28 June

Honored Guest: Joshua Rockwood At The Bedlam Farm Open House

by Jon Katz
Joshua Rockwood
Joshua Rockwood

Every week, Joshua’s lawyer reminds him that he could go to jail. I assume that anyone with a loving wife and two small children can imagine just how awful a cloud that is to live under. It is an awful thing for an animal lover to be secretly accused of animal cruelty and face a terrifying assault by the police and the machinery of government. It is even worse if you are clearly and provably innocent of the charges.

It is easy to read about people accused of awful things, it is sometimes very difficult to grasp what they really means, how awful it is, how long it can last, how destructive it can be to love and work.

I was very happy to see Joshua Rockwood arrive at the open house on Sunday, and to see that he came with his wife Stephanie and their two children. Everyone there knew Joshua,  came up to him, thanked him for his courage, asked if they could help, patted him on the back, cheered him on.

Joshua is  part of the local food movement, he raises cattle, pigs, chickens and sheep for food. His animals eat on pasture, he is open and authentic about his work. I am proud to call him a friend and stand with him, as so many others are. He is a sweet man, an honest man, a caring father and husband, and I have visited his farm several times  and walked every inch of it with him. His animals are healthy and content, well fed and attentively cared for. He has been cruelly abused by our system of justice.

Joshua is also shy, he is not easy in the awful spotlight that shines every day on him and his family. We had talked about him giving a talk at the farm, but he seemed to be  looking for some peace and enjoying his time with his family. We decided he should just hang around a bit and try and relax. As some of you know, Joshua is an idealistic  young farmer from Glenville, N.Y. In March, after one of the bitterest cold waves in American history, the police and humane society officers raided his 90 acre farm, seized three of his horses, and accused  him of between 13 and 17 counts of animal cruelty and neglect, including having an unheated barn, storing hay out of sight of the officers, and having frozen streams and water receptacles.

I went to see Joshua and visit his farm, and I was saddened and surprised to discover the same thing I discovered when I first went to see the New York Carriage Horses.  Joshua had done nothing wrong, his animals were healthy and well cared for – two different vets had come to his farm and certified that. What happened to his farm in that brutish cold could have happened to any small farmer in America, and happened to many – including me.

But a secret informer, part of the new army of the righteous who call themselves supporters of animal rights, had reported him to the police. And without any warning or due process,  his life suddenly changed. He was fingerprinted and photographed, the prosecutors claimed that Joshua- a many with a 90 acre farm and two children – a flight risk. They wanted bail. His lawyer couldn’t believe it.

The horse rescue farm where his horses were taken wants tens of thousands of dollars in order for them to be returned.

Joshua always says he is fine when asked, he does not ever whine or complain. But I do see the sadness in  his eyes, and the concern on the face of his mother and wife, and sometimes there is weariness and confusion. Nobody wants to live like this.  It is a hard time for him. He is open and authentic, from the first he concedes his inexperience and mistakes, none of them are criminal, none of them were cruel.

He is the latest victim of what has become an ugly and well-funded hysteria revolving around notions of animal and cruelty and abuse, increasingly familiar to farmers and other victims of this new social inquisition.

Instead of offering to help Joshua, or making a telephone call to talk to  him, the police and humane society officials chose to raid his farm, take his horses, humiliate him in public, damage his reputation and threaten his farm and his livelihood. He  faces months, if not years, of expensive legal fees and worry and uncertainty.

His lawyer reminds him every week that he could go to jail, he says it is his duty to remind  him. Joshua has refused any plea bargain, he says he will never admit to something he didn’t do. Joshua is the victim of a great injustice, and I was very proud to help suppor support him. More than 300 people, many of them farmers and friends and neighbors, came to his first court hearings – they will go on for months – he raised more than $57,000 on gofundme. You can add to it here.

There is a lot at stake in Joshua Rockwood’s case, issues of law, decency, community and humanity.

“Everything is related,” wrote Pope Francis in his encyclical “Laudato Si.” We human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, he wro\ites,  woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.”

Joshua Rockwood is my  brother, and the brother of anyone who loves animals, supports healthy food grown on nearby farms, and takes great care of Mother Earth. Many people are united in fond affection for him, and for his cause. I was much honored to see him at Bedlam Farm. His court hearings resume in July at the Glenville, N.Y. Town Court.

The open house was a sweet and upbeat affair, it felt so good to be here. Joshua Rockwood reminds us that life goes on outside of our circles, and it is not always easy or sweet. I look forward to next year when he and his family can come and visit the next open house, a free and successful and vindicated man.

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