“Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of the earth, so precious in our eyes, that we may protect the world and not prey on it.” – A Prayer For Our Earth, Pope Francis.
In a just and merciful world, Joshua Rockwood would not need help. He is young, hard-working, intelligent and much loved and respected in his community. He has a dream, and is passionate about it, he wants to raise healthy animals, sell healthy food to the people in his community. He has studied and worked hard to build his business as a farmer selling meat. He recently survived a savage winter, so did every one of his cattle, pigs, sheep, dogs, chickens and ponies. He is fighting for his very existence. His animals range freely, are fed on pasture.
Like almost any farmer anywhere, he was overwhelmed by the savagery of this winter in February and March. At times, his water bowls and streams froze. At times, his animals shivered in the cold. They all came through it, animals and farmer. But the cold was just the beginning of his troubles, not the end, as it was for most of us.
Joshua and I have entered into friendship and a fruitful dialogue about asking for help. It was inspired, in part, by his pigs. I want to share some of this dialogue with you, because I hope we can soon – those who are able – all provide Joshua some of the help he needs and deserves. Joshua has become important to me, not only because he has become a friend, but because he is an important symbol of our cruelty and insensitivity to one another.
These pigs are famous. The squadron of animal police who raided his farm said they thought two of the pigs had frostbitten ears. He was charged with 13 counts neglect and cruelty. I saw some gray matter on the tips of two ears. No one in the raiding party – police, humane society officers, two horse rescue farm trailers – seemed to know that pigs and sheep and cows on a farm in the winter can easily have frostbitten ears when the temperature reaches -27 degrees, whether they are indoors or not, no matter what kind of shelter they are in.
This kind of frostite is quite common, rarely serious, dangerous or fatal. There is a wealthy, organized and vocal movement in America demanding that all animals be returned to their natural lives in the wild. If an animal on the farm interacts with nature, even in the most common and glancing way, someone usually calls the police. If a Wall Street banker makes a mistake and causes millions of people to lost their homes, he or she gets a bonus at the end of the year.
If a farmer makes a mistake – it is not possible to be a on a farmer and not make mistakes or be victimized by the weather – he faces danger, humiliation and ruin. They could have easily helped Joshua Rockwood, his mistakes were very small. Instead, they tried to put him in jail. I think of Joshua’s ordeal, and I always ask myself the same question: what kind of people are we becoming? What kind of abuse of human beings can we justify in the name of saving animals from abuse? What kind of community turns it back on neighbors in trouble and punishes them for it instead?
So we have a chance to do better. We have a chance do do what the town of Glenville had the chance to do and did not do. We can help Joshua.
If you have ever seen what pigs who live in the wild look like in winter, you will see very clearly that Joshua’s are among the most fortunate. By every account, they are fat and happy.
I was at his farm soon after his arrest in March. The pigs looked great. You can see for yourselves.
I’ve had sheep get some gray matter on their ears in mid winter inside of sealed barns – it is sometimes colder inside of barns than outside.The two pigs were healthy, fat and active, vets rarely even treat small patches of gray in winter, it is easily treatable with ointment. On my sheep, it has either gone away or remained as a small patch.
I’ve gotten frost-bite several times tending to my animals in the night. When it gets cold, those fingers and toes throb and change color. My doctor says he sees it all the time, on almost everyone who works on a farm or owns one. It happens quickly and frequently.
When you live on a farm, as a human or an animal, you live in the elements, are often of doors. Life does happen, and when the temperatures plunge to – 27 degrees, life happens quite frequently. Animals do not live in a perfect world, and neither do we. In the human realm, people get sick, dehydrated, fall on ice, crash cars, get headaches. It is called life in the winter, life on a farm. Most of America – 90 per cent – lives far from farms. Things like frostbite sound horrific, things to punish, not to understand.
In our rush to give animals lives without suffering or pain, we are setting impossible standards for farmers, animal lovers, circuses, pony ride operators, carriage drivers, pet owners, to meet. People are refused dogs because they work, are old and poor, cannot afford tall fencing, won’t promise to keep their cats indoors. People who give pony rides to children are accused of torture and abuse, farmers routinely hide their livestock out of the side of the road, where secret informers patrol. Horses who nap and cows with snow on their back are considered victims of gross abuse. One of these informers informed on Joshua, but the police won’t say who.
Farmers are quite often not accorded the rights of accused murderers and child molesters. Ask any farmer about these stories, they all know of them.
Joshua was arrested in part because his water bowls were frozen, even though they were not frozen two hours before the police came. He was arrested even though two different veterinarians came to the farm before the police did and said his animals were healthy and hydrated. If the animals had not been given water, they would not have been hydrated. Three of his horses had hooves that needed trimming. The horses were seized by the police, the rescue farm where they were taken is asking tens of thousands of dollars to return them.
Even though the police claimed his animals were neglected and subject to cruel treatment, they have never bothered to return to see if they are being cared for. They never seized his pigs or cows or took them away. It seems they were not all that worried about their care.
I have encouraged a reluctant Joshua to post a gofundme page to get additional resources, he needs additional help tending to his business amidst all of the crisis and controversy surrounding him and family. The legal process has already gone on for more than six months, it has not even really begun.
Joshua has been balky about seeking money, he is coming around. He loves his farm and wants it to endure and succeed. We have been meeting, talking on the phone, exchanging e-mails. I like him, more each time I meet with him and talk to him. He is honest, thoughtful, idealistic. He does not deserve the ordeal that the unthinking authorities in his town have subjected him to.
“I have put a lot of thought into an additional fund,” he wrote me, “I am not a victim and do not want to accept handouts to help me survive this.” As the farm has grown, he wrote, along with his growing awareness of the cruelty of people, he is continuing to educate himself on raising healthy animals, selling healthy food. He is continuously reading through books, seminars, videos and spending countless hours online doing research as well as talking to other farmers and following their work.
He has, unfortunately, spent many hours reviewing his case, talking with his lawyer, preparing his defense. This has affected his business.
Reading Joshua’s messages, I hope there is a rational Chamber of Commerce in Glenville, N.Y. that might hold a luncheon in his honor and give him an award for having the courage and drive to start a new business, maintain a humane farm selling healthy local foods to the town’s citizens. Difficult work, in more ways than one, but perhaps the future of agriculture.
Joshua said he would like to return to the goals he set for the farm and for his family this year. He is willing to accept help in achieving those goals. Good news I think. He will prepare a crowdsourcing project – on gofundme – and post it early next week. I will write it about it on this blog, you can follow it on his blog as well. (He is giving away some free meat this week).
Joshua’s pigs do not appear to have suffered or been weakened by the winter. He has more than 150 piglets to sell.
Next week, you can help Joshua financially if you are able. If you wish to communicate with him or offer any other kind of support, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay tuned.