Long before vegan restaurants took root in major U.S. cities, Gene Baur sold vegan hotdogs at Grateful Dead concerts to get the seed money for America’s first shelter for farm animals.
Founded in 1986, Farm Sanctuary now houses over 800 cows, pigs, goats, sheep, and chickens on its 175-acre field in Watkins Glen, New York. Instead of being raised for slaughterhouses, these animals are provided with a degree of care typically reserved for family pets.
“At Farm Sanctuary, animals are friends not food. They get to live their lives, they get to enjoy their lives,” said Baur.
In addition to providing food and shelter to the animals at Farm Sanctuary, Baur has pushed for legislative changes to confinement systems for farm animals in California and written several books about animal rights including “Living the Farm Sanctuary Life.”
“They’re not that different from cats and dogs when you get to know these animals,” said Baur.
The organization assists animals that have been displaced by natural disasters or escaped from slaughterhouses. A discarded sheep named Hilda was the first animal to be raised at Farm Sanctuary, and thousands of others have since followed in her hoof-steps.
“When there are animals struggling for their life, often what happens is the [Farm Sanctuary] community joins together and wants them to go to a safe place,” he explained.
Among the high-profile supporters of Farm Sanctuary are comedian Jon Stewart and his wife Tracey, who plan to open their own 45-acre animal sanctuary and farm education center in New Jersey.
Beyond changing farming practices, Farm Sanctuary encourages the food industry to move toward more plant-based options, from “meatless meats” to a variety of plant-based dairy.
“You go into a mainstream grocery store and you can find soy milk, almond milk, hemp milk, coconut milk, and cashew milk,” he said.
Baur said he’s proud of the vegan movement’s progress over the past three decades, from “hippie” hotdogs in the 1980s to a growing number of vegan restaurants sprouting up around the country in recent years.