Note: Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.
Every spring, like clockwork, I start dreaming of farm life. I imagine myself frolicking in a field with baby goats or leaning lazily over wooden fences while watching snuffling piglets pester their mothers. Sounds like a perfect weekend escape in the middle of a long, dark, and—let’s face it—weird winter, right? Well, this might just be our lucky year, thanks to Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York.
Farm Sanctuary isn’t just any old farm stay. In fact, it isn’t really a farm at all—it’s a national nonprofit that operates homes for farm animals that have been rescued from cruel and abusive conditions. The organization has three locations, including two in California, but the one in New York is the only location with overnight accommodation, which includes three cozy cabins and three adorable and rentable tiny houses. So yes, this really is a place where all your bucolic dreams can come true.
The sanctuary started in 1986 as an organization that investigated animal cruelty in factory farms. But according to cofounder Gene Baur, once they started visiting farms and stockyards to document conditions, they couldn’t help but rescue some of the animals they found along the way. Eventually, they set up a permanent location in New York’s scenic Finger Lakes region, right next to the 9,000-acre Sugar Hill State Forest. Today, the property has been expanded to cover 275 acres.
“It’s been an evolution,” says Baur. “People started visiting and wanting to hear the animals’ stories, so we put up a Visitors’ Center. Then people wanted to stay overnight, so we put up bed-and-breakfast cabins.”
The peaceful atmosphere proved immensely popular, and cabins started booking out quickly. The next step in the Sanctuary’s evolution was an addition of three beautifully designed tiny houses—complete with bathrooms, kitchens, and animal print wallpaper. The bright and chic spaces also have big glass doors and porches, which offer guests a sweeping view of the fields and some of the more than 800 frolicking animals that call the Sanctuary home.
The setting is serene, but it’s really the genuinely happy animals that make a visit to Farm Sanctuary so memorable. As the nation’s largest and most effective farm animal rescue and protection organization, Farm Sanctuary is, first and foremost, a home for the animals. There’s even a sign at the entrance that reads, “You are now entering the animals’ sanctuary, please remember you are a guest in their home.”
“We want to engender a respect among our visitors for the animals and to encourage positive interactions,” Baur explains. It’s up to the animals whether or not they want to interact with people.
But in this nurturing environment, it’s no surprise that many of the animals have come to love interacting with humans. “We have sheep that love to be petted. When you walk away, they’ll paw at you like a dog would to say, ‘Please stay here and keep petting me!’”
On your next visit to Farm Sanctuary, you may have the pleasure of meeting the charming Jerome, a calf who was rescued from a dairy farm. And perhaps Liz, the cow who adopted Jerome and whose own calf, Cashew, is Jerome’s new best friend.
“A big part of our message,” says Baur, “is that these animals are individuals who have feelings and we should treat them with respect.”
Farm Sanctuary is open both to overnight stays and day visitors from May through October and offers daily tours of the grounds ($10). It is a vegan facility, so they do request that if visitors bring picnics, they keep their food choices vegan. Overnight visitors are treated to a delicious vegan breakfast of dairy-free yogurt, oatmeal, pastries, and fruit. If you’re not afraid to get your hands a little dirty, the Sanctuary also offers a variety of volunteering experiences—just be sure to let them know you’re interested two weeks before your stay.
Not in New York? Farm Sanctuary’s Acton location may not offer overnight stays, but you can still visit the site’s 100 or so rescued residents. The 26-acre spot is only 45 minutes from Hollywood and typically offers tours on Saturdays and Sundays for $10. Here you might meet Liberty and Indigo, a sweet mother and calf. The two were rescued by Joaquin Phoenix the day after he delivered his powerful Oscars speech, which touched on the cruelty of the food industry toward animals. (Editor’s note: These tours are temporarily suspended as precautionary measures due to COVID-19 concerns. But guests can keep up with the animals on Facebook and Instagram until their next visit!)
“For decades, Farm Sanctuary’s visitors have had a chance to get to know farm animals as unique individuals with their own feelings and personalities,” says Baur. “We will continue enhancing and expanding these opportunities, as well as creating new opportunities for people to better understand how eating plants instead of animals also helps to protect the natural world.”
This article originally appeared online in March 2017; it was updated on March 13, 2020, to include current information.