I had just survived Covid and 2021 was not even a week old. The thought of spending my 48th birthday at an animal sanctuary appealed to me even more than usual. My internet search landed me at Peacefield in Newberry, Florida, a place I hadn’t even heard of but was only a few hours drive away.
It was the perfect trifecta: 1) spending time with farm animals who were rescued from the meat and dairy industries, 2) enjoying a peaceful setting away from everything and 3) finally doing some travel after a year of being cooped up in quarantine. Being around animals has always brought me joy and what a good time for romping around with cows, giving piggy belly rubs and snuggling up with friendly sheep. Still dealing with Covid fatigue, I didn’t mind the thought of relaxing in a hammock listening to the roosters greet the day, feel the fresh air enter my hopefully-not-to damaged lungs and see the swaying trees around me. Even the idea of simply going somewhere new was intoxicating as my wanderlust was about to explode! Besides, there was a lot riding on this trip: it was the first time my new girlfriend Chrissy and I would travel together.
A day before my birthday, we loaded up my Subaru with way too much stuff and headed out to Newberry, a town I had never even heard of. Along the way, Chrissy and I listened to music and talked about all kinds of things, including veganism, something very new for Chrissy. Our conversation turned to fishing, a lifelong hobby of hers. She told me about wonderful memories of fishing as a child with her father and aspects of fishing that she really enjoyed, like being out on the water, the strategy of bait and the ultimate battle. We talked about what the fish’s side of that experience must be like and I shared how I too liked being out on the water.
After turning off the highway just outside Gainesville, we easily navigated our way to a dirt road and we knew we were close. There is always a question of “did the gps lead us astray?”, but then we saw the understated Peacefield sign; we had arrived. We got out of the car to take our mandatory selfie/sign pics before continuing on the dirt road through 30 acres of soothing disarming fields. Strangely, I felt myself calming down at the same time my excitement grew. I knew right away that this was a special place!
Emma and John, the founders of Peacefield, came out to the car to greet us. Emma was holding Kate in her arms wrapped in a towel. Kate wasn’t feeling well so she was getting extra love and care inside the house. This was going to be a great way to spend my birthday.
It didn’t take long to realize that Emma and John are amazing people! They clearly love every resident they have taken in and are very much on a “secret mission to change the world”. They first show you why to go vegan and then equip you with the tools as to how to go vegan.
I couldn’t wait to meet the residents! I had just watched a video of the arrival of Otis, Freddie and Frankie, three boys who were rescued from the meat and dairy industries respectively. Not knowing much about cows, I was eager to spend some time with them.
I loved being around the many residents, all who seemed curious about Peacefield’s newest guests.
In addition to the cows, I met Lucy, the friendly sheep, Wilbur the sleepy yet playful pig and Mary, the turkey who constantly reminded me that he was indeed male despite the name that was given to him before realizing he was a boy.
Everyone had ample room and seemed to be able to make friends with other residents. Part of me wanted to be a full-time resident there too!
Why and How to Go Vegan – A One Stop Shop
Emma and John help guests see the beautiful souls behind the horrors of the meat and dairy industries offering the most convincing argument to go vegan, in my opinion. It’s very hard to look into the eyes of someone like Freddie and still want to hurt a cow, for example. Peacefield is also more than happy to help people with the practical side of going vegan.
They provide an online vegan starter kit replete with recommendations for documentaries and must-reads as well as a link to an international dining guide (Happy Cow). Every guest receives the book entitled How Not To Die, and Emma and John are happy to teach you how to cook through their cooking classes/demonstrations. The accommodations include the opportunity to try some vegan products from ice-cream to cookies to mac and cheeze.
We had booked the accommodations at Peacefield through AirBnB. The pictures online looked exactly as they did in real life. The two-bedroom spacious apartment was very modern with comfortable beds, plenty of cooking utensils and reading materials. The wifi was strong enough for me to conduct two classes over Zoom and I took advantage of the little desk in the living room.
Just out front was a hammock, a fire pit and a small deck where you can relax and enjoy the sounds of the sanctuary. We were also shown the outdoor sauna that we could use and the fruit trees that we were allowed to pick from and enjoy.
Waking up on my birthday at Peacefield was exactly what I needed after recovering from Covid and turning the page on the very challenging year of 2020. In moving forward, I was happy to discover that Chrissy and I do indeed travel well together.
As we started back down the dirt road with Peacefield in our rearview mirror, Chrissy turned to me and said, “I’m going to give up fishing”. My heart swelled, I smiled so big it almost hurt my face, and my eyes teared behind my sunglasses – this was the best birthday present I could have ever asked for. She also decided to name her new black SUV Otis, a constant reminder why beef is now permanently of her plate.