Vegetarians in Paradise proudly presents its 24 Carrot Award to Lorri and Gene Bauston for their work in establishing and operating Farm Sanctuary, the largest farm animal rescue organization in the United States. Through their efforts they have made the public aware of the mistreatment of farm animals and have been instrumental in the passage of legislation in this area.
What follows are the questions asked by Vegetarians in Paradise (VIP) and the answers of Lorri Bauston (LB).
VIP: What events led you to vegetarianism?
LB: A natural love of animals, and when I was 16 and old enough to put the connection together, I woke up one day thinking about the contradiction between loving some animals so much, while chomping mindlessly on another, and went vegetarian that day.
VIP: What pushed you toward a vegan path?
LB: With the change to vegetarianism, it was an awakening on my own. With veganism, it took learning about the horrific cruelty that 'laying' hens and 'dairy' cattle endure. Until I had the information, it never occurred to me that these animals suffer and died to produce eggs, milk and cheese. That's why I think it's so important to keep doing all we can to get this information out to people. I know my own ignorance led to the torture and death of animals. If I had known, I would have become a vegan the same day I became a vegetarian.
VIP: Did animal activism play a role in your meeting and marriage?
LB: Gene and I met while I was working at Greenpeace, so that pretty much says it all!
VIP: We understand that Farm Sanctuary began in your backyard. How did it wind up in Watkins Glen?
LB: Farm Sanctuary started when we found Hilda, a downed sheep, who had been thrown alive on a pile of dead animals at a stockyard. We didn't have a farm then, but we couldn't leave Hilda there, so we brought her home with us--and then realized we needed to start a shelter for farm animals.
VIP: How were you able to raise the funds to purchase and operate Farm Sanctuary?
LB: We saved every dollar we could--selling vegetarian hotdogs, organizing walkathons, and we lived on about $50 a week. After 3 years, Farm Sanctuary was able to buy the farm in Watkins Glen in 1989.
VIP: How did the Orland, California location come into being?
LB: A Farm Sanctuary member who liked the work we were doing donated a farm property to us, and we opened our California shelter in 1993.
VIP: We have heard reports that you are scouting for another location. Are you able to tell us about your future plans?
LB: Farm Sanctuary received a donation of 160 acres in Los Angeles County, and we are now obtaining the necessary permits and raising funding to open Farm Sanctuary Los Angeles.
VIP: Can you both tell us about your education.
LB: I have a masters degree in social work and public administration. Gene has a master's degree in agricultural economics. Our educational background has helped us be good barn muckers!
VIP: How have you used your education in your current endeavors?
LB: Yes, seriously, I'm sure it has helped, but I'm more of a 'hands-on' learning person and believe this is the best way to learn to do anything.
VIP: How many animals are currently housed at both of your locations?
LB: We have approximately 1500 animals now, but the numbers do fluctuate depending on cruelty cases.
VIP: Will you need to expand the housing at either of these facilities?
LB: We are always expanding all of our programs. Our rescue and shelter work is one of our programs growing, but we are also expanding our investigations and legal actions, education and outreach projects and campaigns to end 'food animal' production abuses.
VIP: How does one become a member of Farm Sanctuary? How many members does the organization have? What roles do the members play?
LB: Members are Farm Sanctuary--over 90 percent of our annual operating budget comes from membership donations. As you can imagine, there aren't many corporations or agencies knocking on our door to save the chickens and cows. Farm sanctuary members make our work possible. Anyone can sign up to join with us--we have a variety of programs like our adopt-a-farm animal sponsorship project which provides regular on-going support for our rescue work. We currently have over 100,000 members who contribute to us annually.
VIP: We understand you have filmed farm animals being abused. What changes have these films brought about?
LB: Farm Sanctuary documentation led to the passing of the first state law to ban livestock marketing cruelties such as dragging or abandoning 'downed' animals. Farm Sanctuary investigative campaigns have also led to the first cruelty convictions of stockyards, factory farms and slaughterhouses.
VIP: We are aware you have a number of web sites in addition to the Farm Sanctuary site. What have been the accomplishments of some of these?
LB: The websites are being used by legislators, activists, news reporters--it's a great tool for change.
VIP: We know you were involved in the campaign to persuade Burger King to offer a vegetarian sandwich in the early 90's. What happened to that effort?
LB: Burger King first introduced a veggie burger in 1993 in Watkins Glen, New York, at our request--we have thousands of vegetarians and new vegetarians visit our New York shelter every year--and we simply asked our local BK to carry vegetarian food. Though our local BK wanted to continue offering it, BK national stopped it, and it took another 8 years of campaigning, and many people working on it, to finally get BK to offer a veggie burger nationwide. Today, the BK Veggie Burger is selling throughout the country.
VIP: What is your reaction to Burger King's current BK Veggie Burger?
LB: I believe it's one of the most positive developments for farm animals. Millions of people go to Burger Kings everyday--these people will now be educated about vegetarian alternatives and have a choice. When Burger King first introduced a veggie burger in Watkins Glen, they couldn't keep enough in stock. The veggie burger was selling incredibly well--when people had a choice, they were choosing vegetarian.
VIP: You both have been involved in a number of campaigns on behalf of animals. Would you cite a few you consider the most successful and tell us about your role in them?
LB: We feel very good about our role in the BK Veggie Burger, and in promoting a vegetarianism in general. Our annual adopt-a-turkey project, for example, has received extensive news coverage, including prime-time-live, CNN, CBS This Morning, National Public Radio to name a few. Millions of people have seen turkeys as living, sentient beings, and I know this project has provided much food for thought.
One of our most successful campaigns has been our "no downers" campaign. When Gene and I first started investigating "downed" animals -- animals too sick or injured to even stand -- no one knew about this cruelty. Today, we have won precedent-setting cruelty convictions of stockyards that abused downed animals, passed a state law, and brought national attention to this issue as we continue to work for a ban on the sale of downed animals.
VIP: Can you tell our readers about your unique Thanksgiving celebration where live turkeys are the guests of honor? What tasty morsels grace your Thanksgiving table?
LB: Our Adopt-a-Turkey Project encourages people to feed a turkey, rather than eat a turkey for Thanksgiving by adopting one! Most people adopt by sponsoring a turkey who resides at one of our shelters, but we also rescue and place turkeys into loving vegetarian homes. The turkeys enjoy a Thanksgiving feast of cranberries, salad, pumpkin pie, and, of course, stuffed squash.
VIP: What leisure time activities, sports, or hobbies do you enjoy?
I'm afraid we're like your typical animal activists, who don't take much time for these kinds of things, so we don't really have any hobbies. We do try to take vacations now once a year, and when we can, we enjoy hiking,biking, canoeing, swimming and skiing.
VIP: Other than the Sanctuary animals, do you have any personal animal companions?
LB: Yes, we have companion dogs and cats--all are vegetarian.
VIP: Do you have a master plan for future Farm Sanctuary activities you could share with our readers?
LB: Thanks to people who care enough to do their part for farm animals, Farm Sanctuary is continuing to expand all of our programs. In the future, I know we'll be working to pass more humane protection laws for animals and gaining more recognition of farm animals as sentient beings.
VIP: Of all of your accomplishments on behalf of animals, which have given you the greatest personal satisfaction?
LB: Looking into the eyes of an animal you have saved and knowing this animal will save many more farm animals by encouraging people to go vegan.
VIP: If we have omitted areas that are important to you, please feel free to add anything you would like to share with our readers.
LB: Farm Sanctuary is a sanctuary for people too--there's nothing like kissing a cow to make your day a happier one. Animal activists can often feel hopeless since we're fighting some pretty tough battles. We need to recognize how much we are doing to stop farm animal suffering by being vegans and vegetarians--and looking into a cow's eyes can remind you of this.
Photos in this article are by Frank Noelker.
Lorri and Gene Bauston can be reached at: