Farm Sanctuary Internship

It’s week one of my internship at Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California, and, I have to say, I am already having the most incredible experience.

There are many animal welfare organizations that I admire, but Farm Sanctuary has always been at the top of my list. In addition to their advocacy and making great strides in improving legislation for farm animals, Farm Sanctuary has a reputation for a successful hands-on approach to rehabilitation, healing, and providing refuge for injured farm animals. And seeing it happen firsthand — and being part of it — is a phenomenal experience.

Previous Animal Rights Activism

I have been an animal rights activist for years, but there is a difference between signing petitions, attending protests, opting to not eat animal products, and actually caring for the animals damaged in our overly industrialized and extremely cruel food production system.

I don’t believe there is a hierarchy of importance in animal rights work, but working directly with the animals, as opposed to lobbying various institutions or governmental bodies for change, was something that increasingly appealed to my partner and I after we cared for ten chickens rescued from a battery hen facility in Western Canada. Seeing how damaged these chickens were was definitely an life-changing moment for me.

Internship Application Process

I applied for an internship at one of the three facilities that Farm Sanctuary operates within the United States (with shelters also located in New York and Los Angeles). Although there were communications/education positions better suited to my occupation as a journalist, I opted to apply for the internship where you get to work directly with the animals (Shelter Internship). I wanted to again experience the deep satisfaction you get from direct contact with animals.

I completed my application online, had an extensive telephone interview, and was accepted. I think it was one of the happier days of my life to find out that I would be interning during June and July 2012 at Farm Sanctuary.

So, here I am after one week at the beautiful Orland, California, sanctuary, nestled on 300 acres of rolling golden hills, dotted with multiple barns, enclosures, pastures, and roughly 600 animals, including donkeys, sheep, cattle, chickens, geese, ducks, goats, and pigs. The animals’ stories and histories are diverse, and their health conditions vary greatly, but most share the commonality of a previous life that involved great suffering.

The Sanctuary

Although I tried not to have expectations prior to arriving, it was difficult not to fantasize about what the internship would entail. Even though I was sent extensive information outlining what the program would look like, including examples of typical work days, I think I was a bit naïve in thinking everybody sat around all day hugging animals and talking about how great it is to be vegan.

This is a working sanctuary where the staff is truly dedicated to helping animals, and, for many, it is a vocation. There are the lobbying and educational components, but the majority of time here is spent caring for and loving the animals. The level of care here is very high; it entails a great deal of work to heal, rehabilitate, and maintain the animals that live at the farm.


A Typical Day

Many people have asked me what a typical day is like, but, so far, each day has been different. The first week has been spent mostly training the new interns in the various aspects of keeping the shelter running.

We work five days a week and have two days off; shifts start roughly at 7 or 8 a.m. and continue until 4 or 5 p.m., with a two-hour lunch break. Occasionally, there is a night shift where you assist in putting the animals to bed, making sure the smaller creatures are safely secured for the evening. Many of the animals are vulnerable to predators and much attention is needed to ensure everyone is safe and accounted for.

I have cleaned stalls, barns, and coops; gathered eggs; brushed goats; put sunscreen on pigs’ ears; delivered food and water to the animals; played with a calf who is currently in isolation due to contagious infections; helped get a rattlesnake out of one of the barns; prepared special treats and snacks for the animals; done vast amounts of laundry; cleaned the hospital and isolation areas; and swept floors — and I still had time to hold and hug the animals!

The days are long, and the work can be challenging. I have bruises and scrapes from tussles with the feistier and overly affectionate animals, and I end each shift tired and more than a little dirty, but I have never been in such a rewarding environment.

Our Community

I live with six other interns in communal housing, and I am now part of a community where I don’t have to explain why I am vegan or think animals are important. I spend my days working hands-on, caring for the animals that were once viewed as disposable in an industrialized food system. There have been moments that fill me with joy, like putting sunscreen on pigs’ ears, and moments that have challenged me to stay present, such as assisting with attending to serious injuries — but not a minute goes by that I am not grateful for my decision to come here.

I feel nurtured by the community here and from spending my days with the animals. It’s only been a week, and my internship will last just two months, but I am already wondering what it would be like to spend my life working in an environment such as this, where my work is rewarding, my colleagues are loving and like-minded, I don’t have to question whether my work is causing any harm, and I can embody right livelihood in the truest sense.


I feel like I have finally found a community, albeit a temporary one, that already feels so comfortable and right that I am going to spend the rest of my life seeking similar situations in which I can see, firsthand, the results of efforts to alleviate animal suffering. Although I will always continue to sign petitions, attend protests, contribute financially to animal rights organizations, and lobby governmental bodies for better conditions for farm animals, I am now certain that I also want to continue to work directly with animals.

I will blog more in the coming weeks, giving updates and insights into life as a Farm Sanctuary intern in California. Please leave comments and questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them in my next entry.

For more information, visit

Valerie Williams is a writer from Salt Spring Island, Canada, who is currently interning at Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California.

Photography by Adrienne Szamotula:

September 2, 2012

Ayurvedic Retreat Blog

It is now day seven of my Ayurvedic retreat at the Ayurveda Yoga Retreat and Hospital, nestled in hectares of tea plantations in the province of Tamil Nadu in southern India, and I have finally settled in enough to give an update.

The retreat is located north of the city of Canoor, roughly 1800m (5,900ft) above sea level in the famed Nilgiri Hills, boasting roughly twenty-four peaks above 2000m (6,560ft). These hills are part of the Western Ghats, a mountain range on the southwestern edge of the Deccan Plateau. The area is world renowned for its teas.

After a long forty-eight hour journey to get here (yes, I offset and I know it really doesn’t make a difference!), and a gut-churning drive up the mountain (the car, truck, motorcycle, scooter and Tuk-Tuk drivers utilize some indecipherable system of horn honking and light flashing to pass each other on an extremely narrow winding road), I ended up with a lethal case of jet lag and a bit of altitude sickness. However, I did learn that eucalyptus is great for helping with altitude discomfort and thankfully grows in abundance in the area. The jet lag passed and you eventually get used to the roads and wild driving conditions, which are just a little different to the sleepy Canadian island driving I am used to.

Ayurvedic medicine (often described as “the knowledge for long life”) is an ancient form of Indian medicine and coming to an alternative hospital/retreat to deal with your health issues is both a leap of faith and probably one of the best things you could ever do for yourself in terms of attempting to address your health/mind constitution holistically. In fact, the earliest mention of Ayurvedic in literature on Indian medical practice appeared during the Vedic period in India (the mid-second millennium BCE), according to Wikipedia.

However, it is important to differentiate between a resort/spa and an Ayurvedic hospital/retreat centre. Here people aren’t getting pedicures, facials and manicures (although some guests do go to town for these services), rather many people are dealing with serious health issues ranging from extreme drug addiction, cancer, obesity, colitis, bulimia, etc. Other guests come to the centre for extreme detoxification or PanchaKarma.

Many people find themselves here when traditional or allopathic forms of medicine are no longer working for them, while others simply seek the intense forms of detoxification and weight loss programs available.

The guests are comprised of people from around the globe and their nationalities are as varied as their ailments. However, the commonality amongst the guests is their openness to change, transformation, desire to be healthy in body and mind, as well as their kindness and support in helping each other through the often uncomfortable treatment or detoxification process. The staff are also fully supportive in ensuring the majority of your needs are taken care of as quickly and gently as possible.

My visit to the centre is comprised of roughly forty-four days of treatment to deal with a number of minor health issues and to experience the deep cleansing of PanchaKarma. Although my health concerns are not as serious in relation to some of the other guests at the centre, they were health issues that I could never seem to get resolved back in Canada utilizing both an excellent traditional medical doctor and two wonderful naturopaths.

After the recommendation of several friends who have had some remarkable results after visiting an Ayurvedic hospital, I was intrigued and convinced enough to fly half-way round the world to try a completely alternative system of medicine to get a health/mind reboot.

For those who are unfamiliar with Ayurvedic medicine, it is based on diagnosing the body and mind’s ailments via a system of analyzing your ‘doshic’ state or type. The three main dosha types are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each body type manifests different behaviors, ailments and imbalances when out of alignment.

It is believed that knowing your personal constitution or dosha will allow you to understand yourself better and, being in balance, create greater harmony between your mind and body. Healing is much more difficult when the overall state of the body and mind are not taken into consideration during the treatment process, as is often the case with traditional western medicine where either the mind or body ailments are treated but rarely are they considered intricately linked.

At the centre where I am staying each person is examined and diagnosed by a medical/Ayurvedic doctor, and this includes an overview of your health history, current problems, physical and pulse examination (The doctor is available six days a week from roughly 9am to 5pm and you can visit him as often as you like!). Your custom treatment plan is then arranged around your dosha and health goals.

The healing process involves a special diet tailored to your condition(s), medication (five times a day) and a wide variety of treatments twice a day ranging from deep tissue massage with medicated coconut oil, enemas or colonic irrigation, steam treatments, rice and/or oil baths, nasal and eye cleansing, to ingesting clarified ghee butter to purge the system.

There are also yoga classes three times a day, plus daily meditations. The entire area is famous for its Nilgiri tea so the mountains are covered with tea plantations that, aside from providing stunning scenery, also offer miles of amazing walks. (Yes, the tea is amazing!)

Temple located in the forest.

So far, I am enjoying the experience as I have started gently with my treatments consisting primarily of deep tissue medicated coconut oil massages (usually accompanied with a lettuce scrub and warm shower) performed in the morning by two masseuses working simultaneously and an afternoon head, neck and back massage also with medicated oils that are tailored to my specific treatment plan. (Women cannot participate in some of the treatments during menstruation).

I must admit I have some trepidation about the coming weeks when my treatments will intensify to include some of the purging and more intense forms of detoxification. Thankfully, I will finish up the remainder of my stay with treatments geared towards rebuilding my system, restoring balance and rejuvenation.

Lastly, many people have asked me what a typical day at the centre is like so here is a sample itinerary:

6am: Medication is delivered to your room

6:30-7:30am: Yoga and meditation

8am: Breakfast

8:30-11:30am: One hour specialized treatment

12:30-1pm: Weight loss yoga

1-2pm: Lunch (more medication)

1:30-4:30pm: A thirty-minute specialized treatment and a visit from the reflexologist (every three days for the reflexologist)

3-4pm: Intermediate yoga

4-4:30pm: Afternoon tea served in the garden

5pm: Medication

5:30-6:30pm: Meditation

7-8pm: Dinner and medication

9-10pm: Medication

Participation in the yoga and meditation is not obligatory, but is encouraged. Meals can be eaten in the dinning room or delivered to your room – depending on how you are feeling.

The only other things of note are the government mandates that the electricity is turned off from 10am to noon and 4-6pm, and the area is teeming with wildlife. Wild monkeys are everywhere (there was a wild monkey invasion at the retreat today when they tried to break into the Ayurvedic garden and the kitchen). Wild elephants live on the mountains and there are numerous beautiful chatty birds in the tea fields and trees.


Valerie Williams is a writer living on Salt Spring Island, Canada and is currently on retreat in Canoor, India.

March 11, 2012

Monsanto Sucks T-shirts!

If you know anything about Monsanto then you know they suck. My personal opinion is that they are one of the most psychopathic, dangerous and controlling companies on the planet. But, ironically, in spite of their might or because of it, they keep an extremely low profile in North America where many of their genetically engineered crops are grown.

I am not big on conspiracy theories, but I find it surprising that there is so little coverage of Monsanto in our mainstream media (and so few people know who they are) when genetically engineered organisms remain an extremely hot and controversial topic in countries like India, Hungary, Haiti and the European Union. Mass protests, crop burnings and direct resistance against Monsanto is happening on a global scale, but we hear almost nothing about it in North America.

If you don’t know who Monsanto is, you need to get up to speed– there is a great movie called “The World According to Monsanto” by French filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin (available on YouTube in its entirely) and our filmmaker friend Jeremy Seifert, (director of the amazing Dive! Living Off America’s Waste) is also in the process of making a documentary about genetically modified organisms.  The current working title is The GMO Film Project (Untitled). If you are interested in supporting Jeremy’s work then please contact him as they need supporters to help finish making this important film.

January 21, 2012