Last month, my boyfriend Ben and I went to visit his cousins, Stephen and Elaine — two well-traveled, kind, and delightfully eccentric septuagenarian vegans in Vermont. Our weekends in Vermont typically include lots of down time playing with the dogs, walking quiet rural roads, and eating a lot of surprisingly tasty vegan food — Ben makes a killer vegan vegetable pot pie, and I defy anyone to turn down seconds when Stephen busts out his vegan cheesecake.
During their tenure in the Green Mountain State, Stephen and Elaine have become friends with the people who run VINE Sanctuary, a “haven for animals rescued from the meat, dairy, and egg industries or other abusive circumstances, such as cockfights or pigeon-shoots,” according to the website.
In my new K-9 search and rescue series, out October 25th, the main character runs a wildlife rehab and farm sanctuary on an island off the coast of Maine. That — combined with the fact that farm sanctuaries have always been inspiring, fascinating places to me –meant that I’ve been hoping for an opportunity to visit VINE for a while now. When Elaine asked if we would like a tour during our visit on Labor Day weekend, I jumped at the chance. I thought this would be a great opportunity to share some thoughts and photos from my visit with the readers of Maine Crime.
Firstly, a few things you should know: VINE stands for ‘Veganism is the Next Evolution.’ The founders, pattrice and Miriam Jones, first founded VINE — then the Eastern Shore Chicken Sanctuary — in rural Maryland in 2000. Over time, the sanctuary expanded to include other animals, and pattrice and Miriam gained national recognition for their work rehabilitating roosters confiscated from cockfighting rings. In 2009, the duo moved the entire operation to what has become a 100-acre spread in Springfield, Vermont, where their work expanded to include rescuing cows from the meat and dairy industries.
When Ben, Stephen, and I arrived that Sunday morning, I followed the fellas through the gate into a mass of lush greenery and surprisingly expansive enclosures housing rescued chickens, roosters, ducks, and even a flock of seagulls. A big yellow house fronts the property, where Miriam and her partner Arum currently reside. That morning, Miriam herself met us in front of the house in T-shirt, torn blue jeans, and muck boots, while half a dozen little dogs — most of them seniors — heralded our arrival with woofs and wags.
Miriam kicked the tour off with the chickens, roosters, and other feathered residents who live in the lower section of the sanctuary. A lot of the chickens in this area have been rescued from the poultry industry, which means many have been genetically altered in some way; over time, they can no longer support their own weight, and develop ailments that simply weren’t seen in the days before scientists and big business joined forces in a quest to give us, the consumer, the ultimate chicken breast.
At VINE, these birds have their choice of several different enclosures, where they can mix with others as they please — chickens are, by their nature, social animals — or retire to a quieter space. A few roosters remain in the mix in this area, though many have been relocated up the hill to more expansive pastures, where they can mingle at will.
Miriam took us up said hill next, where cows, sheep, and emus roam lush fenced pastures. We met Blaine, a pretty Holstein who took a particular liking to Ben, and learned the stories of a multitude of others: Daisy, another Holstein who was on her way to slaughter and was rescued when her piteous cries caught the attention of a passerby familiar with VINE; Melody, who was rescued after she contracted pneumonia as a calf and thus was deemed unsuitable for milking; Poncho and Jasper, two youngsters who came to VINE as calves after they had been chained to a tractor and left to die… The stories went on.
What struck me most about the animals we met wasn’t how outgoing they were, how much like us these creatures could be — something I often hear from others advocating for the humane treatment of animals. What struck me was how much they were…them. Cows and chickens and ducks and peacocks and emus. Some outgoing, some shy, some bullish, some downright goofy. What I loved about VINE was that the space was designed for those animals. It wasn’t laid out for humans to come and be entertained; it was designed as a refuge in which animals, many of whom have been profoundly traumatized in their lives, can simply be.
Beyond serving as a sanctuary, those at VINE work hard to create an environmentally sustainable space. Renewable energy, gardening, composting, alternative modes of transportation… These are all daily considerations. Personally, I left that day saddened by the plight of the multitude of animals who won’t be saved by VINE or other farm sanctuaries, but energized by the vast impact just a few people can have. And, yes, I expect many of the things I learned during my tour will make their way into the Jamie Flint series.
If you’d like to learn more about VINE’s mission and the animals they have rescued, I encourage you to check out the website at http://vine.bravebirds.org/.
Jen Blood is author of the bestselling Erin Solomon Mysteries and the Jamie Flint K-9 Search and Rescue Mysteries, the first of which will be out October 25. To learn more, visit www.jenblood.com/.