Maple Farm Animal Sanctuary - Mendon MASS
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Summer at Maple Farm Sanctuary

By MFS volunteer Jessica Bewsee

Being a volunteer at Maple Farm Sanctuary is a year-round gig—and trust me, it’s a gig of extremes. In February, when I’m toting buckets of water through the snow wearing my Carhartt gloves, I’m dreaming of warmer weather. But in July, when I’m mucking out stalls, and shavings are sticking to my sweaty skin, I get a bit nostalgic for winter.

So, while I’m certainly noticing the recent rise in temperatures, spring and summer at MFS also bring many changes in the behavior of the animals. You might think they would become more sluggish like we humans do, but they actually seem to enjoy it. There’s more laying in the sun, more games of head-bonk between goats, and more berry-snorfing at the mulberry tree by Piggy Smalls.

Here are some scenes you are likely to see during the summer at MFS:

A Refreshing Dip

Our geese always have three pools to swim and play in, but in the summer it’s really important that volunteers keep the pools clean and free from algae, and replace the water daily. The geese love this production. They often stand around the pools watching us work. Juliet, our female white Chinese Goose, likes to be sprayed with the hose (she quacks and quacks with happiness when I give her squirts on her chest) and Romeo, the leader of the gaggle, immediately hops in and dips his head under water repeatedly, stretching out his wings to their full span.


A Relaxing Mud Bath

In the winter, Jonathan the pig will spend over an hour building his hay bed, as it’s a task he takes very seriously. He puts in just as much time perfecting his summer wallow. He uses his powerful snout to dig deep into the mud, and he even pulls up any weeds in his way. 

Once Jonathan has sufficiently deepened his hole (and, I confess, I’ve added a large bucket of water to help with this endeavor), he slowly eases in for a relaxing mud bath. One peculiar thing I’ve noticed is that he seems to only want to cool down one side on his body. When he stands up he’s pink on one side and muddy-brown on the other with an actual line of demarcation running down his back!


A New Haircut

Finn the sheep displays some of the most noticeable seasonal differences. All winter long, his wool is thick and fluffy, making him appear huge. In the early summer he gets shorn, a process he tolerates but doesn’t particularly relish, and afterwards he looks half his size! After he is fully shorn he spends the day in hiding under the barn with the llamas, pouting over his nakedness. But in spite of Finn's initial reaction, it’s always very clear that he’s much more comfortable with his summer ‘do.


Indulging in Watermelon

In the hottest weather, volunteers bring the chickens their favorite treat: fresh watermelon! We’ll cut the melons in half and place them under the shade of the big maple tree in the front yard. The chickens swarm the melons within seconds and peck at them with delight. Lovey, our sweet chicken who is missing the top part of her beak, shovels the juice of the watermelon into the bottom half and tips her head back to let the juice drip into her mouth!


Staying Cool

Gwendolyn the turkey doesn’t seem to enjoy watermelon, but she knows how to keep cool! You will find her sitting in front of the fan in the barn, laying under the chicken tree taking dust baths, or cooling down her feet in the bowl of water I bring her when I do my barn chores.

While there are many differences between summer and winter on the farm, the one thing that never changes is the volunteers’ commitment to the animals’ care and the bonds we share with them. It’s a pleasure to work at Maple Farm summer or winter, rain or shine.

Come see for yourself! We’re always looking for more volunteers to help in the barns. It’s also a great opportunity to spend some quality time with the animals. Join the MFS volunteer community today.

Pitmaster Leaves Competition BBQ Circuit to Start Plant-Based Deli

Just because you don’t eat animal products, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the spicy, smoky flavors of barbecue. Just ask MFS volunteer Charles Christiansen.

Before going vegan two years ago, Christiansen was a regular on the New England competitive barbecue circuit. Each year from May to September, he spent his weekends grilling up meat-based dishes in hopes of winning coveted trophies and prizes.

Now, Christiansen’s spends his weekends educating MFS visitors about farm animal protection issues as a volunteer tour guide assistant.

A Profound Change of Heart

Above: Mama ("Isn't she the most beautiful cat?" says Christiansen)

What makes a lifelong meat-eater and barbecue aficionado go vegan? For Christiansen, it was a cat named “Mama.”

“My wife and I rescued Mama several years ago. She was the sweetest and most affectionate animal I had ever met in my life, and we formed a very special bond,” says Christiansen.

“Unfortunately, one day Mama started having seizures, and within a week we found out she had aggressive cancer and she passed away. She was only six years old.”

Mama’s passing affected Christiansen so deeply that he began to see a disconnect between his relationship with her and his treatment of other animals.

“Mama’s death hit me really hard, particularly because she was so young. I mourned for several months,” says Christiansen. “Soon after, I started getting ready for barbecue season, and it dawned on me that by cooking meat, I was doing the same thing that happened to Mama to many more animals: I was causing them to die young.”

Christiansen also began to see another dark side of barbecue competitions.

“Looking back on the competitions, I realized how wasteful they were. For one portion, we had to turn in only six pieces of meat, but we generally made a lot more to get the best ones; or we would take just six small pieces of one large roast. The extra meat was sometimes eaten but just as often thrown away.”

Following these realizations, Christiansen not only quit the barbecue circuit but also gave up eating meat. Shortly after, he transitioned to a vegan diet and came on board as a tour guide assistant at MFS.

Continuing the Tradition, Cruelty-Free

Above: Christiansen creates his plant-based meat alternatives in a kitchen in Somerville, MA.

While he used to be known for his love of cooking meat, Christiansen is quick to point out that giving up meat did not mean abandoning his passion for barbecue.

“Shortly after I became vegan, I started cooking food that I thought I would miss, trying to re-create it,” says Christiansen. “It wasn’t always easy—the first time I made seitan it came out so horrible that I had to throw it away, but I just went online and looked for ways to improve it.”

As he got more confident, Christiansen moved on to fancier vegan fair based on his affinity for barbecue as well as his southern roots. These included pulled pork—his signature dish from the barbecue circuit—as well as vegan pepperoni, bacon, and Andouille sausage, a favorite dish of his Louisiana-born mother. He also tried his hand at making vegan cheeses like smoked Gouda.

Last October, Christiansen turned his hobby into a full-fledged business, opening The Plant Deli, an online store that sells homemade vegan meats and cheeses “with a southern flair.” His most popular products are bacon made from seitan and chickpea flour and a breakfast sausage made from wheat gluten and pinto beans.

You can find Plant Deli products online and at farmers markets throughout the Boston area.

Vegan Barbecue Sauces and Tips from the Plant Deli

Above: Christiansen's barbecue seitan brisket

Without giving away too many of his secrets, Christiansen agreed to share some of his favorite plant-based barbecue tips with the MFS community. Learn more about grilling up vegan dishes from seitan to fruit and veggie pizza here.

And don't forgot your sauces and rubs! Check out Christiansen's recipes (pdf) for "All-Star Barbecue Rub," "Sweet & Sassy BBQ Sauce," and "Dester Nectar Agave & Key Lime Sauce."

Vegan Barbecue Tips

Looking to cook up some delicious vegan barbecue? Look no further. Follow these tips and tricks from MFS volunteer Charles Christiansen, a barbecue afficionado and owner of the southern-cuisine inspired Plant Deli. You can also read about Christiansen's journey from barbeque champion to vegan chef.

By Charles Christiansen

General Vegan BBQ Tips

  • Don’t skimp on the spice: Spice and smoke are what give barbecued foods their flavor. When vegans say they miss barbecued meat, I remind them that what they actually miss is all the flavor added to meat. However, because the protein structure of plant-based meats is different than that of regular meat, you will likely need to add more spices to plant-based meats to get those flavors.
  • Use bold spices: I use lots of pepper and salt as well as ginger and smoked paprika.
  • Smoke your veggie meats: Plant-based meats are actually much easier to smoke than regular meat. A meat roast takes a very long time to cook and requires a smoker, but plant-based products like seitan can be cooked on a regular grill with or without a smoker box, as they absorb the smoke much more quickly.
  • Remember the Sauce: Many traditional barbecue sauces are actually vegan—just check the ingredients to make sure sauces do not contain honey. If you've feeling creative, try your hand at making your own sauces and rubs.

How to Barbecue A Variety of Plant-Based Foods


Seitan works best for putting directly on the grill because it's the most structurally sound of traditional plant-based meats. I recommend cooking it over indirect heat. On a charcoal grill, put hot coals in half the bottom of the grill and put a foil pan in the other half next to the coals. Close the lid to let the grill preheat for about 10 minutes and then cook seitan over the foil pan rather than the coals (this also helps catch any dripping sauce or marinade).

On a gas grill, light the left- and right-side burners, close the lid to let the grill preheat for 10 minutes, and then cook the seitan in the middle, between the lit burners. The grill will still be hot, but there will be less risk of burning the seitan. Since seitan is generally precooked, it takes just a few minutes to heat it through and get a nice char and smoky flavor.


Veggie Burgers

Commercial veggie burgers (whether the Beyond Burger or the standard frozen veggie burger) cook well directly on the grill. If you use homemade veggie burgers, you will probably want to use a grill pan because these burgers tend to fall apart when they get dry. You can find lightweight skillets with holes in the bottom in the barbecue section of the hardware store that are ideal for cooking veggie burgers (as well as cooking vegetables on the grill). Make sure to oil them a little to prevent sticking.



© Crystal

For tofu, it's a bit of a judgement call. If your tofu is well pressed and still holding a block shape without starting to crumble, you can cook it the same way you would cook seitan—just be sure to oil the grill grates very well, as tofu tends to stick pretty easily.

You can buy utensils that are a combination of tongs and spatula (basically, tongs with spatula ends) that work well for cooking tofu on the grill because they let you hold the block together while flipping it. If you find that your tofu is cracking before you put it on the grill, you should use a grill pan so that the tofu does not fall apart and fall between the grates.


Fruit & Fruit Pies

Cook fruit on the grill! More people should do this—it's really good. Stone fruit like peaches, plums, and apricots taste amazing when grilled, as do pineapple rings and even watermelon slices.

If you have a gas grill that has good temperature control, you can also cook pies on your grill. Instead of baking a cherry pie in the oven, put it on your gas grill with a small amount of cherry wood chips in a smoker box and cook it for the same amount of time and temperature as you would in the oven. You will end up with this subtle smoky, almost chocolatey flavor that really takes your cherry pie to the next level.



Pizza also tastes amazing when it's grilled. You can buy accessories like the PizzaQue that fit onto standard Weber charcoal grills to turn them into pizza ovens, and they work really well. Using these, you can cook pizza pies with or without vegan cheese (I recommend So Delicious mozzarella shreds for pizza) in just a few minutes, and they will taste like they came out of a real Italian brick oven.


3 Ways to Up Your Compassionate Shopping Game

If you’re leaving animals off your plate, you’re already living quite the compassionate life — by going vegan, you spare about 95 lives each year, and thousands more over a lifetime! But what if there’s more you can do to live a kind life? Read on for three ways to up your compassionate shopping game.

1. GO ORGANIC: Most people in the U.S. are familiar with the term “organic.” After all, most of our grocery stores offer organic fruits and veggies, and many even have a dedicated aisle of “natural and organic” packaged foods. Not only does buying organic offer you health benefits, it turns out that it’s a compassionate choice for the environment, too! Organic farming practices “reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, use less energy” and are “better for nearby birds and animals, as well as people who live close to farms.”

Above: Who knew you should be checking the labels on what you put in your tote *and* on your tote?  (Pictured: Two Trick Pony’s Pig Pal Jumbo Tote, which is made from 100% certified organic, US-grown cotton)

Here’s what might come as a surprise to you: Did you know that the same can be said for organic cotton farming practices? When you choose organic cotton instead of conventionally grown cotton you:

  • Minimize your impact — Since organic cotton is not grown with toxic chemicals, it doesn’t damage the soil, has less of an impact on air quality and uses 71% less water and 62% less energy than conventionally grown cotton. That’s a big deal when you consider that conventional cotton uses about 16% of the world’s insecticides and 7% of pesticides!
  • Proactively address projected water shortages — In less than ten years, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages. That’s distressing to think about, but organic cotton can help! Since it’s 80% rain-fed, it lessens the pressure on local water sources.
  • Do your part for farmers and their families — If you’re like me, you’ve had your fair share of people saying, “But what about people who are suffering?” when confronted with being a voice for animals. Here’s the good thing about compassionate living: It benefits every living being, and organic cotton is no exception! By choosing organic, you’re helping farmers and their families avoid being exposed to toxic chemicals. You’re also helping keep conventional cotton out of our diets since cotton seed oil is used in a variety of food products.

2. SHOP LOCAL (AND SMALL): Shopping local isn’t just for one Saturday in November! When you shop local, you not only keep money in your community (and therefore support local schools and infrastructure), but also protect local land and wildlife, too. Here’s how that works:

“By buying local, you are supporting local farmers and producers. With your support, these farms are able to stay in operation. Because the farms are owned and operated by local farmers and producers, they aren’t being sold to local developers. Local developers could completely transform the land, devastating the wildlife that calls it home. Or, big business producers could buy out the farm and incorporate inhumane and non-eco-friendly farming practices.”

For those times when you can’t shop local, another good option is to focus on shopping small. One reason I like to shop small is it’s easier to figure out if the vendors I’m supporting are aligned with my values. For instance, when I buy gifts from Lyndsay at The Vegan Potter, I know that she’s committed to producing ethically made pottery and supporting her community through programs such as Clay for a Cause. Same goes for buying tees from Andy at Compassion Co. — I know that he’s just as committed to organic cotton (and eco-friendly production) as I am, so I can shop worry-free.

Above: I love a sassy, savvy, small business, don’t you? (Pictured: Andy Tabar in Still Vegan Compassion Co. t-shirt)

3. MAKE A STATEMENT: Speaking of Compassion Co., my husband, Jake (you might know him as Mr. Pony if you follow me on Instagram), recently wore his favorite Compassion Co. t-shirt to the bank for a quick errand. The woman who helped him with his transaction noticed the vegan message and opened up to him about her struggles with going vegan, especially when it came to swapping some of her go-to foods for more compassionate options. Jake took the conversation as an opportunity to recommend some personal favorites. He also empathized by letting her know that she wasn’t alone in the struggle, and that it gets easier.

Take a note from Jake and add some vegan gear to your wardrobe! Bonus points if it’s made from organic cotton and you buy it from a local vegan company. When your new vegan gear gives you opportunities to talk about your compassionate lifestyle, make the most of those chances by being just that: compassionate!

Nick Coughlin, founder of Compassionate Man, said it well when describing his realization after initially trying to “browbeat compassion” into all of those who are not yet vegan: “My job was not to demolish my detractors, but to gently open windows to a new way of thinking. Every interaction was now an opportunity for me to thoughtfully consider whether my actions would actually help people see animals in a new light or not. If not, it’s best to hold my tongue and look for a better opportunity to make an impact.”

You’re making a huge difference by shopping vegan! Now try sticking to organic goods (both food and apparel), patronizing local businesses, and wearing your vegan heart on your sleeve to make an even greater impact.

Laurie Johnston is the owner of Two Trick Pony, a Massachusetts-based, eco-friendly greetings and goods company. When she’s not screenprinting, Laurie spends time volunteering for Maple Farm Sanctuary and trying to pet as many dogs as she possibly can in one lifetime.



Animal Equality, "Food.", "Organic Foods: What You Need to Know."

GoGreen, "The Environmental Benefits of Buying Locally."


MFS Takes in Two New Potbellied Pigs

Maple Farm Sanctuary is thrilled to welcome two new adorable arrivals: potbellied pigs Jack and Harriet!

Jack and Harriet were brought to MFS by a local family. The family had rescued Jack from a hoarding situation and gotten Harriet after she had been bought and re-sold by several people who did not want to keep her. The family tried to raise both pigs inside but was unable to keep them and wanted to find a place where they would have access to the outdoors. Many people they contacted unfortuntely would have used Jack and Harriet for meat, but then they found MFS, and we were glad to offer the pigs a home.

Harriet is about two years old and is white with black spotting. She is very friendly and outgoing and loves to get back scratches. Harriet also enjoys walking on a leash, something that MFS volunteers are very happy to help her with!

Jack is a little over one year old, has solid black coloring, and is on the small side for a potbellied pig. He is also shy and tends to follow Harriet’s lead—except when it comes to eating, as he quickly gobbles up his food and then tries to eat Harriet’s food as well.

Both Jack and Harriet will need a lot of care and support as they adjust to their new lives at MFS. They are settling in nicely in their temporary stall in one of our large barns while we work on building them a permanent shelter that will include ample access to the outdoors and a cozy indoor space. They will also soon have a new roommate, as we are preparing to welcome a third new pig, named Chester, in the coming weeks.

Support Jack and Harriet: make a gift to help us build our new shelter, or make a year-long difference for animals by sponsoring Jack or Harriet.

Stay up-to-date on Jack and Harriet (and find out about Chester's arrival): sign up for our newsletter and follow MFS on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


MFS Rescues Goose Whose Family Was Attacked by a Coyote

Maple Farm Sanctuary recently welcomed a new goose to our gaggle: Tony, a Tufted Roman Goose.

Tony was being raised as a companion animal along with three other geese in a private backyard. They lived in a rural area, and sadly, one day after the geese were let outside, three of them were attacked and killed by a coyote. The family was devastated by the loss of the geese and knew that they would also have to find Tony a safer place to live. They also wanted Tony to find a home with other geese.

MFS was glad to take Tony in and give him a safe and loving home. Here, he will never have to worry about being attacked by a coyote again, as our animals are protected from coyotes by our resident guard dogs, who keep the coyotes at bay without hurting them.

Tony is slowly becoming part of MFS gaggle and spends his days hanging out in our front lawn and splashing in our pools. We have also found him out back a few times visiting with the Canadian geese who frequently stop by the sanctuary!

Here are some more photos of our handsome new goose:

Above: Tony is introduced to the curious MFS gaggle.

Above: Geese like Tony (and other birds) often stand on one foot as a means of conserving body heat.

Above: Tufted Roman geese were named for the small tuft of feathers on their heads, which reminds many people of a tiny hat.

Piggy Smalls and the Mini Pig Trade

Piggy Smalls is a four-year-old Vietnamese potbellied pig who was originally sold to a loving family by a breeder advertising “mini pigs” who would remain small forever. Like all potbellied pigs, Piggy quickly grew to more than 150 pounds, and his family could no longer keep him.
Fortunately MFS stepped in to rescue Piggy, as we did with our other potbellied pig Chance, but not all potbellied pigs are so fortunate. Watch the video below to meet Piggy and learn about the deceptive mini pig trade:

 Video by Aviva Luttrell

Behind the Scenes: Volunteer Spotlight, Part 2

Who knows Maple Farm Sanctuary’s animal residents best? The kind and compassionate people who volunteer their time to give these furry, wooly, and feathery friends the best life possible!
We recently asked several of our volunteers to tell us about their special bonds with the animals of MFS. If you missed it, read Part 1, and then read on for more heartwarming stories below:

Barn Volunteer Jane and Dragon

“I've volunteered at Maple Farm Sanctuary for just over a year now and I have a soft spot for the older animals. Anytime I go in to visit the dogs, Dragon nudges his way in and makes sure he gets some love as well.”

Tour Guide Sarah and Jonathan 

“Running tours at Maple Farm Sanctuary is such an incredible experience. I get to share these amazing animals with people and help them form connections. I always encourage people to look in the eyes of the animals so you can see they really are someone and not something. Sharing the message about how special animals are has been one of the best experiences. I am so fortunate to be part of the MFS community!”

Barn Volunteer Luciana and Gail 

‘I am so honored be a part of the Maple Farm Sanctuary team. For years I visited the Sanctuary and wished I could get closer to the amazing animal residents and give them some love. Although I have not been a volunteer for too long, the experience has been more than fulfilling — it’s dream come true! Gail is such a sweet and special lady. I feel extremely pleased to meet and hug her!”

Barn Volunteer Yana and Mimou

“Mimou is a beautiful girl. Her owner almost sent her to slaughter because she didn’t like her personality. I think Mimou is great and she wants the same as all of us — to be loved and accepted.”

Barn Volunteer Jennifer and Gwendolyn

“I love every single animal at Maple Farm Sanctuary. Today though, Gwen really needed someone to listen to her. She is going through an exhausting and uncomfortable molt. I loved just being able to be there for her and comfort her. Open your heart to an animal and you know what they are saying to you.”

Tour Director Marlene and Putt Putt

"Putt Putt, our sweet senior goat, has impaired vision in one eye. I call him my handsome pirate!"

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation Awards $5,000 in Grants to MFS

Maple Farm Sanctuary (MFS) is grateful to the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, which recently awarded us a total of $5,000 from the Foundation’s Community Spirit 9/11 Mini-Grant program!

Ten employees of Health Plans, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, nominated MFS for an award of $500 each. MFS plans to use the grants to support a variety of projects, including purchasing a much-needed hay feeder that will enable our resident cow herd to more easily eat nutritious hay in the cold weather months.

“We are so appreciative of the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation and all the employees who generously selected MFS as a grant recipient,” says MFS Co-Founder Cheri Ezell-Vandersluis. “Our cows will certainly appreciate the grants as well, as they will soon be eating in style from a new hay feeder!”

Additional funds may be used to buy fresh fruits and vegetables to feed the animals and purchase vitamins and supplements to support the care of our many elderly animals.

About the Community Spirit 9/11 Mini-Grants Program

To commemorate those Harvard Pilgrim members who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, Harvard Pilgrim and its Foundation created the Community Spirit 9/11 Mini-Grant program. This program enables employees from Harvard Pilgrim, Health Plans Inc. and NTT Data to award an annual grant, completely funded by the Foundation, to the local charity of his or her choice.

Since the program began in 2002, these employees have directed almost $5 million to hundreds of organizations throughout the Foundation's health plan service area – comprised of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

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