A farm sanctuary is most commonly defined as a facility where animals are brought to live and to be protected for the rest of their lives. As a volunteer at a farm sanctuary – Charlottes Freedom Farm – I believe a farm sanctuary is a home.
For someone who has never visited a farm sanctuary, they may mistake it as a petting zoo, which is common. However, at sanctuaries, animals live with us not for us, therefore animals are not taken advantage of. This classifies them as non-profit organizations, since the residents are not being exploited. A sanctuary is a place of education as well as a place of peace. I have captured the smiles on the faces of pigs, cows, and goats; animals create the most beautifully inverse friendships; and the joy is contagious – all at a farm sanctuary.
Here in YQG, we are lucky to home 2 farm sanctuaries – Charlotte's Freedom Farm and Dara Farm Sanctuary. Technically… each farm is on the brim of Windsor-Essex County, both lying Chatham-Kent. However, both farms are close neighbors to YQG. First, Charlotte’s Freedom, is now located at – 9543 Brookline, Dresden, Ontario – 30 minutes away from their original site in comber. The site of Dara Farm Sanctuary, only 10 minutes past the Chatham-Kent border, is – 2321 Talbot Trail, Wheatley, Ontario.
Although the concept of a farm sanctuary sounds straight forward, there are over 2 million results when searching its definition. Everyone one who experiences this type of farm, defines it differently. Luckily, I was able to interview the founders of both of YQG’s farm sanctuaries, to improve my own explanation of “what is a farm sanctuary”, and convince my audience it is one of the happiest places on earth.
The founder of Charlotte’s Freedom Farm, Lauren Edwards, works as a team with Christine Rettig, the on-site animal care taker. Christine defines a farm sanctuary as; “A safe place, a space where I can enjoy the peace and joy that comes with being surrounded by animals, knowing they are not being exploited or harmed in any way.” Christine also explained that the animals are all surrendered, not purchased. Plus, have access to proper medical care and high-quality diets.
Matt and Marco Verkade are the friendly faces behind Dara Farm Sanctuary. They have been working together for years to create and sustain the wonders at their farm. These two define a farm sanctuary as; “A place of refuge or rest, a place to be at peace.” They added that this is their dream for Dara, for the world to see it as; “A place where animals will be loved, know they are safe, and have found family and home.” Which I believe they have truly fulfilled.
Every sanctuary has most likely formed for the same reason; to rescue animals in need. However, each sanctuary is a different home, containing a different story. Both Charlotte’s and Dara have a unique tale to tell, and I am eager to share them on the founder’s behalf.
For starters, I asked Lauren at Charlotte’s; how long has it been since you first established your sanctuary? Which she responded with; "I took in Charlotte on April 4th 2017 and that is the day Charlotte’s Freedom Farm was ultimately born. You cannot have just one sheep or goat; they are herd animals (and need friends of their own kind). Alvin, Simon, Theo and Benjamin came a week later from a farm auction where they were not sold due to being ill. They were two weeks old at the time.” Now, Charlotte’s is one of the first calls made when an animal is in desperate need of a home. Since they initially established, they have welcomed over 150 more animals into their home!
Dara on the other hand, is even a year younger than Charlotte’s. Although, I am sure the number of residents would portray otherwise. Matt and Marco stated that they established Dara 2 years ago, on July 1, 2018. Since then, they have rescued over 80 pigs! Plus, countless other species!
Next, I asked; why did you begin to rescue farm animals? First, Lauren stated; “Charlotte’s was born out of my love for animals and the fact that there are not enough places for farm animals to live their lives in freedom. Many farm animals are raised as pets and then left without anywhere to go other than back to the livestock industry.” Then, Christine shared her perspective as resident at the farm; “I have always had a love of animals; I began as a regular volunteer at the farm over a year ago and instantly loved everything about it. I began volunteering more often, learning more, getting more involved, and moved onto the new property full-time in December. I am now the ‘on-site’ animal care taker and am so blessed. I choose to dedicate my time and energy to rescue farm animals because they need to be rescued. As long as there are beautiful souls who need help, I will be helping.”
Matt and Marco have also been animal lovers their whole life, with a destiny to rescue. Matt explained why him and Marco began rescuing farm animals; “About 7 years ago we started to welcome tropical birds into our home, we adopted our cats and our dog. In February 2016, we were informed about two pot-bellied pigs that were in need of a home. We looked for a sanctuary to welcome them, but everyone was full. We went to meet them, and after finding them in the conditions that they were living, we could not leave them. So, we went home and cleaned out our garage and welcomed Rosie and Kevin into our family. Then the search for a farm began!” Now, only a few years later, people come to Dara in search for a welcoming farm to surrender animals to.
Once understanding the dynamics of a farm sanctuary, you begin understanding the logistics in return. Caring for animals’ costs not only complete dedication, but also a substantial amount of money. Out of curiosity, I asked Lauren and Christine; “since you are a non-profit organization, what kind of techniques do you use to generate the majority of your donations?” Christine returned with; “As a non-profit organization, we rely on donations and fundraising. We have merchandise including; stickers, pins and shirts that we sell throughout the year after events and tours. We have also had successful online auctions.” Charlotte’s Freedom Farm constantly shows growth in their following base, which is full of many generous, loyal supporters, which don’t go unnoticed. Unfortunately, there was a devastating fire at their farm this summer, which almost the entire world sympathized, thanks to Charlotte’s supporters advocating the situation. Christine added; “After the fire on July 2, a go fund me was created for the sanctuary by several of our role models from large sanctuaries in the United States: Rancho Relaxo, Goats of Anarchy, Enchanted Farm Sanctuary and Twist of Fate Farm Sanctuary, and we were able to raise a lot of money for our new barn. The story of our tragedy was shared worldwide and we had an overwhelming amount of support from animal lovers in Japan, Great Britain, Australia, across Canada and the United States.”
Humbly, I also asked Dara what techniques they use to fundraise. Matt answered honestly with; “Fundraising is not our strong suit. We moved into an area that a sanctuary already had a strong presence. We have a connection with a vegan restaurant in Sarnia that had a couple of benefit dinners for Dara. But now of course those dinners have not happened this year due to covid. Our open houses were successful fundraising as well. We have just had someone take over our patreon account, so hopefully that will improve as well.” After reading this article, make sure to check out Dara’s heartwarming social media pages! On Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/darafarmsanctuary/photos/, Instagram - @DaraFarmSanctuary, and their new patreon website - https://www.patreon.com/Darafarmsanctuary2018.
There are so many benefits to visiting a farm sanctuary, however, unfortunately, due to covid, visitation has recently been restricted. To answer the question many people must be wondering, I asked each sanctuary; will tours be returning in the future? Christine, at Charlotte’s, gave the response; “At this time it is hard to know for certain. We have had several successful goat yoga events whiles being able to maintain social distancing and covid safety precautions, and have several more events scheduled for the next month. We have been able to open up our volunteer program with some modifications. We do plan on having a couple of family friendly events in the fall, to give kids a chance to come and see meet the animals.” Good thing fall is only a week away!
As for Dara Farm, you and a few friends could personally meet the animals on your next day off! Matt assured us by stating; “We do still offer private tours at Dara. Groups of 5(max) due to covid we aren’t having any open houses or events until further notice.”
In conclusion, a farm sanctuary is a forever home, offering peace, safety and unconditional love. The unconditional love is mutual, it is clear that we need rescue animals just as much as they need us. If you are not convinced by the words of the founders themselves, please pursue research on the reason farm sanctuaries exist, or the mental health benefits associated with spending time with animals, or continue to scroll through social media accounts until you find an animal whom you fall in love with. Here in YQG we need to support our local farm sanctuaries, and stay spreading awareness. Because, I believe, this type of farm needs to be utilized and even more normalized.