An interview with Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary co-founder and The Lucky Ones author Jenny Brown by Nell Alk. Photos #2 and 4 by Derek Goodwin.
Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary’s sassy co-founder/director Jenny Brown can now add published author to her resume. The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals came out five days ago and, with assistance from her co-writer and friend (“I couldn’t have done it without her!”) Gretchen Primack, the book offers an alternately tear-jerking, howl-inducing tracing of Brown’s courageous path to the present.
From losing a leg to bone cancer at just ten years of age to working as an undercover investigator at a Texas stockyard to creating one of the country’s premier safe havens for rescued farmed animals along with her husband, Doug Abel, Brown’s story is a remarkable one. Even so, we surmise that the stories of the animals saved and cared for by WFAS—individuals who thrive when respected and loved and who suffer greatly when marginalized and commodified—are the ones she most hopes people will take away from the book.
Personally, I took it all away, and it was a great pleasure to be able to chat with Brown about The Lucky Ones. (And you can chat with her yourself at MooShoes tonight for the NYC book release party.)
With all the books out there surrounding this subject, like Gene Baur’s Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts & Minds About Animals & Food, why do you think people should pick up The Lucky Ones?
Like Gene’s book, The Lucky Ones has a lot of heartwarming animal stories. But I would say Gene’s is more academic. Mine is more conversational. It’s a memoir with a mission. What helps engage people is seeing somebody else’s personal journey. And people find my story inspiring. That’s what the publishers were interested in: overcoming cancer, the drastic change in lifestyle—growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, in a Southern Baptist household—discovering the world, and arriving at a deeper understanding of our relationship with animals.
How did the book come to be?
In 2008 there was a story in the New York Times about myself, my artificial leg, and a goat rescued from the streets of New York City. He’d been hogtied and had to have his leg amputated. That story brought a lot of attention to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. It brought in $70,000. It brought in international media. And four literary agents within the first two weeks of its release. It was one of the best things that ever happened to our organization. As I like to joke, I didn’t realize that, in order to get the word out about our work and our mission, all I needed to do was show a little leg!
Your attitude towards the amputation wasn’t always so cheeky.
I felt like I wasn’t in control of my life as a child. It’s basically the same for domestic animals. I really related to them in that way.
In general, children relate to animals. For me, it was my cat Boogie. I felt judged and mistreated as a child. I was Baldy [because of the chemo], Long John Silver, Peg Leg. But animals never judged me. I think that’s why I was drawn to them.
Most people say they like or even love animals—certainly dogs and/or cats. But they also do things, or pay others to do things, to innocent animals that they wouldn’t wish upon their worst enemies.
Amazingly, many of the most educated people never make the connection. It requires dispelling the myths that we have been brought up to believe about food and food production. The egg industry is a great example of how far the reality is from the popular assumption. The industry kills 350 million male chicks every year because they don’t lay eggs. Meanwhile, female chicks and then hens live the entirety of their lives in a space with five others that is about the size of an album cover. Six hens to a tiny cage in massive warehouses, row upon row, stacked on top of one another. Everything that makes life worth living to them is denied them. Their beaks are seared off, they can’t stretch their wings, they can’t lay down. Their feet never touch the ground because they’re standing on painful metal wire cages. Covered in feces. All for what is a product of a chicken’s menstrual cycle.
Once you do make the connection, you realize how insane it is.
And to top it off, because of the cheap subsidies of meat and dairy, a Big Mac is less expensive than a head of broccoli! We have to question that.
One of the most moving anecdotes in the book recalls you going undercover to obtain footage at stockyards—not a factory farm or a slaughterhouse, but a livestock auction.
The very first one I went to, my heart broke for all the unwanted Holstein calves. If a dairy farm doesn’t have a veal operation themselves, then they sell the male offspring. In their desperation and their confusion, spindly legs, still covered with birth fluids, umbilical cords, you name it, the calves didn’t want to walk off the truck. So they were electric prodded and dragged, looking like limbs might pull out of their joints.
What went through your head in that moment?
I saw for myself what my consumption of cheese was supporting. That was written in stone for me from there on. To be able to bear witness is a whole other experience. The wails enveloped me. The mourning and the fear. I left scarred and forever changed.
It must have been madness seeing them there and being unable to rescue them from their fate.
That was the hardest part of it. Not being able to get them out of there. I just wanted to grab them. I stopped by the pen with all the little veal calves and so many of them came up to me, desperately trying to suckle on my fingers. As I left, I had giant tears rolling down my face.
What’s the greatest reward you receive from rescuing animals now?
I’m being the change I want to see in this world. This, to me, is the most important cause of our time because it affects the greatest number of beings in the greatest ways. There is no greater joy in my life. A voice for farm animals everywhere is why I was put on this earth. When rescued animals come through our doors, it matters a whole hell of a lot to each and every one of those individuals to be treated as friends, not food.
What happens when people visit the sanctuary?
Most people who come here have never seen a pig or a cow or a chicken. They meet the animals. They’ll meet Andy the pig and hear his story, how he came to be with us, and what his fate would have been if he hadn’t. They’ll also hear how millions of other “Andys” are living at that moment.
With the sanctuary being just a couple hours from New York City, you’re often here bringing the haven—or at least, the message—to us. What’s your favorite place to eat when you’re in town?
I love Gobo, Blossom, and Candle Café. For fast food, I really love Blossom Du Jour.
Any last words?
Animals are here with us and not for us. People will defend their right to eat meat and dairy and eggs, but they’re forgetting that there’s a victim. An individual. So it isn’t a personal choice. Our consumer choices drive these industries, and our consumer choices can also stop them.