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For The Animals Sanctuary, Blairstown, NJ

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For Earth Week I wanted to write a post focusing on the importance of volunteering for different groups. Whether you are interested in cleaning up, recycling programs, helping others to accessible food, or animal sanctuaries, all subjects lead back to the health and well being of this planet. Not to get too crazy hippie on you, but I do think the amount of action we take, the energy and love we put into something, in turn creates a positive force. Whether we benefit personally from it, you can’t predict. But if your actions lead to happier people, to a healthier Earth,  I think everyone benefits. These small efforts build upon one another, and they can only be done when you engage directly with them.

One area which always needs help is at your local animal sanctuary. The people who run these animal sanctuaries are extremely passionate people who are brave for taking on the task of giving multiple rescued animals a permanent home, but they aren’t superhuman. Most times, they need the volunteer power to help keep the sanctuary functioning. By helping, you do good for the sanctuary keeper, the animals, yourself, and help to maintain the ideal that is respecting animals as ends in themselves.

One sanctuary not too far from me is For The Animals Sanctuary, a small scale operation hidden on a curvy road in the northern New Jersey town of Blairstown. It is run by Debbie Kowalski, who may very well be an actual superhero for founding the sanctuary, and running it by herself as she works a full time nursing job. With help from dedicated volunteers, they have rescued many animals. Some current residents include thirteen goats, five cows, four pigs, and a few chickens, all on just 8 acres of land. The space is small but used well. It’s lovely to see the animals graze together in a large stretch of land down the hill from her home. All of them are friendly, and really beautiful to look at.

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Recently, on April 6, For The Animals held a work party, a gathering of volunteers meant to give the animals’ living spaces a good overturning. With as many as 30 people showing up, the work was seen less as work, and more of a time to get to know fellow vegans in the NJ area (though a handful came from NY just for the clean-up!). For a few hours, we lifted heavy wet hay with pitchforks, pushed wheel barrows and tarps down hill, lifted heavy mud from the pig’s living space, while outdoors, enjoying the sun and the feeling of helping this small but wonderful sanctuary out.
In the distance, the animals continued to graze in a large stretch of field, unaware they’d soon come to find their sleeping/eating spaces nice and shiny.

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Photo courtesy of For The Animals Facebook

After the clean up was done, we shared in a giant potluck. Sadly I have no photos since I was busy eating (!), but everyone brought something amazing. It felt like a vegan buffet – I hadn’t eaten that much good food in a long time. Delicious home-made foods such as tiramisu, kale salads, cashew cheeses, chimcurri tempeh, and Debbie’s awesome pot pie. But what I loved most was meeting new people and trying the kinds of foods they also like, and relaxing after a good 3-4 hours of heavy lifting/cleaning. Following the potluck, we were given a chance to spend time with the resident animals. I had saved veggie scraps throughout the week to give to the animals – and they definitely inhaled everything we  gave them.

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Photo courtesy of For The Animals Facebook

Theresa Sarzynski, who also helps the sanctuary to operate, was also selling her vegan inspired jewelry, shirts, bumper stickers and buttons. Her work is really awesome, and I was happy to buy some buttons. Hopefully next time I remember to bring enough money to buy something like a necklace!

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As the sun got low in the sky, it was time to go, but it was definitely a full day of meeting wonderful people, wonderful animals, and wonderful experiences. For The Animals is a really moving place to be. I highly recommend visiting them – you have to check their website for visiting days. However, if you like them on Facebook, be sure to check out for future volunteer days and events. On May 25, they will be having fun, kid-friendly Summer Shindig event:

FTAS-Summer-Shindig-2013-smBe sure to come meet the wonderful animal residents here, and enjoy the lovely North Jersey scenery. If you cannot make it, pleasure consider donating to this small scale, but deeply passionate sanctuary. For just $10 a month, you can help them to continue operating. It really is a worthy cause, both for the animals but for the lovely people who run it.

Overall, there are many ways you can approach Earth Day, and Earth Week. For me, its finding the best way to connect to the things on this Earth. And what better way than to help volunteer at a sanctuary? You come to find kind people, gorgeous animals, lovely serene settings, and a fuller, more appreciative love for the things around you every day.

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Chickpea Spring 2013 Issue

Photo courtesy of Chickpea Magazine

Photo courtesy of Chickpea Magazine

Happy Spring everyone! Although it’s still been slightly chilly here in New Jersey, the days have turned longer, and the sky has been clearer than usual lately. Spring is definitely finding its way here, slowly, but I definitely see signs!

And as New Jersey itself still thaws, I’m happy to share that an article of mine will be appearing in the Spring 2013 issue of Chickpea Magazine. Chickpea is an independent magazine, run by Cara Livermore and Bob Lawton. It is a gorgeous magazine, with details in everything from the photo designs and lighting, to the hand written text designs. Chickpea is a great magazine not just because of its gorgeous, vintage looking photos either. They are amazing because their aim is to foster a publication for vegans to share their own experiences, like an open forum, which really adds to a sense of community for vegan photographers, writers, and just about anyone artistically inclined. Which is why I reached at the chance to contribute.

My article is written as a travelogue for New Jersey, which in the past year, has become to me a stand out as a place to live as a vegan. With such wonderful things as The Cinnamon Snail food truck, the For The Animals Sanctuary, and a host of great restaurants all over the state, New Jersey is a great little vegan state. It often gets overlooked, its meek and tiny and most people think of NJ as a giant oil refinery, when in fact it has plenty of gorgeous nature landscapes tucked away in all corners of the state, from North, to South, to Central Jersey.  I can definitely say sometimes you ignore something around you for so long, that at some point you open your eyes, look around you, and feel a sudden rebirth in perception, like you’ve breathed in new, fresh air. Photos for my article were taken by Steve, who went on some day trip adventures with me to take these photos in the freezing cold, we we tried to capture New Jersey when its on the cusp of waking up to Spring once more.

You can preview the Spring issue of Chickpea here.  The nature of the magazine is so intricate, I would recommend picking up a print copy to see how beautiful it is, and just to support a hard working group of people working on a great project. Right now the pre-sale price is $16, so be sure to pre-order before it goes back to its retail price. And if you don’t want to order online, they will be sold at Anthropologie stores across the country this month! Chickpea is also carried in some independent book stores across the country, so check their stockist page for more information. Help foster the vegan community by taking a look at this project. Perhaps you’ll want to take a trip to New Jersey sometime because of it!

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Vegan in New Jersey: Rutherford

Courtesy on NJ State Site

Gosh it’s been a while! Things have been a little hectic in my life since Christmas, so I haven’t had time to really sit and update the blog. Between all of the events which have happened over the past few weeks, I spontaneously planned a trip in February to Paris, to see my favorite singer of all time, Bjork, perform one of her Biophilia shows. Her next residency will be in Paris, and for this show, she’ll be performing in a circus tent on the river Seine, on I’le Seguin. Steve  & I decided to also fit in a small stop in London. So I look forward to updating this blog with any relevant vegan finds in both of these cities!

Today is the first post in a new feature series on being vegan in New Jersey.  The little state that you could easily travel across in half a day. You can go from the city like landscape of North Jersey to the shopping mall spree of Central Jersey in an hour, followed by a quick trip to the shore, and if you’re not tired, even cut across to the Philadelphia area.

In these features, I’d like to focus on areas of the state where you may find stand out resources as a vegan. I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve talked to who had no idea what kinds of options they had, or that something so good was actually so close to their home. Some places just pop up, or you have no idea besides word of mouth. There are always vegan friendly places opening up in NJ, and the best part is, they are typically small businesses owned by passionate people.  These places will range from restaurants to quick service/deli type places, to clothes and small gifts and  body care, juice bars and  chocolates, the list goes on.

The good news I should add to this feature is that I will also be writing an article on New Jersey for the indepedent magazine Chickpea. This feature with also include photos by Steve, and will appear in the Spring Issue. So keep an eye on this!

I’d like to begin in North Jersey and work my way throughout the state until we are all the way to Cape May! Today’s first town is the town of Rutherford. Rutherford is a peculiar little town that is very suburban, yet is so close to New York City that it feels like a missing borough. The area is very hilly, so much so that at certain points on high roads you can clearly see the skyline of New York. Most people associate the town with nearby Giants stadium, the Izod center, that crazy Xanadu mall, and Medieval Times. At least, I used to.

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The 2012 New Jersey Bear Hunt: Begins Tomorrow

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the 2012 New Jersey Bear Hunt, an event that will occur for the third year in  a row as part of The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s five year population control plan. For the past decade, black bears caused apparent, isolated incidents which have led residents of Northern New Jersey towns to feel threatened. Due to the upsurge in bear sightings in residential areas, the hunt has been a popular choice for population control by northern New Jersey residents, but the hunt has also not been met without controversy from protest groups.

Photo Courtesy of NJ State Site

Photo Courtesy of NJ State Site

The history of the black bear in New Jersey is quite an old one. Around the turn of the 1900s, there were little to no hunting regulations, such as how many bears could be hunted by a single person or per year. By 1971, black bears had been so overhunted that they were close to being depleted entirely. In fact, less than a hundred bears were living in the state, and so a hunting ban was placed.  Over time, black bears began to replenish, and by 2010, the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife documented around 3,200 bears, an extremely healthy number considering the population growth of residents in northern New Jersey. A documented 3,025 calls were placed by residents in 2010 to the Division of Fish and Wildlife in order to place a complaint or threat of a black bear in their area.

Of course, lack of space between 3,200 bears and newly developed residential areas leads to a struggle for food. Food, for a bear, is the most important aspect of their day to day living. They are commonly thought of as omnivores with a penchant for meat, but throughout the year, they mostly sway towards a plant based diet. In the wild, black bears eat lush vegetation, such as leafy forbs, tubers, bulbs and plants along the ground, berries, hickory nuts and beechnuts and acorns, various seeds, insects and larvae from their nests, blueberries, raspberries and cherries, and, occasionally, carrion, fish or the carcass of a found white-tailed doe. In order for their bodies to maintain through the winter as they sleep, they may consume up to 20,000 calories a day in the autumn, gaining thirty to forty percent of their spring-time weight and storing that fat for their hibernation. A mother stays with its cubs for a year and a half, teaching it out how eat, the best ways to find food, and how to climb trees to find limitless leaves to fill up its stomach. From the moment a black bear wakes in the spring, it is wired to consume and eat under any and all circumstances.

Garbage is an easy, desirable food source for black bears. A normal sized can of garbage fulfill enough calories in a day for a bear, and the kinds of foods typically found in a garbage are fatty, filling and quick satisfaction for an ailing bear competing with other bears for food. Black bears are also easily conditioned. Once they figure out a constant food source, they are likely to return. They can also easily open typical garbage cans, dumpsters, and knock down bird seed feeders. A bear-resistant garbage can was designed, one which can only be opened or closed by twisting the top like a screw. The cost of a bear-resistant can ranges from $100-$500 dollars. The cost discourages many residents from buying the can, and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife offers no program to make the garbage cans affordable.

The term “nuisance bear” refers to a bear that repeatedly causes trouble by returning to residential areas, usually in search of food. These situations make bears sneakier, desperate to assure themselves enough to eat by winter. The NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife uses category levels to gauge the amount of offenses a bear commits, depending on how many complaint calls the Division receives.

A category three bear is one which the Division finds to exhibit normal bear behaviors, and is dispersed accordingly in the forest. A category two bear is seen as not a threat to life and property, although it has returned in search of food, and is treated with averse conditioning. Averse conditioning is an attempt to teach the returning bear, through negative stimuli, that the area is not a safe food source. However, experts have seen that averse conditioning does not entirely dissuade bears, but only make them sneakier to get what they want. A category one bear, a bear that has returned time and again to the same spots and has stirred many complaints, is considered a threat to life and property, and is euthanized.

Quite a lot of misconceptions are placed not only on the fact that black bears are on the constant hunt for meat, but that they will eat any meat source they can find.  When bears are approached by humans, or find themselves in the company of humans, they become stoic. They are curious, but shy, and loud noises easily scare them away. A lot of the sounds they create, and their body language, can be very easily misinterpreted. Most aggressive noises they make are not aggressive, but of nervousness and fear. When they stand on their hind legs, they are attempting to get a better look at whats nearby, not to be predatory. Black bears would rather be away from you, as they perceive you to be a threat to their own individual actions, and so would rather be anywhere else. Activists, such as the B.E.A.R. Group , feel that these easy misunderstandings between bears and people are what perpetuate a cycle of fear against black bears. They see the solution to the bear population through education of how to deal with bear issues.

Photo courtesy of Philly.com

Photo courtesy of Philly.com

However the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife has given very little focus on the concept of teaching the affected NJ communities about Bear Smart safety tips. Towns across the US who have bear problems have started Bear Smart groups to help residents learn how to co-exist with bears. The lack of emphasis the group plays on these Bear Smart groups, and no way to help residents obtain bear-safe garbage cans, has put a spotlight on the now yearly hunt. While hunting registrations bring in money for the state, the Division is also boasting that the the hunt of the past two years has brought bear populations down to around 2,800.  But how sustainable are hunts in the long run?  The only sure way to protect actual residents from the presence of black bears is to promote education of how black bears behave and interact with humans.

The hunt itself is also one that is on the term of humans. Although some hunters who register, in their six days of hunting, never even come across a wild bear, some hunters do by using such tactics as baiting. Baiting is a way of luring bears to exact spots by using attractive fatty items such as meats, garbage, donuts and other snacks. It is an unfair means to kill an animal that can be easily managed through other outlets, such as education. Not to mention deliberately feeding black bears in New Jersey is illegal, so why do hunters think they are an exception?

You can consult the B.E.A.R. Group website if you wish to partake in any protests, occurring either tomorrow December 3rd or Saturday December 8th. Or you can call Chris Christie’s office in order to ask for him to use his authority to cancel the hunt: 609-292-6000. It’s a long shot, but its definitely worth a try.

Finally, as a last point, you need just look at the numbers here. The total number of bears killed in just the last three years ranged around 1,000. The number of people actually killed by a bear in the state of New Jersey? Zero. Fatalities from bear attacks around the country have occurred, but not at the level many may think. This is why it is important to remember that the stigma of black bears as violent is an old, out-dated one. They want to live their lives as they are naturally inclined to do, and it is only by accident that they find themselves in residential areas. There are ways to coexist, and to see these animals are ends in themselves, finding a way to live, just as we do every day of our own lives.

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