A difficult and complicated message at the end of a trip - The Buffalo News
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A difficult and complicated message at the end of a trip

In the story of “where our food comes from,” the plight of animal factory farming is a large, complex issue.

The situation won’t be resolved overnight, but there is an opportunity to get educated about something many people don’t like to think about. The Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen tells the story of factory farming through “rescue, education and advocacy,” in an effort to bring about change.

It’s here we took the nephews – brothers Christian, 10, and Nate, 13 – and Sawyer, 12, on what we dubbed “Grubby Boy Day,” which included a trek through stunning Watkins Glen State Park, too. A trip that got kids outdoors and moving.

The sanctuary serves to “meet people where they are” and make information about factory farming accessible to everyone. If nothing else, it brings guests close to animals that they may not otherwise get to meet. The sanctuary calls them “animal ambassadors.”

Ellen DeGeneres, Martha Stewart and Conan O’Brien also count themselves as ambassadors. Pictures of celebrity supporters line a wall of the visitors’ barn. There is difficult information and graphic photos to illustrate factory farming and what it does to animals. Calf, pig gestation and poultry cages are on display.

Tours are provided on the hour. A short video is shown beforehand and tells the story of Hilda, a sheep – the first animal rescued by the sanctuary. While the images are tough, the video does a good job of explaining what you see. (No slaughtering is shown.)

During the tour, a vegan lifestyle is stressed, however the sanctuary doesn’t pass judgment.

Most animals are rescued from stockyards, factory farms and slaughterhouses. The sanctuary also works with law enforcement and SPCA officers to confiscate animals from cruelty cases. Some are victims of natural disasters, like pigs from the Iowa floods.

We received good instructions before meeting the animals. At each stop we learned about the cruelty each species experiences. While many animals are friendly, our guide told us that some prefer to be left alone.

The first stop was the cattle field. Here we learned how the dairy and beef industries’ increasing profits and high production aspects affect the animals’ welfare. The nephews were thrilled to pet Merlin, a huge bull loudly crunching his way along. We marveled at his giant tongue wrapping around blades of grass. A shy calf allowed a little petting too.

On the way to see turkeys and chickens, we met Turpentine, a huge bronze turkey walking around like a mayor. His blue head meant he was calm (red meant agitated, like people we know). Despite his imposing physique, he was friendly.

Next we saw “domesticated” turkeys and chickens bred to be unnaturally bigger and white, so “pin feathers” are less visible, making the meat more appealing. The boys loved hand feeding them. Sadly the one guy had been “de-beaked,” as is common in factory farming to prevent animals from pecking each other. (They do so because of stressful living conditions.) “Milo,” a tiny busybody rooster, was our favorite.

In the sheep barn, we met some woolly creatures that loved having their noses rubbed. “They are so soft,” was our group’s consensus. We learned sheep can memorize human faces.

Last stop, the pigs. They burrow out “nests” in the straw to sleep; a good thing because they sleep up to 18 hours a day. Christian noted one dozing fella (Bob), “looks just like Wilber from Charlotte’s Web.” The kids rubbed his hairy belly and ears. Bob barely cracked an eye.

Guests are free to walk around. We headed to the pond to see geese and ducks and met up with a friendly barn cat. We also stopped at Hilda’s final resting place, a small garden area.

If you go

Farm Sanctuary (3150 Aikens Road, Watkins Glen; farmsanctuary.org) is open May to October. Days and hours for June, July and August are 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday. Tours on the hour start at 11 a.m., last tour 3 p.m. Cost is $5 adult; $3 kids 12 and under; 3 and under are free. No tours Aug. 1 to 3 during New York Country Hoe Down.

Watkins Glen State Park

Isn’t walking Watkins Glen a rite of passage when you’re young (or young enough to stave off old age)?

A short ride from the sanctuary, we accessed the park’s north (upper) entrance.

Descending stairs to the Gorge Trail, we gave thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps for its construction of the paths and bridges.

Words cannot describe the beauty of the gorge. The rock formations, water and foliage are stunning.

Down, down, down, we followed the flowing water hitting points along the way: Mile Point Bridge, Narrow Falls, Central Cascade, Glen Cathedral, etc., finally taking Lovers Lane to the incredibly high suspension bridge.

Unfortunately, what goes down, must come up, and so it was a steady, steep climb back using the Indian Trail. The dirt path seemed a little easier, especially when you’re stopping along the way to lift rocks and look for salamanders.

We read a sign that noted the water we saw today would take 25 years to reach the Atlantic Ocean. “Wow,” the boys decided they would be “old.” Yes, and they might be bringing their own nephews to discover Watkins Glen, too.

If you go

Trails open dawn to dusk. Park entry fee. Watkins Glen swimming facility opens June 21. A shuttle bus runs every day between the Main and Upper entrances during summer.

For more information including downloadable maps and camping, visit nysparks.com/parks.

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