Jenny Brown, Woodstock Farm Sanctuary


jenny-brown-2015Jenny Brown is a longtime animal rights activist and Co-Founder of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in High Falls, NY–one the country’s most recognized and respected sanctuaries for farmed animals. She previously worked in film and television until when she went undercover in Texas to film farmed animal abuse. That experience led her to dedicate her life to helping farm animals and raise awareness of their plight. Jenny’s story and the work of her sanctuary has been featured in the New York Times, Cosmopolitan, Rolling Stone, New York Magazine, NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show and more. She is the author of The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight For Farm Animals. You can read more about her and the sanctuary


Hey everybody. We’re back. This is Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Right? Right.

How are you doing today?

I want to bring on my next guest. I’m talking slowly because I’m just trying to hold in my excitement because I know this is going to be fabulous. It always is whenever I speak with Jenny Brown. She’s a long-time animal rights activist and co-found of Woodstock Farm Sanctuary in High Falls, New York, one of the country’s most recognized and respected sanctuaries for farmed animals. She previously worked in film and television until when she went undercover in Texas to film farmed animal abuse. That experience led her to dedicate her life to helping farm animals and raise awareness of their plight.

Jenny’s story and the work of the Sanctuary has been featured in the New York Times, Cosmopolitan, Rolling Stone, New York Magazine, NPR’s Diane Reems Show, and more. She’s the author of “The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals.” And you can read more about her and the Sanctuary, at

Caryn Hartglass: Jenny. Welcome back to It’s All About Food.

Jenny Brown: Thank you. What a nice introduction. Thanks so much for having me on again.

Caryn Hartglass: You are just Superwoman in my book.

Jenny Brown: I don’t know about that, but thank you.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, you’ve been through so much your entire life and you’ve gotten over some incredible obstacles. And just kept going toward the light, and are doing wonderful things for farmed animals today. It’s just amazing what you’ve done. So there.

Jenny Brown: Well, thank you. And the issue with farmed animals needs to be the social justice movement of our time. So I’m just one of many agents of change.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. So let’s talk about some exciting things. You’ve moved or you’ve expanded. Let’s hear about your sanctuary. Your Woodstock Farm Sanctuary. What’s going on?

Jenny Brown: Well, we’d kind of outgrown our location in Woodstock. We’d 23 acres, and we basically picked up the entire sanctuary and moved about 30 miles south, to High Falls, New York, putting us closer to New York City and New Paltz, which is very much a college town.

And we moved to 150 acres. And what’s crazy is we were just looking for a larger property. But we came across a place that was called Epworth Camp and Retreat Center. And it’s been owned by the Methodist church for like 55 years. It’s a camp and retreat center. Meaning it has lodging, it has a dining hall, it’s got a fully equipped commercial kitchen. A beautiful creek runs through it. We are in a progressive town. It’s a whole lot better.

Woodstock seems like it would be progressive, but the fact that the concert actually didn’t happen there gives you an idea of some of the restrictions that could be put upon any sort of new initiative or endeavor.

Basically ours was a good problem to have; in that our popularity was growing as such that we really couldn’t accommodate the number of visitors that were coming to visit on the weekend. They shut down our concerts. We had had Sean Lennon and Chrissie Hynde and Moby perform for us in concert on-site; big names. And a couple of neighbors didn’t like the noise even though we kept it on the down-low.

And so, we were just tired of it. But we kept the name Woodstock because we like to think that Woodstock, what it’s really supposed to stand for, is a state-of-mind, and it’s not a township. So, we kept that name, also because we’ve been in business since 2004. And there’s a lot of branding behind that, so we kept the name, but we’re right here in the beautiful Hudson Valley, and about 90 minutes from New York City, which is pretty fabulous.

Caryn Hartglass: Now, I don’t know anybody who likes to move. Just moving from an apartment to another apartment is a nightmare. So, you moved from 23 acres to 150 acres with your whole family of cows, pigs and ducks and chickens and I don’t know what else you have there. What was that like?

Jenny Brown: Well, we built an arc and we floated down the Hudson River. It was madness. I mean who does this? Who relocates a sanctuary?

But basically, it was just last September that closed on the property, and we really got to work in building barns and erecting fencing. And we’re still going, but we moved all the animals over, species by species, as their barns were built and their pastures were enclosed.

And the new property has already allowed us to help a number of farmed animals in need, which is really what it’s all about. Our mission is to rescue and shelter and advocate on behalf of farmed animals. So this move is really going to allow us to expand our mission in that way, but also to create more outreach and advocacy events. Things that we have planned are our own sort of vegan Summerfest. We want to have lectures were with some of the leaders in the animal rights movement. We plan on having vegan bootcamps in terms of learning how to eat and cook, volunteer with the animals, get more engaged with this movement, learn effective tools to be effective spokespeople for the animals.

We’re going to be doing a similar thing for youth. We just hosted the YEA Camp, Youth Empowered Action, run by the incredible Nora Kramer. And these are all kids who have ambition to change the world. But many of them are animal activists. Everything that will be here is vegan, vegan, vegan.

And again, not as a religion, but as… Because food is advocacy. And teaching people that vegan food is not a diet of denial, it’s one of living our values and it’s deliciousness, as we know.

So, just the various opportunities. Camps for adults. Bringing us all together. Feeling like there’s community. We don’t want to do things that are specifically just for the choir. We want to bring new people in in fun and engaging ways. We’re going to have our concerts again.

We’ve got lots of stuff to plan. And I get overwhelmed and intimidated just talking about those plans.

But we opened our doors, finally, to the public on September 5th to give educational tours. But the Grand Opening was pretty overwhelming, it was Labor Day Weekend. It was a beautiful day. We got lots of press about the move and the Grand Re-Opening event. And we had about 6000 people come through our doors, which was pretty amazing. Vegan food trucks, activities for kids, live bands, and of course, tours and time to go in with the animals and hear their stories. And meet them as individuals, who have names and not numbers. In an environment where they behave very differently, because they know they’re loved, they know they’re safe. And most of them seek out your affection and attention, and I think it’s an incredibly powerful form of activism.

We hear about the statistics, we hear about the 10 billion land animals who are slaughtered every year in this country for human consumption. But we rarely ever meet them. And here they’re tangible, they’re not statistics. They are individuals in their own right, they are self-aware. And again, we really feel it’s a powerful form of activism.

Caryn Hartglass: You’ve used the word vegan a few times, and I appreciate that. Do you have any feeling about that word? Some people don’t like to use it.

Jenny Brown: I know, but I think we deny what this shift in consciousness, what this diet, for those of us who do it for ethical reasons, what it’s all about. And it shouldn’t be a dirty word. And I feel like plant-based is more appropriate for those people who choose to be vegan for health reasons, for dietary reasons, for weight loss reasons. For reasons other than the ethics of using animals for food. And I don’t mind the word at all. I think vegetarian has been so bastardized because people will say, “I’m vegetarian, but I eat fish and chicken.”

Caryn Hartglass: The feathered and scaly vegetables.

Jenny Brown: Yeah, and I think it needs to be a word that we feel comfortable in using more often. When we ask for vegan options at restaurants, we are seeing such a shift, that inclusion in vegan items being listed and seeing the word vegan on the menu. And we need more people to understand what that means, and I think that’s currently the only word we can use that means, “I do not eat any animal product.”

And I think we need to realize, though, that it’s intention, not perfection, as my friend Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says. And it’s not a hard-line discipline. I think we can all do what we can. And any step in the direction of moving away from eating animals, animal products, is a step in the right direction.

I think we get a bad rap because of the vegan police a lot. And the people who are the meat eaters of the world feel like we try to infringe on their way of life and dictate what others should eat. And what people truly need to understand is it’s not a personal choice. There’s a victim involved. There are victims involved. And just like we could murder somebody as a personal choice. There are consequences in our society. But there’s no consequences for taking the lives of animals. And that’s a shame. These are other beings who share this earth with us, we are the species who put ourselves at the top and think that our interests matter most.

And we work toward the shift in the way society views and treats animals. And I think the word vegan needs to be used more and embraced and said with confidence and pride.

Caryn Hartglass: Vegan! Vegan! Vegan! Right on. I like it.

Jenny Brown: Vegan!

Caryn Hartglass: Where do your animals, where do your non-human animals come from?

Jenny Brown: Right on. You just can’t imagine the different situations. Not this past Saturday, the Saturday before last, there was a seizure of around 120 or 160 animals who were living in deplorable conditions at a sort of backyard butcher operation. A place that might even supply meat and dairy products to places that fancy themselves locally raised meat. They make themselves sound more compassionate than what they really are.

Animals filled with parasites, covered with lice, emaciated. Pigs who looked like they hadn’t left, just enclosed in these tents, imagine horse stalls. And who couldn’t see out, who were living in six to 10 inches of their own excrement and filth. Pigs are very clean animals, that disgusts them. Piglets. There was attached to the barn, in another room, was the makeshift slaughterhouse. And when the rescuers, when our staff and the other sanctuaries went there, it was literally a decapitated cow head sitting in a bin. Bags full of innards. Hooves, bottoms of legs that just lined the wall. It was a house of horrors.

So that’s the situation. Often times these animals come from seizures where somebody has noticed that the animals are being neglected. They’re out in freezing temperatures. They don’t have shelter. They’re living among the dead.

We have some famous slaughterhouse escapees. Cow who’ve escaped from Halal slaughterhouses. I’m sure there would be more that would escape if they were out in the massive slaughterhouses, but those places are fortresses where it would be impossible for them to escape.

They are picked up on the streets of New York City. A lot of people don’t realize there’s approximately 100 live-kill markets, meaning you can go in there and choose and animal and have them slaughtered, take them in the back room and have them slaughtered.

And these animals sometimes escape. Chickens, ducks, guinea fowl, sometimes rabbits, strangely enough. Small goats, we’ve even had calves. And sheep.

So, these are the kinds of situations. Every once in a while, you learn of somebody who truly loved their animals. And they’ve died. So it’s either us or its the auction. So we try to help in any way we can.

Jenny Brown: Wow. You know, I was just talking earlier about Halloween that’s coming up, and a part of Halloween, how it’s so… We think of all these gory things about eating body parts, human body parts, but body parts. And people just don’t think that every other day is gory and ghoulish and horrific and frightening. Where people are putting are putting non-human animal body parts on their plate, that have been through hell.

Jenny Brown: It’s so normalized. It’s not only normalized in our society, it’s celebrated. We are alienated and chastised because we abstain from eating certain foods. And those certain foods are sentient beings. And it’s just the mere idea of that that puts people on the defensive.

But the problem is, is that children and people don’t see the process. They don’t see the suffering of the animals in factory farms and even on small farms, they don’t watch them being castrated and branded. And everything else without painkillers and anesthesia. They don’t watch the calves or the kids, baby goats, being torn from their mothers’ heartbreaking bellows of protest. They don’t look at a pig in the eye, meet a pig, see how incredibly friendly and smart that they are. Not that we should base our compassion on intelligence. They don’t have the opportunity to get to know these animals, much less have to look them in the eye and say, “I’m taking your life because I think you’re tasty,” and slit their throats. And to slaughter them and butcher them.

You ask kids where meat comes from, and they point to the freezer or the cafeteria. We’ve lost our way. And there’s such profound cognitive dissonance. We put those blinders on tight because we don’t want to know.

And so, the perfectly round patties between a bun doesn’t resemble an animal. People sit down and eat it, they don’t think about that it was an animal. Chickens. People just think that they’re chickens. They think that they’re mindless, animated creatures walking around who were intended for that use. We’ve told ourselves we’ve always done that. But we’ve also owned slaves for most of civilization, so it certainly doesn’t make it right. Women were not equal to men. No child labor laws. There certainly wasn’t marriage equality.

We’ve come a long way, and hopefully we’re shifting towards this. But it’s a challenge because it is so invisible in our society. Intentionally so. And the problem is that the dairy and meat industries are so powerful, just like pharmaceuticals and oil, and they filter money into our politicians’ pockets on state and federal levels. It is a broken and corrupt system.

But yeah, if people had to slaughter their own animals, if slaughterhouses had glass walls, there would be a lot more vegetarians and vegans. Watch a calf being torn away from his or her mother. Look at the life of a dairy cow. See how even though they could live to be 20 years old, they are slaughtered at five years old, four or five years old, to become hamburger meat.

The emotional suffering of these animals, the emotional toil on the chickens who are used commercially for eggs, no animal suffers worse than they do. And people think that eggs are this innocuous thing. Well they just lay eggs, but they could never lay enough eggs to feed the demand, at least in this country. And it’s horrifying what we do, we’ve turned them into commodities. They live a life of suffering and misery for something that is basically taste, habit, culture, tradition, and the pleasure of our palates.

And we just need to keep moving towards making those connections for people, and shifting the way society views and treats farm animals.

Caryn Hartglass: You’ve hit it all. I just want to go back for a moment and talk about dairy cows. Because from a health perspective, I think that consuming dairy is far worse than consuming meat. But the ethics are so powerful, and some of it, we don’t see it, but it’s right there in front of us.

So, artificial insemination….

Jenny Brown: We don’t want to see it.

Caryn Hartglass: Of cows. You can go online and just Google it. And you see the most pornographic, horrific and just accepted university publications on how a farmer is supposed to shove this thing inside the cow to artificially inseminate her. And it’s such a violation, it’s horrible. And I talked to people who like organic milk, and they think the farmers are so much kinder to the animals. And maybe to some extent they are, but they still have to do this, they still have to artificially inseminate and rape and separate the baby from the mother.

Jenny Brown: Absolutely. And first and foremost, people need to know organic has absolutely nothing to do with animal welfare. Free range, cage-free, bs. Cage free – walk inside one of those factory farms and see the de-beaked hens living practically one on top of the other, realize that they came from the same hatcheries who kill all the male chicks by suffocation or maceration, where they’re chopped up alive. And they only get to live for 18 months to two years. When their production declines, they are slaughtered as well. They’re de-beaked, they’re denied sunshine, pecking at the dirt, spreading their wings, privacy in laying their eggs. Free range can basically the exact same environment. It’s so poorly regulated. They could open something the size of a cat door, for 10,000 chickens living in an industrial shed, into a 10 X 10 yard for five minutes and enclose it. And because they can say chickens had access to the outdoors, they can get the label free-range. And it’s preposterous.

And my journey, and something I talk about on our educational tours, or when I’m doing public speaking, is that I had no idea. I was a staunch vegetarian, a soap-box preaching vegetarian with my “Meat Stinks” PETA shirts and my “Fur is Dead” bumper stickers. I had no idea that the animals who are used for dairy and for eggs suffer far worse than the animals who are used for meat outright. And that is something that people truly don’t understand.

People think, even the most educated folks come to the sanctuary, and you see, and they will say, they never realized that a cow has to be impregnated in order to produce milk. There’s this magical animal who just spurts milk from her breasts for human consumption. We don’t make those connections, and they’re mammals, like we are. They carry their babies for nine months, like we do. Every cell in their being says, “Love this, love this being.” And wants to nurture and mother.

Calves are torn away from their mother. If they’re lucky, they get to spend 48 hours with them, but that’s not customary, it’s typically 24 hours. They don’t just stand there and allow it to happen. They cry and they mourn their babies being torn away. The calves are terrified, have no idea what’s happening to them, still with umbilical cords attached.

She kicks at the dirt, she rams her head into gates. She bellows and bellows and bellows for days. Some of them stop eating, some of them just become sick from depression. Some of them stop producing milk. And weeks afterward , she’ll be forcibly impregnated, on even what the industry calls the rape rack. They are not just shoving their hands up her vagina, they are shoving their hands up her anus as well to position her uterus. It’s a total violation. If anyone considers themselves, a feminist, they need to realize that this entire system is based on the exploitation of female reproductive systems.

And not only does she go through the emotional stress of having calf after calf torn away from her, she ends up with so much calcium leeched from her bones, that it’s typically the dairy cows who are the downed animals, who can no longer walk, who have broken hips. Who are the downed animals, who are dragged by chains and bulldozers onto the trucks headed to slaughter, because animals have to make it alive to the slaughterhouse, or they can’t be used for human consumption.

And the life of an egg laying chicken? Again, it’s unimaginable to us, that they never meet their mothers. It’s interesting that we talk about a mother hen, and you’re so motherly like a hen, like a mother hen.

Chickens these days don’t have the opportunity to meet their mother. A fraction of a fraction of a fraction meet their mothers. And that’s because nobody wants the male versions of the egg layers. And in this country we have breeds that are used for meat, and we have breeds that are used for eggs, same thing with dairy cows and beef cows, two different breeds, the Holsteins and the Jerseys for dairy, the Angus and the Herefords for beef. Who are not used for milk.

But back to the egg laying chickens. They are hatched in cold metal drawers. They are quickly sexed. All the males, and you should see the workers, how they toss them around, how they spread their legs, how they poke at their vents to see if there’s a male organ. And those guys, they die in very unpleasant ways. And that’s about three hundred million chicks in this country every year.

The female are debeaked and then they basically go to live very quickly afterwards, once they start developing feathers, they go to live in battery cages. Where they live their entire lives denied of everything that makes life worth living for them. So that we can eat a product of their menstrual cycle. It’s pretty disgusting when you think about it.

Caryn Hartglass: It is disgusting. And it’s very bleak. I know you can go on all day talking about it, because it’s horrible.

We just have a few minutes left, and I’d like to kind of talk about the happy side.

Jenny Brown: I’m sorry.

Caryn Hartglass: No, it’s the world the way it is. Tell me some good stories about the non-human animals that are living at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, and how do they express to you how grateful they are.

Jenny Brown: The animals come in terrified. And part of our job is to socialize them and let them realize that they’re in a safe environment. We’ve seen amazing transformations. Just like Junior. He’s a steer who escaped from a slaughterhouse in Patterson, New Jersey. Who was terrified of people, it was even dangerous to be in with him. And now he’s a love bug. He knows his name, he loves affection. He’s especially close with some of our animal caregivers, especially Don Al, who’s our shelter manager.

And Kaylee, another cow who escaped from a slaughterhouse just outside of Philadelphia, also terrifying to be in with her.

They know and they understand now.

We have sheep who came from one of the worst neglect cases you can imagine, with their babies. They were terrified of people. And now two of them, they’re all four friends, but two of them, you can’t get away from them. They want your attention and your love so much it’s ridiculous.

They thrive here. We meet all their needs, not only their health needs, but their emotional needs. They eat healthy, nutritious food, they interact with us all the time. They get the supplements or the medicine, or the veterinary treatments and care that they need. Comfortable, straw-filled barns. Pastures to roam with others of their kind.

We do for these animals everything that we would do for our beloved cats and dogs. Or humans, friends. Why should they be on a different level.

So they thrive here. They live a joy-filled life, and it’s the most rewarding thing ever to let a chicken, who’s been a battery-cage chicken, let her out of a cage, see her touch the grass for the first time and spread her wings, and lay her eggs in privacy and dust bathe.

It makes it all worthwhile. And we wish we could give every animal this opportunity. We’re barely scratching the surface. But these animals are amazing ambassadors for the millions and billions of others just like them, who are living and dying for the sake of our palate and our culture and tradition.

So again, we are agents of change, in trying to change the way society views and treats these animals. And we invite everybody to come to Woodstock Farm Sanctuary and check us out online at Visit us, we’re only open through the end of October for visiting season. We’ll open again in April. But you can come and volunteer any old time. And sign up for our newsletter, because we have lots of fun, engaging events. Follow us on Facebook, we do a lot of advocacy on Facebook. And come meet the animals. Because again, meeting them can change your life, it can open your heart in ways that you never imagined.

Caryn Hartglass: Thank you Jenny. You’re just amazing. Compassionate, energy and action, all in one. You’ve done such great work and I know that you’re going to continue to do so. And everybody should visit.

So thank you for joining me and thank you for sharing your stories.

Jenny Brown: Thank you for having me.

Caryn Hartglass: Yes a pleasure, take care.

We are out of time everybody. Thank you for joining me. That was Jenny Brown of Woodstock Farm Sanctuary. I’m Caryn Hartglass of Responsible Eating and Living. Remember to have a delicious week. Bye bye.

Transcribed by Cindy Goldberg 1/8/2016

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