Video by Laura Landry. Text and photos by Henry Taksier.
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When Kathy Pennenga, 27, pursued her undergrad in animal biology at UF, part of her coursework involved dissecting a chicken.
Her professor pulled a live hen out of a plastic bag and broke its neck in front of the class. Some of her classmates cried. Kathy thought they were wimps. “That’s the mentality you gotta have as a vet student,” she said.
Her attitude toward animals changed when she met John Friary, 40, a biostatistician at UF.
On their first date, John asked Kathy a simple question — “Why do you eat meat?” Kathy thought for a minute — she didn’t want to say anything cliché or stupid. She couldn’t think of an answer.
John had strong beliefs about animal rights, but he wasn’t preachy. Kathy gave the issue some thought, did her research and decided to become a vegan. She did it secretly at first — she didn’t want anyone to think she was doing it for John, which she wasn’t.
Kathy and John now run their own farm sanctuary called Greener Pastures, located off Archer and Tower Road. The animals there — which include horses, pigs, cows, donkeys, as well as dogs and cats — are all treated equally as pets rather than commercial commodities.
Some of these animals came from conventional farms, where they would have been packed into pens, fattened up, injected with hormones, slaughtered early and sold by the pound.
There’s a misconception, John said, that commercial farmers have an incentive to treat animals properly in order to produce high-quality meat.
This is true from a veterinary perspective, but it doesn’t reflect the economic reality. The vast majority of meat in grocery stores comes from “concentrated animal feeding operations” — or factory farms — where the incentive is to produce massive quantities of meat that can be sold cheaply.
John pointed out that our society has created laws restricting pollution and labor abuse, even if they raise the prices of products, but is yet to pass laws defending the rights of animals.
Kathy and John periodically host bonfires at Greener Pastures. It’s a chance for them to get drunk with their friends and have fun, but it also spreads awareness of the cause they’ve undertaken.
The purpose of a farm sanctuary, John says, is not just to save a few animals. Millions more will be treated like dirt in factory farms and slaughtered every year. Farm sanctuaries, which exist around the country, are a symbolic form of resistance.
“[We want to] continue directly helping animals,” John said. “But that’s secondary to our goal of educating people, because that would save more of them.”
Important correction: In our printed issue, one of the captions claims that Darsana, the blind cow, was originally adopted from UF’s cattle farm. After printing, we found out this was incorrect — Darsana is originally from a dairy farm, but not one that is in any way associated with UF. Kathy discovered Darsana while working with a UF vet conducting research. We sincerely apologize for the initial mistake. We will also print a correction in the March issue. — Henry