The Satya Interview with Jenny
Doug, Julie and Jenny
Kentucky born Jenny Brown went from an impressive career
in television production to running a sanctuary for neglected, abused
farm animals. Along the way she documented hours of groundbreaking
undercover video footage of animal abuse in stockyards and factory
farm facilities for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and
Just two hours from New York City, nestled in the hills of the Catskill Mountains
in the town of Woodstock, Jenny Brown and Doug Abel co-founded the new Woodstock
Farm Animal Sanctuary last year. Their purpose is to “promote farm animal
welfare and educate the public about how animals are treated to become our food.” They
will officially open to the public in the summer of 2006.
Jenny Brown took some time to talk with Catherine Clyne about the path that led
her to Woodstock.
How did you get involved with farm animal advocacy? What led you to found the
Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary?
When I was going to film school in Chicago I was waiting tables at the Chicago
Diner—the world-famous vegetarian restaurant. There I met up with Cam McQueen
who was working for PETA. She was in town for the annual Chicago ‘fur funeral.’ I
decided to take on that event as a documentary project for PETA and school. Activists
went out on Michigan Avenue, wearing black cloaks, ringing bells, and chanting, “Bring
out your dead.” They carried coffins through the streets encouraging people
to bring out their fur coats so they could be set on fire right in the middle
of the busiest part of town. Many were arrested and I documented the whole thing.
I gave a copy of the edited video to PETA and made an impression on Cam McQueen.
After that, PETA contacted me to do a variety of undercover video jobs, which
exposed me to some of the most horrible atrocities in animal abuse. I got the
first-ever video footage inside of a Premarin farm in North Dakota—horses
lined up in a factory farm environment—went undercover to stockyards, behind-the-scenes
at circuses; that sort of thing.
But then my career took hold. I’d been doing activism in my spare time—participating
in and documenting protests, going undercover—but I let it fall to the
background as I moved up the ladder from production assistant to producing and
directing. But once I got to where I wanted to be in my career, I realized it
wasn’t as fulfilling as I had thought. The direction that television was
going, the crap we were churning out...it became a little embarrassing for me
to be a part of it. I was in a lull and felt I needed to do more with my life.
I’d been a Farm Sanctuary supporter and decided to go to their “Critter
Care” Conference—a workshop where you learn the basics of running
an animal shelter. It’d always been a fantasy of mine to take care of animals
and to work hands-on with farm animals. Through that conference I met Gene Bauston
and told him about the undercover work I did for PETA and offered my services
to him. He took me up immediately, and a few weeks later I did a week’s
worth of undercover video at various Texas stockyards. It was an experience that
really shook me and made me realize I had to do something for the plight of farm
animals. I was willing to give up my career to do video work for causes I truly
believed in, such as animal rights. We call it my “early midlife crisis.”
What was it specifically about that experience?
Some of the footage is in [the Tribe of Heart documentary] Peaceable Kingdom—the
veal calf struggling to walk with a severely broken leg that’s just hanging
on by skin and tissue, is just one of the sad sights I saw and filmed. It was
seeing the abuse of those animals—the cancerous eyes, the downed animals,
the suffering beyond imagination. I felt like I had visited Auschwitz. I would
go out and film, then go back to the hotel room, call Gene and cry. I just needed
to be consoled by someone who understood what I was seeing. Of course my animal
rights beliefs extend to animals in experimentation and animals used for entertainment,
but I was constantly faced with seeing a tiny glimpse of the billions of farm
animals that suffer every year. I think I visited something like 13 different
stockyards in that week and every one was the same—the situations were
never better. Fully wooled sheep out in 105-degree weather with no shelter, passing
out, tongues hanging out. Babies lying lifeless in corners. Mothers being separated
from their babies the very moment they give birth. And of course, the dead piles.
It really scarred me, but it also empowered me to do what I’m doing now.
The footage that I obtained that week was used by Farm Sanctuary during Congressional
hearings for their downers campaign.
Tell us about some of the critters at Woodstock.
Well we’re just starting out, so our animal numbers are small right now.
We’re taking in animals as we can accommodate them. We have three male
Holsteins, rescued from a veal farm, that are as playful as dogs. They run, jump,
buck and love affection and attention. They were raised with kindness at Catskill
Animal Sanctuary and then moved over here. We have 12 pigs from Wilderness Ranch
in Colorado, who sadly closed their doors after 12 years of doing incredible
work rescuing farm animals. We took their pigs, and in turn, they raised enough
money for us to build a pig barn. We also have chickens from various rescue cases.
Some are from the Buckeye Egg Farm that was hit by a tornado and rescued by Farm
Sanctuary—they had several thousand initially. We’ve also gotten
a lot of hens from New York City’s live-kill poultry markets. Within the
next year we hope to raise enough money to build a goat and sheep barn, which
will also accommodate more cows.
The story of the chickens from New York City is really interesting. Do you plan
to offer sanctuary specifically to farmed animals rescued from NYC in the future?
Well, given the proximity and location—we’re just two hours away—we
are a contact for the NYC Animal Care and Control. When they have a chicken,
a goat, a duck or any other farm animal, they either call me or Ashley Lou Smith,
an animal rights activist who fosters a lot of these animals in her home in Brooklyn,
before they can make their way to other sanctuaries. We have made many trips
into the city to get chickens, ducks and even a little pygmy goat who was found
running around with his throat partially slashed and “sold” painted
on his side. We named him Oliver and he now lives at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary.
A lot of people think the problem with animals in New York City is with dogs
and cats. And yet, in just under a year, your experience tells us there are farmed
animals, and lots of them, in the city, as well.
They’re everywhere. People don’t realize that there are a lot of
Halal markets and poultry markets, which I have seen abundantly in Queens and
the Bronx. And the situation in these markets and other live-kill places are
just as egregious as you would find in modern day factory farms. Debeaked chickens
are still crammed eight to a cage. They’re raised in the same sort of environment,
only much smaller, and behind closed doors, behind the service counter.
Given that the face of cruelty is so crucial to expose, and that’s
something you are really good at, why did you turn from undercover video work
an animal sanctuary?
At the tender age of 34 and having a career in a stressful environment—normally
in an office or a studio—my Kentucky roots took hold. I knew I needed to
work outdoors and be hands-on with the animals. I wanted to be a part of their
healing. I appreciate video documentary work because it’s a powerful tool
for exposing these atrocities, but to be hands-on with these critters, to hold
and love a chicken who has known nothing but a miserable life, to give a pig,
a sausage-making machine who came from a mass confinement system, a belly rub;
you just get a lot from that. You feel like you’re a part of the healing
process, a part of the sea change in the way we look at and treat these sentient
Do you see WFAS as part of a larger movement, doing what you just said, being
part of the healing process, giving sanctuary to rescued farm animals?
I hope. I think that every community should have a farm animal sanctuary. Even
though we live in a country environment, we have so many neighbors anxious to
come and see our thousand-pound pigs because they never come face-to-face with
these animals. To hear the personal stories of where these animals come from
and how they’re treated in modern day agribusiness really affects people.
For farm sanctuaries to try and diminish the fallacy that these animals live
good lives and live in a bucolic setting like they did in the days of Little
House on the Prairie is so important.
We take a lot of pride in our relationship with Farm Sanctuary. We continue to
do video work for them and they continue to support us in various ways. We have
also become friends with the neighboring Catskill Animal Sanctuary. We are building
a supportive network of sanctuaries that help each other out, from animal rescues
to good advice about education programs that work.
With regard to farm animals, what are your hopes for the future?
Our main hope is that we continue to raise awareness about the evils of factory
farming until it is abolished. We also hope to establish a successful adoption
program so that we can continue to take in more animals and find loving homes
for them. We also have plans to create a sculpture park throughout the pasture—we’re
going for an artsy, bohemian atmosphere (and we’re happy to accept sculpture
donations!). Drawing people here anyway we can—Woodstock being the colony
of the arts—for art, education, fabulous speakers and, of course, the animals.
And we also hope to promote veganism by putting a healthy face on it—my
husband and I take pride in our slim farm-worked bodies that aren’t fueled
by meat and dairy.
What are some ways people can volunteer or help?
We have a lot of fencing to build and construction to do, and we really could
use help. There are always pastures to rake and chicken coops to scoop. An Adirondack
Trailways bus comes from Port Authority and drops people off literally at the
front of our property, so we welcome NYC volunteers. They can camp out in our
field or our woods (they have to mind the bears). We are also doing major fund-raising
at this time, since we are not yet open to the public, we struggle with relying
on community support. We need donations of materials, time and monetary funds.
Our next fundraising event is a benefit concert with the fabulous Nellie McKay
at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock on August 27.
To learn more about the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary or volunteer, contact
www.woodstockfas.org or (845) 679-5955.