A spontaneous visit to a farm led to a major lifestyle change and sparked a passion for volunteering in my children.
Earlier this year, my teenage daughters, city girls whose typical experience with the great outdoors is seeing pigeons fighting over a bread roll on a concrete sidewalk, found themselves surrounded by horses and hay as they looted a The Woodstock Farm Sanctuary barn in High Falls, New York, home to hundreds of animals that have been rescued from abuse and neglect. The girls couldn't be happier to be there.
They were only 7 and 9 years old when we first visited the sanctuary seven years ago. We spent a weekend and decided to stop to visit the animals. We saw firsthand how loving cows, pigs, and sheep were; many of them would have been suffocated due to physical imperfections but were now thriving. We spoke to staff members about the health and environmental effects of raising cattle and eating meat, and we all decided to try being vegetarian, just for a week, to see how it felt.
After a month, we realized that we did not miss meat and our family has been vegetarian ever since. Since then, we have donated money to the farm sanctuary, and the girls have raised funds for no-kill animal shelters in our city. But I always wanted to do more. I also felt it was important for my daughters to see that giving back doesn't just mean writing a check, but giving sweat and work to something you believe in.
So as soon as the girls were old enough, we joined a group of a dozen volunteers on the farm for the day to clean up the horse stable. This involved moving dirty hay to trash cans, removing them, and dumping them in the back of a truck. The work was exhausting, but the girls dug their shovels into the hay with gusto. Once the floor was cleared, we had the much more fun task of ripping paper from the new bales and spreading the hay through the barn kicking around like we were in a chorus line.
Finally, after a full day of work, our dung-covered jeans and boots, our stratospheric frizzy hair, and sweaty faces, we were offered a special tour of all the animals, including an adorable little family of piglets that had just been rescued from someone who had left them starving in their yard.
“This weekend was a lot of fun,” said my oldest daughter. "It was great to spend time helping the animals instead of just looking at cute pictures of them online."