Joshua Rockwood is a good person, an honest and decent man, a family man, a lover of farms and animals, and healthy, ethically raised food to sell to local people. Many of you will recognize the name. We helped raise the money so Joshua could successfully defend himself against ignorant and unjust accusations of animal neglect and cruelty made by local police and animal rights “activists.”
This is a story that ended happily. Joshua is selling his farm, taking his three children around the country for a year so they could see America and put the stress of these past years behind them.
In a sense, he gave birth to the Army of Good; he was the first serious act of good that we undertook. We raised tens of thousands of dollars from all over the country, showing me just what a blog can do.
When Joshua was arrested on charges of animal cruelty in 2017, in part because his water tank froze in a bitter stretch of sub-zero weather, a farmer e-mailed me and said a great injustice had been committed; he asked me to write about it, to help a man he knew to be good and decent, fight for his animals, his reputation and his farm. For me, that became a Mission.
I don’t generally write about people or things I don’t know, but something about the arrest bothered me. All of our water buckers and tanks froze in that water, and so did the pipes of the Glenville City Hall, where the charges against Joshua had been filed.
It seemed wrong to me, just a feeling.
Rockwood, then 28, was arrested in March of 2017 and charged with 13 misdemeanor counts of “failure to provide proper sustenance” after Glenville, N.Y. police raided West Wind Acres. They claimed to find animals in unheated areas without access to unfrozen water.
Three of his horses were confiscated. It was apparent to me and others living with farm animals that no small farm could withstand the overzealous judgment of the police and their animal rights advisors. No small farms I know, including mine, have heated barns. Every farm, including mine, deals with frozen water tanks in the winter, especially when the electricity goes out.
I had also learned some hard lessons about the animal rights movement while writing about the New York Carriage Horses and their fight to fend off similar charges, almost all of which turned out to be true. I was stunned to see how some elements of that movement – including PETA, The SPCA, and the Humane Society were lying and distorting reality to raise money and war against working domestic animals and the people who owned and loved them.
I had never in my life seen nonprofit institutions lie so brazenly and shamelessly to raise money and get away with it.
The day after I learned of the raid and Joshua’s arrest, I drove two hours to Glenville and West Wind Acres farm to meet him.
I was shocked by this young, very open, courteous, and idealistic man. His animals were not abused in any way (one pig appeared to have a frost-bitten ear. He doted on his two dogs, Pyrenees guard dog. None of his animals were dehydrated (the police took his horse away), and he was determined to fight the charges against him, in part to protect other farmers from the police and animal rights raid on his farm.
He had some wobbly fences, but what farmer doesn’t?
Everything about Joshua is open and transparent, including West Wind Acres.
Visitors were and are welcome any time. His mission was to buy and sell local, ethnically raised meats. He wanted people to see the meat they bought and eat and know where it came from. He is a champion of small, sustainable, family farms.
To me, and many others, it seemed a governmental and animal rights overreach; I’d been hearing these horror stories from farmers for some time: police showing up when a cow lies down to take a nap, animal rights “activists” opening up gates at night because someone told them it was abuse for working animals to work. Again and again, farmers told me they were hiding their animals from the road because animal rights vigilantes were patrolling to look for signs of animal cruelty and abuse, even though they knew little about either thing.
Joshua decided to fight the charges all the way; I agreed to try to raise money for his defense. I did not realize this would change the trajectory of my life. I linked to the gofundme support site created by his friends and neighbors to raise money for his legal defense. I was surprised yet again to see that we helped raise $72,000. He was offered deal after deal as local politicians saw the backlash. His lawyer urged him to take more than one. He never wavered, or if he did, I never saw it.
Joshua and I became good friends. His empathy and integrity, and courage were impressive. He trusted me, and I completely trusted him. The winter in question was brutal; not one of his animals was shown or proven to be neglected or harmed. He did everything before and after the arrests to modernize his water system and build secure housing.
He is also guarded and shy. Over the next 10 months, I was one of the few people outside of his family to see the toll this had taken on him. Joshua was committed to raising animals honestly and in the open. He had a great sense of honor, and the accusations against him were devastating. I doubt he will ever completely get over them. It was painful for me to see the psychic damage it can do to a family to be falsely and publicly accused of a crime like that.
Joshua was able to hire a first-rate attorney with the money he raised from the gofundme site. Farmers all over the country wanted to help.
He was offered cushy deals repeatedly by an increasingly rattled district attorney, but he refused to enable what he felt was a rank injustice. I came to admire Joshua; he never lost his temper or determination. I never heard him call anyone a bad name. We became good friends.
Ten months after the arrest, on January 30, all animal-neglect charges against Rockwood were dismissed, ending what was a grueling, frightening, and unjust ordeal for him and his family. Rockwood’s horses were returned to his farm, and to settle, he paid $5,00 for veterinary costs to a horse rescue farm that hat agreed to take care of his animals, even though there were no signs at all that they were ill.
Joshua made one compromise in exchange for the equital; he agreed to plead guilty to one count of animal neglect, expunged from his record in six months.
Joshua moved his farm to nearby Knox, N.Y., and resumed raising cattle and pigs for their meat. I haven’t seen him since he moved.
Last week, Joshua texted me to say he wanted me to know that he and his wife have decided to sell their farm and other assets. “There are lots of reasons,” he explained to me. “It’s time for something new; I want our children to enjoy their childhood a little more; their lives had been full of stress.” I know he was continually harassed by so-called animal rights “activists” who kept driving by his farm, checking to see if he was mistreating his animals.
Once the farm is sold, he said, the family would travel the country for a year or so. He said he would then return to the area as a consultant advising farmers about how to run small farms successfully and do some public speaking. He is in demand.
If you know Joshua, it’s hard not to believe this journey is a healing journey, for him, for his family. Does anyone ever completely get over that? I don’t know.
As the Albany Times Union reported, “the arrest instantly made Rockwood a folk hero of sorts, to many farmers and others who believed he was a victim of government outreach.”
In a sense, Rockwood is the father of the Army of Good. He showed me that it was possible to use my blog as a force for good, an outlet for people who wanted to do good and embraced empathy and compassion, not hatred and judgment. His farm was special to me in another way. I was walking with him in his pasture to see his cows when my cell phone rang, and I learned of the suicide of my friend Paul Moshimer. The image of Joshua checking on his cows in the way Paul checked on his horses was burned into memory. I think of it still.
Out of Joshua’s struggle came a great deepening of our work with the Mansion, an assisted care facility in Cambridge, N.Y., and Bishop Maginn High School in Albany, N.Y., a haven for refugees from all over the world. We have launched scores of campaigns to help the needy and the vulnerable and perhaps persuaded some law enforcement people and well-meaning people who love animals to be more thoughtful about the things people tell them about animals and abuse.
Small farmers have enough trouble surviving these days without being subjected to unfair persecutions like this and the ugly and unjust assault on the New York Carriage Horses and their drivers.
Joshua did good, more than he knows. He deserves his year off and more. I wish him a wonderful year of exploration and healing. He and I are planning to meet next week; I want to wish him Godspeed in person. I am happy to share this happy ending for a good and honest man. His suffering was not for nothing. He has cast a long shadow over injustice. I wish you peace and healing.
If you wish, you can write Joshua through his blog.