mid-Atlantic region to an expansive property in the Vermont countryside. There, the sanctuary could also serve as a refuge for larger farmed animals, including survivors of the dairy industry.
When LGBTQ-led VINE moved to Vermont in 2009, it became the first sanctuary for formerly farmed animals in the state. Today it serves as the 110-acre home to approximately 700 animals—cows, sheep, goats, chickens, geese, ducks, guinea fowl, emus, a peacock, and a pig. At VINE, there are no physical boundaries between species, and so interspecies friendships abound. Chickens can be found catching rides on the backs of sheep and goats.
As part of Kinder Beauty's mission to mainstream vegan beauty—and never partake in a system that exploits animals for us to look good—we are happy to offer monthly support to charities that are working hard to save animals. To date, we have offered roughly $35,000 in donations to our favorite animal rights and environmental charities.
It was a no-brainer to choose VINE Sanctuary as a recent recipient of our charitable giving program, and we are so excited to share their story with you. Kinder Beauty had the opportunity to speak with Cheryl Wylie, VINE’s Animal Care Coordinator, to find out how VINE is not only helping non-human animals, but also inspiring humans to evolve into more compassionate beings.
Kinder Beauty (KB): VINE’s approach is different from many other non-human animal sanctuaries, giving rescued residents the space to express their true selves in their interspecies friendships and daily routines. What are the unique ways that the sanctuary has created a peaceful place for rescued non-human animals?
Cheryl Wylie (CW): One of the main objectives for VINE is to create a true sanctuary for those in residence, both human and non-human animals. To that end, we try to make decisions based on what works best for the residents here, rather than for aesthetic reasons. We are also not open to the public for traditional tours so we don't have a visitors' center, paved paths, or big parking lots. Once you cross through our front gates, you are among the residents as they go about their daily routines.
Freedom of choice
KB: Where do the animal residents like to hang out?
CW: Birds of various sizes and species wander through the pastures with sheep, goats and cows. Beyond doing what is necessary to ensure everyone's safety, we try to limit our impositions on them as much as possible. From sunrise to sunset, everyone is able to choose to be in a coop, in the barn, wandering a pasture, or napping in the woods. At night, we put the birds in for safety, as well as any small mammals, in addition to those with health issues. Everyone else can continue to choose where they would like to spend their evenings. Many of those in residence here have spent their lives having no freedom of choice on a day-to-day basis. Once here, they gradually start to see that there are myriad options available, and slowly, they start to exercise that freedom of choice. Sometimes we see someone "following the crowd," so to speak, and copying what they observe others doing. Soon, that begins to shift and we begin to learn each individual's likes and dislikes.
Not a petting zoo
KB: Does the general public ever have an opportunity to visit VINE?
CW: We do, in a typical year, allow visitors on site in various situations, but we don't want visitors to treat the sanctuary like a petting zoo. We typically welcome the general public 6-7 days a year. These days are volunteer days where people can come and help out with various tasks while observing and interacting with residents on the residents' terms. Working among the non-human animals seems to give the humans a better appreciation of each individual's personality and how they function as a member of the greater flock or herd. After the work, we enjoy snacks together and talk about the various residents and the sanctuary. We also have college groups volunteer throughout the year and our own humane education program for kids, Pasture Pals.
KB: Can you tell us about some of VINE’s rescued residents?
CW: VINE is home to over 700 non-human residents. Over the years, we have saved two separate groups of hens who had never touched grass. Each time, we have brought them to the sanctuary and placed them in a coop. Once their vetting was completed, we were able to open the door and watch them slowly emerge outside for the very first time in their lives. It is amazing to see someone investigate grass, scratch the ground, find their first bug ... all behaviors that they should have been doing for years, for the very first time as an adult. There was always one from every group who would emerge first, and then seem to call her friends out. It never takes long before everyone is out scratching, dust bathing, and exploring.
A mother’s love
KB: Tell us about Maddox.
CW: Maddox arrived at the sanctuary as a four-day-old calf from a small dairy. Two years later, we got a call that his mother was slated to be sent to slaughter from the same dairy. A kind person was able to negotiate her release, and soon she was on her way to us. The day she arrived, Maddox was still in a back pasture with his friends. We called for him to come down, but in true teenager fashion, he ignored us. When his mother, now called Moxie, arrived, she came out of the trailer and began smelling the air. Then she mooed, and Maddox came straight to the gate. We let him through and he ran right up to her touching noses. Even after two years apart, they remembered one another and have remained almost inseparable.
Coping with Covid
KB: How has Covid-19 impacted VINE, and how have you adjusted to this new normal?
CW: In order to follow state guidance and minimize the risks to our staff, we have cancelled all of our in-person events for the year. We are allowing our regular volunteers to continue to come on their scheduled days, so long as precautions are followed. It has been a challenging year for us without the larger volunteer groups to get larger projects completed. It has also been difficult to reimagine fundraising opportunities virtually, especially in light of this being our 20th anniversary year. Unfortunately, the early lockdowns in the spring also seemed to increase the number of people running out to buy chicks and ducks. We have definitely seen an increase in the number of calls we are getting from people trying to surrender ducks and chickens, particularly roosters (as well as roosters that have been found wandering loose). Some have come from horrific situations. Some have never felt a kind hand. Some have never felt grass under their feet. Yet still, they trust us. They trust us even when we have to treat their wounds, when we have to restrain them for the vet, or do other things that they don't like. Those who may have seen horrible violence learn that they are safe here. Not everyone here is "affectionate" in the traditional sense, but you can feel the trust. That inspires me to get up every day, literally at the crack of dawn, be it 90 degrees or 10 below zero, to be sure that their trust isn't misplaced and everyone has everything they need.
Creating a compassionate planet
KB: What are the plans for the future of VINE?
CW: I think our ultimate goal is to see a world where non-human animals aren't exploited by human animals. We continue to work towards education about the industries perceived as "less cruel" by many people, the egg and dairy industries. Our children's program is continuing to evolve and grow, with both in person and remote options. We hope to see a return to a semblance of normal next year, but in the meantime, we continue to look for ways to get our message out there, and ensure that the sanctuary always remains a true sanctuary for all who cross our gates.
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Maya Gottfried is the author of books for children and adults, including Our Farm: By the Animals of Farm Sanctuary and Vegan Love: Dating and Partnering for the Cruelty-Free Gal.