Laurelee Blanchard, Founder and President of Leilani Farm Sanctuary, left a lucrative career as Senior Vice President at the national firm of Lee and Associates Commercial Real Estate Services to devote her life to animal protection and humane education. In 1999, she cashed out her life savings and moved from Orange County, California, to Haiku, Maui. There she acquired an eight-acre parcel of land, on which she created a farm sanctuary—a refuge where animals would be protected from neglect, abuse, and slaughter. Leilani Farm Sanctuary, an all-volunteer, non-profit organization, is now home to nearly three hundred rescued animals, including goats, chickens, rabbits, ducks, donkeys, geese, deer, cats, pigs, sheep, turkeys, guinea pigs, tortoises, and a cow. The Sanctuary provides educational programs for school groups and special-needs visitors; it also offers tours to the general public. Since the mid-90s, Ms. Blanchard has focused her attention on the protection of farm animals. She served as a pro- bono communications director for Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), a national non-profit that devotes its efforts to bringing to an end the practice of using living, sentient beings for food. She also worked for three years as campaign consultant to Farm Sanctuary, the nation’s largest farm-animal protection organization. In 2010, Laurelee was hired as consultant to the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), specifically in its campaign to end the long-distance transport of live farm animals from the Mainland U.S. to Hawaii. She successfully negotiated with Foodland and Times Supermarket chains to implement policies against purchasing pork from pigs shipped to Hawaii, thereby reducing the number of pigs transported and slaughtered by approximately seventy-five thousand per year. In 2012, Laurelee was presented the “Vegan of the Year in North America” commendation for her outstanding animal activist work; and in 2015, she received a national award and grant from the Godiva Company for embodying the attributes of Lady Godiva through selflessness, generosity, leadership, and the spirit of giving back to the community.
Since 2009, It’s All About Food, has been bringing you the best in up-to-date news regarding food and our food system. Hosted by Caryn Hartglass, a vegan since 1988, the program includes in-depth interviews with medical doctors; nutritionists; dietitians; cook book authors; athletes; environmental, animals and health activists; farmers; food manufacturers; lawyers; food scientists and more. Learn about how we can solve many of the world’s problems today and do it deliciously, here on It’s All About Food.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s move on because we have so much more to talk about on this show where we are tuning in live-ly and tuning in love-ly. Tuning in love. Okay, next up is Laurelee Blanchard, founder and president of Leilani Farm Sanctuary. And she’s got an incredible story. We’re going to be hearing about it in a moment. I could read the bio, but I’d rather hear some of the story from Laurelee herself. So let’s bring her on. Welcome to It’s All About Food.
Laurelee Blanchard: Good morning.
Caryn Hartglass: Good morning. Oh, that’s right. You’re way, way out there. I have a daily blog called What Vegans Eat, and in today’s blog, I didn’t even think about it, but I said, “I think I’m on Hawaii Time right now.”
Laurelee Blanchard: Yeah, yeah. Good morning here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, because I’m in New York. And, I don’t know, somehow we tend, especially in the hot weather, we tend to work a lot later when it gets cooler. And then so we’re up really late, and then we wake up really late, and it’s Hawaii Time.
Laurelee Blanchard: Yes, yes indeed. It’s mid-morning, and it’s a beautiful morning here with roosters crowing and donkeys baying and pigs squealing. It’s a happy scene.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, so anyway, thank you for sending me your book, Finding Paradise: Leilani Farm Sanctuary of Maui. I enjoyed reading it very much and loved the pictures. It almost is like a picture book.
Laurelee Blanchard: Yes, my favorite hobby is going out into the pasture at the end of the day and hanging out with the animals with my camera. And because I’m out there so many evenings in perfect lighting conditions, I’m bound to get some winners. So that book had the best photos of our collection.
Caryn Hartglass: So you’ve created a beautiful place, and it has not been without challenge. We’ve all had challenges in our life, and I think life is supposed to continue to be a struggle. It’s never easy. And just when things seem just right, a new challenge is brought into our life. And you’ve shared a number of them with your reading audience in this book. And maybe we’ll touch on some of them. And then, in addition, there are so many beautiful stories of the animals that you have had an opportunity to bring to your sanctuary. I think my favorite line, or picture, in the book was where you talk about not having human children, but how non-human, animal children are your children. And you had a picture that said, “My kid is a goat.”
Laurelee Blanchard: Yes, that’s a picture of our bumper sticker. It’s got a picture of our goat, Freddy, who we rescued as a newborn, orphan goat after his mother was killed by hunters, and that was many years ago. He’s now grown up to be the king of the herd. He’s a huge, black goat and still considers me his mother and still acts like my baby. And the picture of the goat on the bumper sticker was a young Freddy. And my kid is indeed a goat. May goats really. Yeah, my kid’s a goat.
Caryn Hartglass: So you have a fascinating story. I don’t want to give it all away because I want people to read the book. But you went from a successful career, which you left, and found a way to start this sanctuary. And I now understand, when I got to the end of the book, I kind of find it a happy ending. But it’s an open-ended ending where you’re looking to buy the property back that you had owned and are looking for help, or support of Leilani Farm Sanctuary, so you can buy it back.
Laurelee Blanchard: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I just want to bring that out right away because I want people to know that here’s an opportunity to do something good.
Laurelee Blanchard: Well thank you. We appreciate that support.
Caryn Hartglass: The thing about sanctuaries, what makes them so special, I think, is…there are, I mean we know, how many billions of animals are tortured every year from birth until death until they end up on someone’s plate as what some people consider food. And occasionally one or another are liberated from some very harrowing circumstances as you describe in your book. And they end up in a sanctuary such as yours, and they are able to live out their life. And you get to know them, and they have wonderful personalities and character. And they do amazing things. We can’t save all of them. But here’s an opportunity. Now you have tours. People can meet these individuals and think about making changes in their life. And that’s what makes sanctuaries the most important, I think.
Laurelee Blanchard: Yes, indeed. And inspiring people to rethink their food choices is a major part of our mission. And when people come to visit the farm, we ask them to really open their hearts and to allow themselves to feel a connection with these animals, and to see them as individuals with personalities, and to regard them as individuals rather than a meal. And we hear over and over again from visitors who follow up and tell us that the last day that they consumed an animal product is the day that they visited the animals at Leilani Farm Sanctuary. And that is truly the highest compliment anybody can ever pay me, to tell me that because of my influence or inspiration, that they have made the decision to live their life and make food choices in harmony with their ethics.
Caryn Hartglass: I want to just touch on one or two of the stories that you talked about. And I think my favorite was the one about Bernie the wild pig.
Laurelee Blanchard: Oh, the pig. Bernie.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, Bernie. So we have a feeling about wild animals, animals in the wild versus the ones that we have domesticated. And pigs really have a, wild pigs, have a scary reputation. Can you tell us about Bernie?
Laurelee Blanchard: Yes, Bernie is a wild pig who found his way to the sanctuary up from the gulch behind the property. And what happened was one evening around sunset I was standing on the porch petting the cat when suddenly I heard some unfamiliar pig sounds. Some oinks and grunts and snorts. And I walked out past the papaya trees and into the animal paddock where I saw Kea, our rescue female pig, engaged in an animated conversation with a young, wild boar on the opposite side of the fence. So I approached very carefully and watched from a distance to avoid scaring away Kea’s cute suitor, and I saw that he was really interacting with the farm. He was following the donkey along the fence line, and it really appeared that he wanted to be part of the animal family. So I went out there the next morning, and he was gone. No sign of Bernie. But then the next evening, there he was again. He was back. So I tried to get closer to him each time I saw him, but he was quite shy. And I realized that we really needed to get him into the sanctuary very quickly so that we could, number one, get him neutered before he got huge and busted in impregnated Kea. But, even more importantly, before hunters or dogs killed him. So I spent many sleepless nights worrying about Bernie. And one day I saw him with the chickens. He had somehow managed to come up the driveway, and I decided to give him some chicken food to warm him up a bit, soften up his resistance. And while he was eating the chicken food, I decided to pet him. And he was so engrossed in the food, he is a pig after all, that he let me pet his bristly hair on his back and before long, he was letting me give him belly rubs. I made an appointment with our veterinarian to come over and neuter Bernie, and the biggest challenge was getting him into a small paddock where we could administer an injection to anesthetize him before the surgery. But we managed to do that, and he was completely unconscious during the operation. And before he awakened, I fetched a wheelbarrow, and put him in the wheelbarrow, and wheeled him into the sanctuary where all the other animals are. And when he woke up, there he was, surrounded by all his animal friends. He’s been a fantastic ambassador to the sanctuary because indeed, like you say, he has to dispel the myth that the wild pigs are mean and vicious. Because Bernie, he does not have a mean bone in his body, He’s absolutely the sweetest pig on the entire farm. When I call him, he comes running. He follows me all around the farm. He’s huge now. He’s gigantic, but as gentle as a lamb. The deer boss him around. He’s not the boss of any animal here. Every animal manages to intimidate Bernie. He’s real sweet with the cats. The cats ride around on his back; they get piggy back rides. We have pictures to prove it. And he’s even great with visitors. Small kids, three years old, can walk right up and give him a kiss on the snout.
Caryn Hartglass: Of course you’ll never know what Bernie’s life was like before he came to your sanctuary. But I’m curious about why a wild pig would want to leave his own environment, family and friends, and come to your little Garden of Eden. And maybe Bernie was bullied. Maybe Bernie lost his family and friends. You don’t know. Do you?
Laurelee Blanchard: I have a strong guess, and my guess is that hunters killed his mother.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, yeah. That happens.
Laurelee Blanchard: So I’m really the only mother he’s ever known.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I love hearing the background noise coming through with the hens crowing, the roosters crowing. It’s a very peaceful sound.
Laurelee Blanchard: Thank you. I love it. People ask me how I can tolerate all these roosters crowing all day long, and the truth is, it’s music to my ears. I love it. And I don’t have any trouble sleeping in the morning. In fact, it’s white noise. If there wasn’t the sound of roosters, I might have difficulty sleeping.
Caryn Hartglass: So, what can people do to help? Because I understand from reading that you had owned the sanctuary, and people can read the details about what happened. But then you had this wonderful couple come through and buy the property, and you leased it from them, and now you’re looking to buy it back. So what can people do to help?
Laurelee Blanchard: People can come visit us. They can go to our website, which is leilanifarmsanctuary.org and order the book. And hopefully it will be an entertaining and inspiring read. We’ve received some wonderful endorsements, and the books are flying off the shelf. So that’s a good sign.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, great.
Laurelee Blanchard: Or they can make a donation directly through our website, which would be very much appreciated. Everyone who donates receives a very special handwritten card with a photograph of the rescued animals. And most importantly, to help the largest number of animals, beyond Leilani Farm Sanctuary is transition away from eating them, eating animal products. By rejecting animal products, eliminating the eggs and dumping the dairy, we can save the largest number of animals.
Caryn Hartglass: Amen to that! That’s what I talk about day and night.
Laurelee Blanchard: Yeah, we get it.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, we definitely get it. Fantastic. Well, like I said, I really enjoyed reading the book, and I’d like to say it’s important to look into the eyes of a non-human animal. I like to do that whenever I have the opportunity. I like to look them in the eye and kind of share the message, “I don’t eat you. I won’t eat you.” And there’s a special connection, and I think some of the photos enable you to simulate that to some degree because there’s some really lovely pictures where you can actually see their eyes. And the eyes tell us so much; they tell us so many stories. And looking into the eyes of some of these precious beings, you know there’s so much going on in their thoughts, and their minds, so much feeling, so much life.
Laurelee Blanchard: Absolutely, and one of the things that we like to do on the farm tour is when we bring visitors into the, we have a huge chicken aviary, it’s 2400 square feet, which is three times the size of my cottage. And we invite the visitors to, while they’re cuddling the chickens, to look them in the eye and hold them close to their heart so they can feel their heartbeats. And many visitors have told us that after looking into the eyes of the chickens, they can no longer consume them.
Caryn Hartglass: Look at that. Yeah, looking into the eye of the chicken, most people can’t imagine it. But just do it. A live chicken, please. A chicken that is able to roam free. Look into their eyes, and then see if you can eat them.
Laurelee Blanchard: People are also surprised to discover how cuddly chickens are. Chickens are a lot like cats in that they actually enjoy being cuddled and pat, especially if they’re handled as young chicks. We have many who we rescued as tiny, newly hatched peeps who’d become separated from their mothers and got to the sanctuary. And the ones who are handled a lot as babies, they grow up to crave human attention.
Caryn Hartglass: The older ones don’t necessarily look like the cuddliest.
Laurelee Blanchard: Oh, if they’ve been cuddled as babies, they are very cuddly. In fact, we have one big rooster who was rescued as a newly hatched peep by an animal rights activist, Linda Levine. And she had this rooster, this baby chicken, with her 24 hours a day for, I think it was, six to eight months before bringing him to Leilani Farm Sanctuary. And that rooster has grown up to be such a cuddler. And after a few months of not seeing him, she came and visited. She’s on a different island, she’s on Oahu. But she came to the sanctuary for her birthday, brought a big crew of friends from Oahu to volunteer, and she went into the aviary, and that guy really recognized her. And they had such a wonderful reunion. They just sat and cuddled for nearly an hour.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I’m thinking that some of these stories, like some of the chapters that are specific about how you rescued an animal, they might make great children’s stories too because children love hearing about animals. I don’t want to give all the stories away, but there are wonderful adventures in this story where you were almost arrested and put in handcuffs and other stories where you really risked your life trying to save chickens and roosters that were brought up in horrible situations for livestock purposes.
Laurelee Blanchard: I trespassed into the cockfighting operation.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t know how you had the courage to do any of that.
Laurelee Blanchard: Well, my courage kind of ran out when I heard the gun shots firing.
CH: I don’t want to give all those stories away because I want people to get the book, read it, Finding Paradise: Leilani Farm Sanctuary of Maui. And Laurelee, it was a pleasure talking to you. Thank you for everything that you are doing for the animals, and I wish you all the best.
Laurelee Blanchard: Thank you for the wonderful radio show that you have and for all that you’re doing for the animals.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you.
Laurelee Blanchard: And I really appreciated being included as your guest.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, it was an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much, Laurelee.
We just have a few minutes left, and I made a list. I always make long lists of things I want to talk about, and then I run out of time. And let’s see how far I go. Okay. A couple of things, you know I haven’t gotten political lately. And just because I don’t talk politics on the show doesn’t mean I haven’t been political, and I wanted to invite you, if you haven’t been, to a website called indivisibleguide.com. Today is the #Kill the Bill action, and there are events going on all over the country. If you have any time today you might go to indivisibleguide.com, check out their Kill the Bill Day of Action, put in your zip code, and find out what’s going on in your neighborhood. Fortunately, the Trumpcare doesn’t look like it’s doing too well. And hopefully we’ll be able to move towards improving the Affordable Care Act and go towards a single payer system for everyone. That’s what I’d like, but we’ve got a long way to go. So Kill the Bill. There’s that.
Another thing I wanted to mention, I had Eunice Wong on the program several weeks ago, and we talked about her book What the Health, which is based on the film, What the Health, and What the Health was released on Netflix on June 16th. I don’t know if you’ve had a change to watch it. I have. I enjoyed the film. There’s all kinds of comments about it in the vegan world. We tend to get very polarized in the vegan world. Some people say that some of the facts were cherry-picked and that some of the facts are over the top. I think overall, what’s great about this movie is people get the message that plant foods are healthy and the way our food industry works today is not. And that’s what I really like about the film. And I encourage you to watch it. You can either go to the What the Health film website and purchase viewing the film; I think it’s $9.99. Or if you have a Netflix subscription, you can see it there. But one thing that I really love about it is that I like to look at the traffic at my personal, non-profit website responsibleleeatingandliving.com. I use Google Analytics and some other tools. And since the film has been released on Netflix, the traffic on our site has gone up like crazy. And I know it’s due to the film because some people write me and ask about how to transition to a vegan diet since they’ve seen the film What the Health. Also, several people that are featured in the film, like my friend and colleague Dr. Milton Mills, who I interviewed recently this year and five years ago, his interview which is archived on the REAL site, lots of people have been accessing that. And it’s just going up and up and up, and I’m very, very excited about that.
A couple more things. I have some events featured on the Responsible Eating and Living site, and it’s up at the top of the page in the slider. There are these 2Forks events. The Forks Over Knives people are putting that together, and there is one coming up in August at the Esselstyn Family Farm. If you want to know more about that, visit my site responsibleeatingandliving.com and click on the slider there that has the “2Forks event for 2017.” If you’re nearby in New York, you won’t want to miss that one.
And the last thing, I might have to save this or pick it up next week because I’m running out of time, is mac n’ cheese. Maybe you’ve heard about mac n’ cheese in the news. But there was a study that showed that most of the processed cheese products out there on the market, especially those used for macaroni and cheese products, are loaded with phthalates. Phthalates, if you can even say the word without spitting, they are endocrine disruptors. They are not healthy for us. And they are not actually put in the food. They are in the packaging of the food, and they somehow have leeched themselves into processed cheese products, which is really frightening. And so, just for those of you who don’t want phthalate in your mac n’ cheese, and you still want to eat mac n’ cheese, we have a great mac n’ cheese recipe for you. It’s dairy-free, of course, and phthalate-free. And it’s funny because so many people are clicking on this recipe because I know people love their mac n’ cheese. It’s right there, responsibleeatingandliving.com on our homepage.
Yes, so much more I want to talk about, but I think I’m going to leave it for next week because I just have a few seconds left. Right? Anyway, I want to thank you for joining me and for being there. You can always find me at email@example.com. I love your comments and questions, and I hope you write in, especially if you’ve seen the film What the Health, and you want to know how to transition to a healthy, plant-based diet and go vegan. We can help you at Responsible Eating and Living. All of the information on our website is free. We’ve got hundreds of recipes. All of my interviews here on It’s All About Food, our archive, our transcribed. Easy to use information. Thanks for listening to me. I’m Caryn Hartglass. This has been It’s All About Food. Have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Melissa Rumley, 7/24/2017