As they walk around the grounds of their home, stopping to tell stories about the colorful personalities of the animals who cross their path, it’s clear that Jonina Turzi and Sarah Salluzzo have found their calling. As founders of the Lancaster Farm Sanctuary in Elizabethtown, the pair rescue and care for farm animals who would otherwise be abandoned or killed. Both vegans and avid yoga practitioners, Sarah and Jonina felt inspired to create a place where people could deepen their connections to the natural world and its creatures after visiting farm sanctuaries in New York.
Jonina explains, “We were just walking through Catskill Animal Sanctuary, saying, ‘Lancaster needs one of these! Wouldn’t it be amazing if this approach to caring for farm animals could come back to our farm-animal-rich area?’ Both of us being from here and spending most of our lives here… we just wanted to bring that magic back home. We would have loved to have come home and volunteered at one, but…”
“There wasn’t one,” Sarah completes her sentence. So the couple, who were living in downtown Lancaster at the time, started looking for affordable farmland to turn into a sanctuary space of their own. They finally found the right property—which included seven acres of farmland, several barn spaces, and an 1800s farmhouse—and immediately started turning their new home into a space for animal rescue.
With both women working full-time jobs— Jonina is a physical therapist and owns West End Yoga Studio, and Sarah is a drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselor—getting the sanctuary up and running had its challenges. However, the women found many people willing to share their knowledge and help, and in July 2017, the Lancaster Farm Sanctuary officially opened. “The sanctuary world is a movement, and it’s about activism,” says Jonina. “Our experience so far has been that everybody is so happy to help you and provide you with information and resources, just because they want to help the animals.”
And, to Sarah and Jonina, the animals are what it’s all about. Their first rescues were a group of white Cornish Cross chickens who had fallen from the back of a truck on Interstate 81. The birds on the road were being loaded—dead, injured, or alive—into trash bags: “They were just… picking them up and throwing them all away,” Jonina shakes her head. Animal rescuers stepped in and several of the birds ended up as the Lancaster Farm Sanctuary’s first guests.
As the couple sits at a table on their wraparound farmhouse porch and recounts more stories of how they acquired Benji the goat, TrueHeart and Bess the cows, Tammy the turkey, and Eddie the chicken, it’s like they’re describing members of a large family. “They have personalities. They’re intelligent. And certainly, they feel pain and suffering,” Sarah asserts. “We’re doing the best we can, but the real mission here… is to get people to start making connections to the animals, so that hopefully they’ll have the epiphany of ‘Oh my gosh, I loved Tammy so much! She was funny, and charming, and I don’t want to eat a turkey sandwich, because I don’t want to eat Tammy.’ We hope to get people to really move towards a vegan lifestyle, or at least cut back.”
To help foster the connections between the farm animals and humans, the sanctuary offers guest tours, volunteer programs, vegan dinners, and even goat yoga, where visitors practice yoga poses with baby goats running around, licking them, or even jumping on their backs. “It’s just great,” Sarah laughs. “Yoga’s fun, and baby goats are amazing. It’s two fun things together.”
Up to this point, the women have shouldered much of the costs of the sanctuary themselves, but, having established the farm as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, they are hoping it will become more self-sustaining as they acquire donors and additional volunteers. Right now the hardest part of their experience is having to turn away animals because they don’t have the space to care for them.
Jonina admits, “I would like to have a much bigger sanctuary and just turn this into a bigger thing, have more visitation, and more events… but that would definitely require a lot more time and money. But it’s possible. I mean, a big farm sanctuary in New York started out of a VW bus and a tiny plot of land, and their first rescue was from the Lancaster stockyards… so, who knows?”
For more information or to donate to Lancaster Farm Sanctuary, visit www.lancasterfarmsanctuary.org