Woodstock Farm Sanctuary opens its new digs

(Photos by Dion Ogust)

(Photos by Dion Ogust)

The Woodstock Farm Sanctuary is about to become a Rondout Valley phenomenon. The entity that’s been based in Willow since 2004 has just announced that it will be holding its grand re-opening in Accord on September 5 on the site of the former Camp Epworth on Lucas Avenue, which boasts 150 acres versus their previous 23.

There, the entity is building three new barns and other out-buildings to house the cows, goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, guinea fowl, rabbits, ducks and turkeys the sanctuary cares for, as well as rehabbing current buildings. All the work is being done by local construction companies, according to ‎WFS administrative associate Susan Mannella. “We are trying to add to the community,” Mannella said. “We have been warmly welcomed.”

There are four lodges, a manor house, an annex, and various care taker housings; four fields, a pond for the ducks and geese, pasture and wooded areas on the site.


Jenny Brown, the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary’s director and co-founder with husband Doug Abel, talked this week about how easy it’s been working with the Town of Rochester planning board, what with many of the uses they wanted getting grandfathered in because of the town’s long relationship with the site’s former owners at the Methodist Church.

“They ran camps, retreats, and rented the place out for years,” Brown said. “Furthermore, we’re off on our own there, under the Shawangunk ridgeline, and we’ve been keeping our closest neighbor very employed since buying the place. It’s a great location and we feel like we’ve been embraced!”

Back in Willow, Brown and Abel spent years in conflict with neighbors and the local planning board over the specifics of the many special permits under which the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary was operating, and holding its popular fundraising concerts.

“While we always felt that we were fully embraced by the Woodstock community,” she noted, “the bureaucratic red tape we were facing started to feel cumbersome.”

Doug Abel and Jenny Brown.

Doug Abel and Jenny Brown.

Brown added that she didn’t look long for a new property, and at first felt that the Epworth site was out of their league price- and size-wise. But then the benefits and opportunities started to add up…and the couple realized that “the possibilities were endless and the situation right.”

While some in the supportive community that the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary has built up have expressed concerns about a loss of intimacy and connection, they’ve also been noting how the new WFS will have overnight accommodations, a full dining hall, much more space for saving animals, and the ability to reach out to a younger demographic because of the site’s closeness to New Paltz and its state college.

They’ve even changed the name, shortened it to Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, from the former Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, because, said Brown, “WFAS was a mouthful. Plus our programs will be growing exponentially to include retreats, camps, festivals and various events so it’s becoming more than an animal sanctuary — it’s a sanctuary for people too.”

In the meantime, Brown and Abel are looking to sell the existing Woodstock Farm Sanctuary property in Willow, which includes a bed and breakfast, working farm, and what could be two homes.

“We have a lot of fundraising to do, a large capital campaign to get underway,” Brown added. “Doug and I want to move close to where we’ll now be, but not live on site anymore. After eleven years of having it all operate out of our home, we feel the need to have our own lives again… for sanity and sustainibility.”


200-300 animals 

The hands-on work of rescuing, rehabilitating and caring for farm animal refugees is a large part of the WFS’s mission, as is educating the public about the treatment of animals who are raised for food. The animals now living on the sanctuary were rescued from cases of abuse, neglect and abandonment or have been surrendered by their owners, Mannella explained on site during a recent tour of the new property…part of a mission, Brown later added, all about changing the way we think about animals, and in the long run compassion.

Mannella introduces Randy and Elvis, two bulls who were rescued from veal cages (it’s hard to imagine given the size of them now). A flock of Guinea Fowl scampers by, more new additions to the sanctuary made possible with all the new space.

The Sanctuary expects to be able to house 200-300 animals on the new site and run new fundraising events once again, like past concerts featuring Moby, Chrissie Hynde and Sean Lennon, as well as this past week’s Disney Kids camp. The commitment to house an animal for the rest of its life costs thousands of dollars a year, Mannella explained. The sanctuary has to do a lot of fundraising to pay for all the up keep costs.

The WFS is busy building right now and not giving its regular tours but the grand re-opening in September will be a great opportunity to go see what they are all about. In the meantime, the entity has received all its permits from the Rochester Planning Board, and missed all but a bit of the fallout from protests against another events entity in town, the Crested Hen, as well as the public hearings and complaints the couple complained about over their tenure in Willow.

The grand re-opening Labor Day weekend, totally free and running from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., will featuring popular food vendors and music by Bree Sharp, Elizabeth Mitchell and You Are My Flower, and trip-hop to bee-bop by Meanderthal. Visitors will be encouraged to frolic with goats, give belly rubs to friendly pigs and cuddle some very affable sheep. Throughout the tour of the sanctuary caregivers will be re-telling the heart-warming rescue stories of the animals who call the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary home.

Back in Woodstock, meanwhile, Brown talks about all that she and Abel will miss about the town, from yoga classes and the farmers market to Sunflower and The Garden Café.

“It’s been home,” she says. “But we’ll only be 45 minutes away from where we were, and half an hour from the Village Green!”


For more information call 247-5700 or visit ulsterpub.staging.wpenginesanctuary.org