Okay, I have to admit some bias in doing this interview. Animal Place is our local farm animal sanctuary located just a few miles from us in Grass Valley, CA. I visit regularly and often bring along Olivia (who’ll be 6 next Sunday!). She loves the animals and has a special friendship with Kim as well. Interestingly, although I consider Kim a dear friend, when I sat down to write the questions for this interview, I realized that there were a lot of things about her personal life and her activism that I’d never talked to her about.
Allison Rivers Samson: You have been an outspoken voice for animals for over 30 years. How and when did you become vegan? Was it initially for health or for animals or something else?
Kim Sturla: I became a vegetarian after reading Peter Singer’s book, Animal Liberation in 1975. Several years later, I graduated to veganism. I stopped eating animals and their products out of concern over the treatment of non-human animals.
ARS: What prompted you to start your own farm animal sanctuary and, looking back now over 20+ years of Animal Place, how has the experience been for you?
KS: Zelda, a little piglet, is responsible for motivating me to help farmed animals. Several years before co-founding Animal Place I was the executive director at a Bay Area humane society/animal control agency. Zelda arrived at the humane society as a stray and the entire staff adored her. We worked hard to find her a home where this little piglet could live out her life and not end up as bacon. Zelda received excellent care at the humane society at the same time the caretakers indulged in ham sandwiches. It was then that I realized the powerful disconnect we have with farmed animals.
Thirty years ago, farmed animal issues received little attention. After Zelda, I did a little research and learned that 98.5% of all land animals killed in the United States are those raised for food production and that they, at that time, had essentially no legal protection. It became clear where I needed to re-direct my energy. The other Animal Place co-founder, a veterinary professor at UC-Davis, and I sold our homes, emptied our savings, bought land in the country and the rest is history.
ARS: Your colleagues call you “The Pig Whisperer.” What’s your secret for making connections with animals who don’t usually respond well to humans, or who may have been abused in the past?
KS: I do have an affinity for pigs! They are bright, engaging, and fun to hang out with. There is no secret about how to connect with non-human animals. It is all about compassion, respect, and being mindful when in their company. If you take the time to learn about the animals around you, the “connection” evolves.
ARS: Connecting with non-human animals, it seems, is not unlike our relationships with other humans. You have been a part of many important rescues and were the main sanctuary involved in the Turlock Hen Rescue, the largest animal rescue in the history of the state of California and the 3rd largest ever in the entire country. Can you tell us more about that rescue?
KS: We heard about the hens by accident. Someone in our office just happened to read an online article about starving hens being gassed to death on an egg farm in Turlock. For more than two weeks, the 50,000 hens living in battery cages had been without food. The farmer had decided food was too expensive and he abandoned them.
We were on the scene that very night. It was a grisly site; 17,000 birds had died of starvation and the state veterinarian and health department were gassing the remaining live birds. After 24 hours of tense negotiations with the animal control director, she finally released some birds to us. We saved 4,460 birds – of whom 4,100 were brought back to Animal Place. As of October, we have 250 birds we still need to place. Our adoption team did an incredible job of finding good companion homes for the almost 4,000 birds.
ARS: How is Animal Place funded? And what are some of the ways folks can help? Is there a current specific need?
KS: Animal Place is funded by individuals who appreciate and support our work, and without their financial assistance, we could not continue saving lives. People can help animals in many ways – the easiest and most important is to stop eating animal products and go vegan! With respect to specific needs of Animal Place – we have many. They range from a new stock trailer, a transport vehicle, and a backhoe for the tractor, to a greenhouse, a turkey barn and an education center. There is no lack of needs!
ARS: Some of your fabulous staff have created a magnificent veganic micro-farm on the grounds of the Grass Valley sanctuary. Do you find time to do any cooking with some of that produce? If so, what’s your favorite recipe for what’s being harvested right now?
KS: Yes, our 3-acre vegan micro farm is amazing! For those unfamiliar with veganic farming, we don’t use any animal products. That means no manure, bone/blood meal, or fish emulsions. We use plant-based fertilizers and compost instead. All of us at Animal Place – including the animals – enjoy fresh organic/veganic produce. Selecting a favorite recipe using our garden produce is tough, as there are so many. My favorite activity is to walk out into the garden, find whatever is ripe and then put it in a big salad! Right now, that includes kale, lettuce, chard, tomatoes, basil, green beans, and cucumbers! All that tossed with a garlic dressing is perfect!
ARS: Yum, that sounds like a perfect meal! I have enjoyed bringing our daughter, Olivia, to Animal Place to grow her connection with animals. Do you have any programs in place to encourage families and children to visit?
KS: Many families visit the sanctuary for self-guided and guided tours. We also offer seasonal activities for children and their adults. At Easter we have a plastic egg Easter hunt, and we just had our annual Music in the Meadows event in September. Coming up next month will be our annual Thank the Turkeys day, and next Halloween (2013) we are planning our first pumpkin day for children. We also offer guided tours to school groups.
ARS: Often when I come to visit your bucolic sanctuary, the goodies I bring disappear rather quickly. Does the Animal Place staff have an agreed-upon Allison’s Gourmet favorite? How about you personally?
KS: Okay, now that is the most difficult question so far. First, I don’t think you have ever brought us an Allison’s Gourmet dessert that wasn’t a hit! And, yes, your treats do disappear quickly – often within minutes! But, if I had to choose my favorite, it would have to be your Pecan Brownies.
ARS: Thanks so much for chatting with me Kim. It’s always a pleasure.