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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Waltham group outreach resonates with students

Published: September 27, 2013
Section: News

On the weekend of Sept. 20, a group of 21 students went on a trip to VINE Sanctuary, an animal refuge in Springfield, VT, through the Volunteer Vacations program from Waltham Group. The students performed various jobs around the sanctuary, which is home to a very diverse group of animals. Some were rescued from the meat, dairy and egg industries, while others include former fighting animals and pets that could no longer be supported by their owners. The students spent the two nights at a local church and returned to campus late on Sunday afternoon.
The acronym VINE stands for Veganism is the Next Evolution, and it refers to the sanctuary’s position against human consumption of all animal products. In addition to providing a home for animals, the staff at VINE devote energy towards research and advocacy, on the local, national and international levels. While seated in a cozy farmhouse living room amid several dogs and cats, the students watched a video highlighting the worst abuses exhibited towards pigs, cows, chickens and fish. Although only some of the students on the trip identified as vegetarian or vegan, the video encouraged everybody to think about how much of our food is produced.
For most of Saturday and the first part of the day on Sunday, students performed various tasks around the farm. These included painting chicken and pigeon coops, clearing undergrowth away from fences and picking up sticks. This last task was done for the benefit of the sanctuary’s two emus, Tiki and Breeze, who had once been bought as pets by a retired dairyman for his grandchildren. The birds walk together in the woods by the sanctuary’s fence, an odd sight in a Vermont forest.
There were many other animals that the students got to meet over the course of the trip. One of the most beloved was Jack the cow, with whom the whole group took many pictures. He is very friendly to people and would allow the students to pet him and scratch him often. The cows at the sanctuary include both former dairy and beef cows. Since the agricultural industry has intensively bred them to best fit their function, some of the beef cows are very large to the point where their life expectancy is greatly diminished by inevitable heart problems.
A similar story may be told of the sanctuary’s chickens. A few sit in smaller enclosures, namely those that required special treatment for physical and mental injuries. But most wander around relatively openly, in the same areas where the handful of much larger turkeys can be found. While some of the birds were bred for eggs or meat, there was also a former fighting cock, with its comb shaved off. Miriam Jones, one of the sanctuary’s founders, explained that this is done to prevent the fighting cocks from ending a fight after a light wound to the head, instead forcing them to cause more serious injuries.
One of the most interesting things at VINE sanctuary was the way in which very few of the animals were enclosed, instead wandering and interacting with humans at will. This meant that a cow would be bumping against a pickup truck running around the main barn, several geese would range past the turkey and a sheep would be trying to eat an apple that was dropped during a vegan lunch that included cheeseless vegetable pizza and potatoes.
For the two nights of the trip, the students slept in sleeping bags in the second floor rooms of a local church. Several older women from the church prepared breakfast both mornings, which included vegetarian and vegan options. For dinner, the students prepared meals for themselves both evenings, a significant portion of which they prepared from scratch. For example, they cut up vegetables to make salad, prepared their own chili to dip chips in and ground up chickpeas to make hummus. The students that didn’t participate in the cooking took on the role of washing, drying and putting away dishes after the meal.
The trip gave the 21 Brandeis students, representing all years, the opportunity to get to know each other. There were some unforeseen problems, such as the flat tire on the way to Vermont that delayed one van while waiting for help to arrive. The experience, however, provided students a great chance to volunteer in an environment very different from Brandeis. In addition to the yearly VINE trip, Volunteer Vacations has a trip during February break to different locations. Past trips have gone to Pennsylvania to support youth literacy, to Maryland to work on sustainable agriculture and to Louisiana to build houses and preserve the bayou.