Vegetarians in Paradise proudly presents its 24 Carrot Award to Ellie Callahan, founder of The Gentle Barn Foundation. The Gentle Barn, located in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, California, is a non-profit refuge for abused farm animals. The Gentle Barn's educational mission is to teach people, especially children, the need to respect and care for all animals.
What follows are the questions asked by Vegetarians in Paradise (VIP) and the answers by Ellie Callahan (EC).
VIP: Could you tell our readers how your backyard animal refuge became the Gentle Barn Foundation?
EC : The Gentle Barn has been a dream of mine since I was 7 years old. I have always loved animals and seen them as my teachers, healers and friends. I thought that if I could have one of every animal, introduce them to people, and show them how wonderful they are, maybe people would be kinder and more compassionate.
VIP: What are the goals of the foundation?
EC: To teach people kindness and compassion to animals, each other, and the planet. To help people see who our friends are, what is food, and to encourage and support a vegan way of life.
VIP: How is it funded?
EC: By donations and grants.
VIP: What outside organizations and corporate sponsors have you attracted? What types of assistance have they provided?
EC: We have received several grants. We have had many sponsors aid us in serving vegan food at our vegan thanksgivings and potlucks.
VIP: How effective has your website been in bringing the Gentle Barn message to people?
EC: Extremely effective, we receive about 25,000 hits a month.
VIP: You live in what may be called a residential area. Have you had any problems with the neighbors or local authorities about having animals in your backyard?
EC: Our neighborhood is residential, however, we are in an agricultural zone, so we are allowed to have our animals here.
VIP: What role does the Gentle Barn play in the lives of children in your community? What types of activities do you offer for kids?
EC: We are host to school groups during the week. Every school within driving distance comes regularly to the barn. We also work with the local boys homes, foster homes, and scout troops. We give the children a presentation about animals and how we are all the same inside; we just look different. They get to interact with the animals and gain empathy for all beings. We also have a vegan moms club once a month where children and parents can learn about raising healthy kids.
VIP: We understand that one of the activities of Gentle Barn is virtual adoption? Could you tell us how this program works?
EC: People can pay 25 dollars a month and care for one of our animals. The animal lives here, and we do all the work, but they can visit their pet and get the satisfaction of knowing that they made a difference to animals that need them.
VIP: You also sponsor a Mom's Club? How does that organization operate?
EC: The parents and children get together at the barn once a month and have a potluck. Parents have an opportunity to share recipes, taste vegan food, and talk about health issues. The children get a chance to become close friends with other vegan / vegetarian children, and know that they are not the only ones who don't eat animals. It is a wonderful support group for anyone who has children and wants to raise them healthy, and kind to animals.
VIP: How can one participate in your monthly vegan potlucks? What can one expect when there?
EC: The potlucks are the 2nd Saturday of every month at 1 PM. All are welcome, but you must bring a vegan dish to share (no meat, poultry, fish, dairy, whey, casein, eggs, gelatin, or honey). Meet wonderful people, taste delicious food, learn about new recipes, restaurants and stores.
VIP: The Gentle Barn sponsors two gala events each year, a Vegan Thanksgiving Feast and a 4th of July Vegan Bar-B-Q. Could you describe these events?
EC: Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate life. Here at the barn we have wonderful vegan food, entertainment, and live turkeys as our guests of honor. Our celebration is held every Thanksgiving Day from 1 to 5.
The 4th of July is the biggest slaughter day of the year. People all over the country have dead animals on their grills. We wanted to give people a chance to celebrate life at the Gentle Barn with the animals as guests of honor instead of on the grill. You can celebrate with us and our cows and pigs and chickens and see how wonderful they are, and how wonderful vegan food is as well! On the 4th of July we hold a catered barbecue with fun for the entire family. We have live music, a raffle, and special activities for the kids.We have vegan fried unchicken, veggie dogs and burgers and all the fixins.
VIP: If I know nothing about the Gentle Barn, but I would like to visit, how do I make arrangements to come?
EC: Either check out our website, www.gentlebarn.org, or call us at 818-705-5477.
VIP: What future plans do you have for the Gentle Barn?
EC: Eventually we would like to open Gentle Barns across the country. If we can access every child in America, we will have a radical change to vegetarianism, health, and kindness very quickly.
VIP: What events led you to become a vegetarian? How did you come to veganism?
EC: I met a chicken when I was 11 years old. It was instantly clear to me who I was eating, and that she was not food! I became vegetarian then and there. Several years ago, someone explained to me that the dairy industry was the veal industry. He explained that we only have veal because we are drinking the baby cow's milk. The industry does not want the babies, they want their milk, so the way to get rid of the unwanted baby cows is to kill them and make them into veal. Once I was made aware of what was really happening, it was easy for me to enjoy soy products instead, and not support that cruelty!
VIP: How do your family and friends react to your views on animals and vegetarianism?
EC: Most of them think I am crazy. But they cannot deny how healthy I am and how unhealthy they are. They are slowly beginning to ask more questions and show interest in vegetarianism. My mother who thought I was completely nuts my whole life, is now vegetarian, accept the occasional fish. She is getting there. I believe that if you walk your talk, and you are a beacon of light for others to follow, they do follow, eventually.
VIP: What animal or animals have had the greatest influence on you? Why?
EC: They have all influenced me. I have been surrounded by teachers my whole life, and I am so grateful! My dog Simon, who was with me through my childhood, taught me about loyalty and friendship. My turkeys who have had their beaks and toes chopped off and been treated horribly, taught me about forgiveness. My cow always greets the new animals and makes them feel loved and not alone; she taught me about really loving someone unconditionally. And all the wonderful creatures whose time is up here, taught me about letting go. I believe that animals have the qualities that I strive for on a daily basis: forgiveness, trust, unconditional love, and living in the moment. If we could only love them enough to let them teach us and heal us.
VIP: What person or persons have had the most influence on your life?
EC: My dad influenced me the most. He showed me that living is about being of service, about giving and making a difference to others. That to be really alive is to give your life to something you really believe in, to work hard and never give up on your dreams.
VIP: Could you tell us about your education and how you have utilized what you've learned in your work today?
EC: My education is in psychology and special Ed. I have worked with juveniles and special needs children for a long time, and loved it. The Gentle Barn is the perfect way to combine my dedication to saving animals, and my work with children. It is the perfect place for children and animals to come together and heal each other.
VIP: What leisure time activities do you enjoy?
EC: I love to go walking on the beach or hiking in the mountains with my family. I have a 4- year-old son, and my soul mate - Jay has a 5 year old daughter, and we have a bunch of dogs who we love dearly.
VIP: What organizations do you belong to and support?
EC: PETA, Earth Save LA, FARM, and Farm Sanctuary, and LCA (Last Chance for Animals).
VIP: Could you tell us about your family and their role in Gentle Barn?
EC: My soul mate, Jay, is my partner and best friend. Since our meeting a year and a half ago, we work side by side to run the Gentle Barn together. My son Jesse and his daughter Molli love all the animals, are vegans, and do their best to encourage other kids to eat kinder and healthier.
VIP: How much of your time is devoted to the Gentle Barn? Do you have outside employment?
EC: Caring for 80 farm animals is a full time job. There have been many nights when I had to wake up and go out to the barn to make sure every one is safe and happy. And we still have to feed the animals, even on holidays and weekends. For 3 1/2 years I have done it myself. We now have secured a grant to hire an animal caretaker, so finally we have a little help. The education, office work, event planning, and grant writing we do ourselves. We work about 60-70 hours a week.
VIP: What personal goals have you set for yourself for the next few years?
EC: I would love to spend some more time with our children, take more vacations and time off. And once the Gentle Barn has more employees, I would love to live in the country surrounded by nature instead of traffic. At some point, Jay and I would like to have another child.
VIP: Of all of your accomplishments on behalf of animals, which has given you the greatest personal satisfaction?
EC: The gratitude in the eyes of an animal who has been rescued from hell, and I can almost hear them say thank you. Having a child come to me and say that they feel like their heart is wide open and they will never eat animals again.
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.
EC: Basically The Gentle Barn is striving towards peace. Peace for animals so that they do not have to live with abuse and slaughter, peace for our children so they do not have to live with illness and disease, and peace for our planet so that we can all live in harmony with nature. Our future lies in the hand of our children.
Information about the Gentle Barn can be accessed at their website at http://www.gentlebarn.org