February 25, 2021 7 min read
The first step of caring for our planet is to care for the land and animals that we live with. This month, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ashlynn Baker, an Animal Caregiver at Sweet Farm, a non-profit farmed animal sanctuary dedicated to creating a compassionate and sustainable world. After forming sympathy and love for farm animals while on her 4H program, Ashlynn became a vegetarian and advocate for sustainable, plant-based agriculture. She hopes to one day return to her grandparent's farm in Nebraska and convert it into an animal sanctuary. Read more to find out more about Sweet Farm, their mission, and Ashlynn's role through it all!
Q Please tell us a little bit about Sweet Farm and what you guys do!
A Sweet Farm is a 501(c)3 non-profit farmed animal sanctuary and heirloom vegetable and flower garden dedicated to creating a compassionate and sustainable world, located in Half Moon Bay, CA. We do this through sharing the stories of our animal ambassadors, our two acre veganic ag field, and supporting innovative companies that strive to eliminate animals from the food system. We host educational events, rescue farmed animals, head a wonderful volunteer program, provide CSA boxes from our garden to locals, provide a pay-what-you-can farm cart, host tours, and practice regenerative agriculture. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic the idea to make these tours go virtual found us much success and growth at a very rapid rate.
We currently have just over 12 acres of land being used to house 140 animals and have recently added 8 more acres we are hoping to build fencing and barns with the support of donations. We have animals of all different shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. Sweet Farm provides a safe home for goats, sheep, pigs, cattle, llamas, turkeys, ducks, geese, chickens, and one horse. These animals come from factory farming, lab testing, the 4-H program (a youth leadership program where kids can raise their own livestock), auction sales, backyard egg projects, and neglect or abuse situations. We do not use these animals for any eggs, breeding, wool, or meat - we strictly provide a safe place for these animals to live out their natural lifespans and share their stories to those that visit in hopes it may encourage them to adapt a more plant based lifestyle. Our agriculture takes a regenerative approach to growing fruits, vegetables, and flowers in order to keep our soil fertile.
We continuously strive to research and experiment with more sustainable ways of farming, often, while simply rediscovering old ways of farming that protects soil health. Here at Sweet Farm, our wonderful agriculture team makes healthy, whole foods and education experiences that connect people to their food and land accessible locally through CSA boxes, a pay-what-you-can farm cart, and volunteer opportunities.
Q What is the main goal that Sweet Farm would like to accomplish?
A Overall, Sweet Farm aims to evolve agriculture and eating into a practice more sustainable for the planet and more compassionate towards all life that resides here on Earth. Our hope is that through doing active rescues, sharing our ambassador animals stories, and leading the way in how these animals need to be cared for will transform hearts and encourage people to take on a plant based style of living. In addition, we strive to be stewards of the land and heal Americans' broken relationship with food while adopting regenerative agriculture practices to keep the soil fertile and providing affordable, healthy nutritious food for people to see the power of a plant based diet through their own health.
Q How did you personally get involved with Sweet Farm and what does it mean to you?
A I grew up in Nebraska on a farm raising cattle and pigs for meat. I participated in 4H, a youth leadership program where you can raise your own livestock. Through working with these animals in those circumstances I began to see them for their sentient, intelligent, emotional selves. This inspired me to go vegetarian at age 12. It was definitely extremely rare to come across a vegetarian in "The Beef State" in a small town, ag-production leading Nebraska.Thanks to my exposure to the livestock industry I have only gained more passion for being a voice for these animals.
Upon graduating and receiving my Bachelors, I knew I wanted to find a farm animal sanctuary to work for. My grandma is beginning to retire from the farm back home, and my hope is to gain experience from an existing sanctuary so I can return home to transition our farm into a sanctuary. Sweet Farm was the perfect fit. I was ecstatic as I landed the job and began packing and finding housing out in California. Sweet Farm stands out for the fact it does not only provide a safe little haven for those animals less cared for, but it also works to be a leading example in what sustainable, plant-based agriculture looks like. This farm almost feels like a utopia. It provides this safe place where all animals and people are safe from harm and have just as much right to life as the being next to them. Working here means working for the better well-being of people, farmed animals, and agriculture in the present and the future.
Sweet Farm is evolving this traditional system of food production in a way that benefits the planet, humanity, and animals. It really is a win-win, and the best part about Sweet Farm is that they take a progress over perfection approach that can be more effective when trying to reach through to people who have more traditional mindsets or have made their living off of animal agriculture and may not be so willing to change everything they have come to know - sensibly so. We are a safe place for beings of all kinds to come as they are, but strive for improvement with compassionate approaches.
Q Since you mentioned that you do not use the animals for eggs, meat, wool, etc., what do you do with the resources that they produce?
A Meat is not a naturally occuring resource that happens throughout an animal's life. None of the animals here are used for meat, they are all rescued, brought to Sweet Farm, and live out the rest of their lives freely as ambassador animals. Chickens do continually produce eggs throughout most of their life whether they are fertilized or not, but as they get older they lay eggs less frequently. We donate the eggs to local wildlife sanctuaries to help them meet the nutritional demands of their ambassador animals . The animals that produce wool do need to be sheared annually, and we will send that wool to the compost. Woolly animals, such as llamas and sheep actually shed wool naturally every year thousands of years ago, but due to domestication and breeding for maximum wool yields, they are now dependent on humans to shear their wool.
QWhat has Sweet Farm accomplished so far in relation to your goals?
A In my time here, we have been growing as an organization faster than ever. Beginning virtual tours, called Goat-2-Meetings, has kept the organization not only afloat but thriving during COVID times. We have been able to expand property, build more fencing and barns, adopt more animals, hire more staff, and ultimately give better care to our animals. Meeting the demands and keeping records for 140 animals is no small task, but with our growing team we have implemented a great system for record keeping, consistent health checks, developed and implemented an enrichment program, and have expanded the possibilities for our volunteers to multiple departments. This growth has also benefited our agriculture field, where we have found a good system to heal our soil and build up its nutrient property.
Currently, we are tackling formulating a compost system that can manage all the waste created from the animals and go back to our agriculture program. All 140 animals come into a barn every night, so cleaning those stalls creates around 200 gallons of waste everyday. We use hot pile systems to speed up the breakdown process and are currently working on getting the nitrogen to carbon ratios just right and configuring just how many separate compost piles and space we need. We are really excited to tackle this waste problem as a team and hopefully be able to share the knowledge gained with other sanctuaries.
Q What has been the biggest struggle Sweet Farm has faced, and how did you overcome it?
A Sweet Farm is really working to create a new kind of sanctuary - a sanctuary that involves rescuing animals, growing veganic agriculture, and working with tech companies to help eliminate animals from the food system. While this mission creates so much room for exploration and growth, it also creates a steep learning curve! A lot of what we do in caring for the animals or in finding the most sustainable ways of growing food requires we take paths less traveled or less researched and requires a lot of patience as we learn. We are not the only ones though, there are a lot of people out there with equally compassionate and sustainable goals, and we have really seen this community emerging and succeeding in the last few years. When you whip up the perfect compost from scratch, have a great strawberry harvest, or gain trust of a cow who has never had human affection, it really makes all the hard work worth it.
Q Lastly, if you were to give a title to Sweet Farm’s story, what would it be and why?
A I would title Sweet Farm's story, "Innovation meets compassion and sustainability." We are linking together education, veganic agriculture, farm animal rescue, and support for sustainability-driven technology startups for a very well-rounded approach to fulfilling a vision of a more sustainable and kind world.
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