When you arrive at a place as notorious for it's beauty as Maui, it's very easy to lose sight of the fact that you've slipped into one of the most visited destinations that the United States has to offer. Even if your list of activities is a run down of all of the typical touristy adventures expected of a first time visitor, it's impossible not to notice through the personality of the locals, that the whole vibe of the island lends itself to an overwhelming feeling of individual serenity and a true closeness with nature.
These sensations were at their peak the morning we visited "Leilani Farm Sanctuary" in April. Driving to the Sanctuary was an experience in itself! As you navigate the rugged coastlines through small rural communities, slowing down to examine the pristine beauty of the open water as it meets the shore only a few hundred feet from the highway. Everywhere you look people are enjoying the splendours of their natural surroundings. Surfers line the beaches, families take in the beautiful sunflower patch, and it's common to see yoga classes taking place in the many gorgeous parks. With excitement mounting, we arrive at Leilani Farm Sanctuary, nestled on a beautiful and quiet piece of property on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
After we park and gather our gear, we walk toward the entrance where we're greeted by a friendly volunteer who directs us to the pre-tour gathering area to sign in. In the few minutes before the tour we were lucky to meet other individuals who were there for the tour and we started to have some casual chit chat. It was so nice to meet like-minded people from all over who share similar ideals and values when it comes to the well being of animals and veganism as a lifestyle.
It wasn't long after when we were introduced to our tour guide and Leilani Farm Sanctuary founder, Laurelee Blanchard. There are very few animal rights activists out there with a more long standing and impeccable resume than Laurelee. A one time highly successful member of Corporate America, she cashed out all of her life savings in 1999 and sought to start her very own Animal Farm Sanctuary. Leaving Orange County, CA and her corporate lifestyle behind, she acquired an eight acre piece of paradise in Haiku, Maui that would eventually become Leilani Farm Sanctuary.
Aside from the extremely taxing passion project of running a non-profit animal sanctuary that is home to around 300 different animals and staffed completely with volunteers, Laurelee has shown a dedication to animal rights that extends far beyond her work at Leilani. She formally served in a pro-bono capacity as the director of communications for Farm Animal Rights Movement, or FARM, an internationally renowned animal rights organization based out of Maryland. In addition to her work with FARM, she worked as a consultant for the World Society for the Protection of Animals, and was even named "Vegan of the year in North America" in 2012.
After Laurelee shared some of her personal journey and the history of Leilani with us, she explained some of the ground rules for our interaction with the animals and then the tour began. Our first stop was to meet Charlotte the Pig. Charlotte displayed fantastic comedic timing and soon began rolling around gleefully in her mud bath, much to the delight of the children and adults alike. Charlotte arrived at the Sanctuary with a broken leg after being caught in a hunters snare, but now she spends her days in safety, enjoying the peace and freedom every animal deserves.
The next stop on the tour took us to meet a number of the feathered residents who are fortunate to call Leilani their home. This area included a very spacious pen with a high ceiling that's equipped with perches and had plenty of shade for the birds to enjoy. Roosters, hens, and turkeys all wandered about enjoying their day and the company of the tour group. It wasn't long before Laurelee scooped up Matthew the Turkey into a huge and loving hug that brought an eruption of laughter from all of the kids. This is a very interactive portion of the tour. Children, with the supervision of an adult, were allowed to pet, pick up and cuddle with the chickens. I thought I was going to have to leave Ashley behind as she quickly became attached to one of the friendly frolickers, but I managed to pry her away and the tour continued with her and our daughter Violet in tow.
As we strolled toward the huge green space occupied by a variety of four legged friends, we were near the edge of the Sanctuary, which was fully fenced off for the safety of the animals. Just beyond where we were was a calm, flowing body of water which we were told was used as a grazing and drinking spot for the residents of Leilani Farm Sanctuary. This is when we learned that there are no natural predators in the area! That definitely makes Leilani's location ideal for maintaining a facility that's home to around 300 animals.
The final stop on the tour was an open area that serves as a place for many different residents to relax under the shade of a tree, or graze in peace as they please. While there are a few sub sections in this space of the sanctuary, most of the animals are fully interactive with both the guests of the tour and with each other. Deer and goats take life at their own pace, not concerned or startled by the hustle and bustle of the tour going on around them. Rabbits and guinea pigs had their own little area, and gnawed at carrots and other veggies provided for us to give them. Meanwhile, a massive tortoise that goes by the name of Clarice (don't worry, there's no Hannibal Lector at this Sanctuary) methodically inched across the grass in true tortoise form.
Before we knew it, the hour long tour was at an end, and as we made our way back to the welcome area we had the opportunity to chat briefly with Laurelee about what goes into a typical day at Leilani. We learned that this is a monumental undertaking that requires not only fierce work ethic and dedication, but a sincere passion for what you believe in. The days are long and the work is endless, but the end result is a shining example of what all vegans hope for in the future; a cruelty free world where all species live a peaceful and fulfilling life of freedom. And for being such an assertive change agent and pioneer for the plight of all animals, Laurelee Blanchard deserves the admiration of all of us who hold the vegan movement so dear. She certainly has ours.
Blanchard has recently released a book about her journey titled "Finding Paradise: Leilani Farm Sanctuary of Maui." Check it out or visit their website to sponsor one of their animal residents, or to make a donation to this deserving organization. Keep an eye on our blog for a book review in the near future!
Thank you to all of you Groovy Vegans out there for reading, and remember: Less Harm = More Harmony.
Jesse - The Groovy Vegan