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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Freedom Farm: the Israeli sanctuary rescuing slaughterhouse animals

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Adit Romano and Meital Ben Ari set up Freedom Farm with a mission: get people to face named animals and witness their personalities in the sanctuary.

Every animal on Freedom Farm has a name. Giving the rescued animals an identity is a vital part of the ethos of sanctuary founders Adit Romano and Meital Ben Ari.

“These animals were part of a huge industry where billions of animals go through a cruel cycle,” says Ben Ari. “To that industry, animals are a product and as such do not deserve a name. A name means they are worthy beings, with an identity and a personality.”

There’s Orit and Dikla the sows, Omer the blind baby goat, Alex the bull, Tamir the goat, Sophie the chicken and many others. There is also Gary the sheep, named after the person who inspired the founders to dedicate their lives to animal welfare.

“It was Gary Yourofsky’s visit to Israel that changed the course of our lives,” says Romano. “His lecture has completely altered the way we view the animal world and humans’ relationship with animals. We realised that things were fundamentally wrong and that we must act to help increase awareness about animals’ plight.”

Romano and Ben Ari decided to build a sanctuary and Freedom Farm was born. It took over a year of fundraising and bureaucracy, but the two women’s dedication paid off. 

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Tamer, the blind goat, is happy at the Freedom Farm.

“We knew from the start that our effort, however formidable, will be insignificant to the global industry where millions upon millions of animals are slaughtered and tortured daily,” Romano tells me. “It was always about education for us — we knew that the farm we build will care for rescued animals, but that our main mission is to educate.”

Situated in Moshav Olesh, 45 minutes north of Tel Aviv, the farm was modelled on similar animal sanctuaries worldwide. Both vegans, Romano and Ben Ari’s aim was to bring people face-to-face with the named animals, so they can witness their personalities firsthand and sense the freedom they experience. “We want people to see that the animals are more than the piece of meat on our plate or the milk and cheese we consume — that there is an alternative.”

Opened in October 2016, the farm is home to hundreds of ducks, cows, sheep, donkeys, chickens, pigs, goats and more. Funded by donations alone, it boasts hundreds of thousands of social media followers and has built a name within the meat industry as a go-to contact for industry “refugees”. The sanctuary is kept running by over 3,000 dedicated volunteers who help maintain the residents‘ wellbeing and tell their stories to the schoolchildren and adults who visit.

Read how a rescue pig inspired a Croatian vegan sausage company.

Freedom Farm’s latest fundraising endeavour is the My Freedom Friend scheme, where members of the public can sponsor one of the animals. “When they were born,” says the adoption information relating to sows Orit and Dikla, “the piglets suckled on their mum who was held captive in a huge cage unable to move.”

Heartfelt testimonies accompany the profile of every animal up for sponsorship, holding within them information about the machine-like operation of the industry from which they were rescued. Orit’s and Dikla’s story, for example, continues to tell how their tail and teeth were cut and how, at 21 days old, they were separated from our mother.

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Orit is marked with freedom.

But their account has a happy ending. Normally, at this stage, they will be heading for slaughter, but as their testimony relates, one day, they were sprayed with a line on their back, singling them out from the others and their lives were spared. They arrived at the farm where they saw hay for the first time and learnt that people can be gentle and kind.

Omer the goat was rescued from the milk industry at just over a week old, after he walked around in circles and was suspected to be blind. Had a worker not approached the Freedom Farm, Omer would have been sent to the slaughterhouse. The blind goat is now cared for on the farm, where he occasionally bumps into things.

Gary the sheep’s life was saved thanks to his disability. His legs were malformed and for weeks, he was unable to stand or walk. The farmer decided to spare his life and not starve him to death, which is a common practice for saving on anaesthesia costs.

The little lamb was left at a Tiberius petting zoo, but after failed attempts to help him stand up, Ben Ari and Romano were contacted. He underwent intensive rehabilitation, receiving constant care and therapeutic treatments. Above all, through devoted carer Ben Ari, Gary was given the chance to have a “mother”, “something that meat industry animals are denied”.

Gary eventually learnt to stand up independently, and “enjoys walking and running around the farm with all of his friends”.

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Amir, a previously disabled sheep, can now walk thanks to specifically designed prosthetics.

The sanctuary is also home to 54 chickens who were left to die in their battery cages, Eden the bull, Shai the donkey and his mother Ilana, and many other industry refugees. “These are animals whose lives are often spared by their own disability, which renders them worthless to the industry,” add Romano and Ben Ari, noting the kindness of workers, members of the public or farmers who felt sorry for the animals and now know there’s a place for unwanted animals to go.

The farm recently posted a video showing two distressed lambs, Jenny and Maia, reuniting with their mother. The video shows the two kids, frightened and distressed, “refused to eat, and were hard to calm down”. After serious effort, their mother, just days away from slaughter, was found and brought to the farm.

The video shows her arrival, and how her bleating was responded to from a distance by her little ones — they follow the sound of mum’s bleating and she follows theirs as they move closer to each other, until finally, they reunite. Jenny and Maia now live happily on the farm with their mother Mazal, which means “luck” in Hebrew.

”The torment on mothers separated from their babies is part and parcel of this industry,” say Romano and Ben Ari. “It is the probably the hardest aspect for us to come to terms with. It is wrong whichever way we look at it.” If there is anything the two would like people to get out of a visit, it’s that there are options, that we can feed and clothe ourselves without causing so much suffering to so many of our fellow Earth-dwellers.

“Do you think there will come a time when civilisation will look back and not believe that we once treated animals in this manner?” I ask them.

“Yes,” they reply. “Just like society looks back at the way we treated certain minorities and in the past that now is incomprehensible to us, this will happen with the way we treat animals too. But it will take a long time. The meat and dairy industry are not going anywhere anytime soon.”

Read how Israel’s vegan movement is making strides with 3D printing and microbial fermentation.

Hannah Gal
Hannah Gal is a London based journalist and filmmaker. Her credits include The Guardian, The Independent, The Huffington Post, The Knowledge, Al Araby, Photo District News, The British Journal of Photography and The Jerusalem Post among others. Hannah seeks great coffee and reason wherever she goes.