By Renee Taylor
Maple Farm Sanctuary in Mendon, Massachusetts is rarely ever quiet. It’s filled with the sounds of rescued birds, cows, goats, llamas, pigs, and sheep. The sanctuary rests on 120 acres of land that used to be a former dairy farm passed down from several generations. Everything changed when owners Cheri and Jim Vandersluis took it over.
Once they saw the pain of mother goats on their new farm separated from their young to provide humans with milk, the couple had a profound change of heart. The pair decided to discontinue drinking dairy and gave up all meat products, becoming vegan. Cheri Vandersluis said she contacted People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for support and were soon connected to a sanctuary willing to take in their dairy goats.
Today, the Maple Farm Sanctuary provides life long homes for more than 100 abused, abandoned, and unwanted farm animals. The sanctuary is primarily run by volunteers who are equally as passionate about educating the public about these animals, and their former lives prior to being rescued.
Tour director Marlene Calvao has volunteered at the sanctuary for two years. Calvao said the sanctuary completely changed her perspective. As soon as she connected with the animals on the farm, she could no longer eat meat.
“I have always loved animals, but I was disconnected like a lot of people are about the factory farming issue,” Calvao said. “When I first started working on the farm I realized that I was actually eating animals that used to be living beings.”
Find out Calvao’s favorite animal at the sanctuary
Calvao also said a plant-based diet provides numerous health benefits. She said she lost weight and is now in the best shape of her life since giving up meat and dairy.
“I don’t want to tell my age, but I feel 20 years younger and being vegan has a lot to do with that,” Calvao said. “So if you don’t do for the animals definitely should do it for yourself.”
She added, “I have three young grandchildren that I want to see grow up.”
Listen to Calvao discuss further reasons to become vegan.
Sanctuary volunteer Tori Melo agreed that one does not need meat to feel healthy. Melo has been vegan for approximately eight months but has been vegetarian since she was 13 years old. She said that working at Maple Farm inspired her to take things a step further. She began doing further research on the meat and dairy industry.
“I didn’t start veganism till I watched those documentaries that really pushed me over the edge and made me decide to stay away from the dairy industry as well as the meat industry,” said Melo. “Working here kept me going with it.”
Melo feels that a lot of people are unaware of where their food comes from. “People don’t really know the background of the meat and dairy industry until they come here, and we tell them,” Melo said.
Hear Melo further explain the mission of the sanctuary and learn about her favorite animal at Maple Farm.
Melo also said she feels more information on veganism is now available than ever before. Because of social media with trends focusing on health, she said she thinks millennials are more receptive towards the change. However, she feels hopeful that more people will become vegan in the future.
“You know, there were just statistics out there that said that up to 40 percent of the population could be vegan in 15 years. So we can hope for the best,” said Melo.
Sanctuary tour guide Sarah Drew also is very hopeful for the future of veganism. Drew who works as a first grade teacher in the Medfield Public Schools said she takes great care and pride in educating the public at the farm.
“I started working at Maple Farm because I wanted to do something to help educate more people about how to live a more compassionate life,” Drew said.
Listen to Drew explain the 4-H Club, and tell the story of the goats behind her.
Drew, who has been a vegetarian since age 6, said that it was her love of pigs that initially inspired her to give up meat.
“They have a very special place in my heart, and I realized quickly after that all meat came from animals it was their flesh,” said Drew. “I decided that I wanted nothing to do with it.”
Like Melo, Drew did not make the connection to the dairy industry until later on in life. She became a vegan five years ago and feels that it was a progressive change.
“Other people were very quick to say to me, ‘Oh, give her two weeks and she’ll be back at eating meat again,’” said Drew. “But I stuck with it and I have and it’s the best decision I ever made.”
Drew said she feels that people are naturally conditioned out of habit, and that tradition and holiday meals play a big role in people’s resistance towards veganism.
“If you have these traditions and you’ve been conditioned to believe certain things, then hearing the word “vegan” is kind of frightening for them because it’s going to kind of rattle everything that they’ve known,” said Drew.
Drew said she feels that many people see the word ‘humane’ or ‘cage-free’ and automatically feel better about what they are eating.
“People don’t know what happens in these ‘cage-free’ or humane places and so I tell them.,” said Drew. “They come to a realization that they’ve been paying for that, and think it brings up a lot of guilt.”
Drew said that unfortunately she doesn’t always get to see the full impact that the tour has on her guests. However, occasionally a guest will return, and share their feedback.
Chad Mellor a long time vegetarian, gave his wife a tour as a birthday present. Mellor said he never intended to feel differently, but added that after the tour he could no longer justify consuming dairy products. “Giving up meat turned out to be easy but it wasn’t until I saw those innocent animals up close that I realized that my addiction to dairy was not worth it, and Maple Farms helped me turn the corner,” said Mellor. “Without their work, I would not be a proud vegan today.”
Listen to Drew discuss in detail why she feels there’s so much resistance towards veganism.
Drew said one of her favorite animals at the sanctuary is a cow named Callie. She enjoys introducing guests to Callie because she is intimidating at first to look at with large horns and massive stature.
“I think Callie holds a special place for me because she helps people to see that cows really do horrible things to us if they wanted to but they really are such a gentle giants,” said Drew.
Drew hinted that she was soon going to become more involved in animal activism in the future. She encourages meat-eaters and vegans alike to come for a tour.
“I’m constantly talking to the kids about being kind and compassionate, and so why wouldn’t we extend that to all beings,” Drew said. “Why wouldn’t we leave a positive imprint on the world if we could?”