Rosy sunrises and chiming roosters have peeled my eyelids open every day this month. Northern California hills undulate into the distance out my window and the nearest town is over 10 miles away. We’re sharing our housing with three other people, and after ten years of only living with Chelsea, I’d almost forgotten the conversation starter, “hey, whose dirty dishes are these?”
Other than working on kitchen diplomacy and farmer tans, we are volunteering full-time as interns for Farm Sanctuary, a farm animal rescue and advocacy organization. While Chelsea helps the sanctuary with animal care, I’ve dedicated this month to creating videos and photographs of the animals for Farm Sanctuary to share.
The catalyst fueling the engine of this life chapter is a desire to be of service. Since fall 2013, we’ve explored the world by bicycle and van as nomads. This month’s pause is an entirely different adventure.
Volunteering full-time is a tremendous experience I’d recommend to anyone. Our focus is helping Farm Sanctuary and a cause we believe in; taking hundreds of photos and dialing in my Lightroom editing skills is merely a bonus.
After dabbling with short stints of volunteering, we are experimenting with weaving longer-term volunteering into our travels. This is tough because many organizations require a 1-6 month commitment, not to mention there is often an application and interview process like the one Farm Sanctuary requires.
Choosing to volunteer here was easy: A visit to their New York location during our 2014 U.S. cycle tour further reinforced that a vegan lifestyle was the right path for me. Chelsea has wanted to contribute her energy to Farm Sanctuary, and I understand why when she bottle feeds a lamb and grins happily away.
My generation, Pro Suburb Haters, is polarized – we seem pulled either to the bright lights of the revamped inner-city cores or the starry night skies of the country. Community gardens flourish, DIY is hot again, and people increasingly question the food system. It may seem very Portlandia, but knowing where our food comes from is important. Few can dispute that we’re disconnected from its source.
I ignored the contradictions surrounding diet and living a “green, sustainable life” for over a decade as an adult. Riding my bike to work granted me moral license to continue old patterns. I gave myself leeway, when the reality is that 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions were caused by animal agriculture versus just 14% for transportation (all the planes, trains and cars in the world!). It took years for this to register.
The health aspect also didn’t penetrate my skull. Even while exercising daily through my 20s, my cholesterol was borderline-high. Only adopting a plant-based diet improved this and other biological markers, and I’ve never been healthier or more physically fit.
Living at Farm Sanctuary for a month makes it easy to keep my eyes open, and I’m amazed by the compassion and love the staff here show the animals. “Someone, Not Something,” is the motto around here, and all of the 300 animals have names and their own very distinct personalities and preferences.
There’s Marcia, a sweet, blind goat who likes to nuzzle (and occasionally head butt). Phoenix cow is bigger than a Buick yet congenial as a doting grandfather, and Lola pig seeks belly rubs the same way black Labs do. Most love attention, even after suffering mightily at the hands of humans prior to arriving at the sanctuary. This is a place of healing for everyone here, animals and humans alike.
In over two weeks on the sanctuary, I’ve only visited town twice (grocery runs), yet am happily at home at this sanctuary paradise. (Daily runs and mountain bike rides around Black Butte Lake’s stellar trail system across the road certainly help.) It’s mid-February, but today was as summery as an ice cream truck’s song.
This month-long experience is ripping by and will soon be over. We’ll continue to travel, seek adventures via van or bicycle touring, and explore the world. I’m also confident that volunteering to help causes we care about will be calculated into our life’s future trajectory.
But now, I’m going back inside. I’ve gotta do my dinner dishes before I’m that roommate.
Here’s more information about internships at Farm Sanctuary.