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June/July 2005
Woodstock’s Farmer Brown
The Satya Interview with Jenny Brown

 

Jenny Brown
Doug, Julie and Jenny

Kentucky born Jenny Brown went from an impressive career in television production to running a sanctuary for neglected, abused and discarded 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 Farm Sanctuary.

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 to founding 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 creatures.

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.

 

 

 


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