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They're Live--and Ready for Adoption

Farm Sanctuary wants us to consider a new kind of Thanksgiving tradition: Rather than stuff a turkey, bring it home. Or at least be a sponsor.


The phones are ringing off the hook.

"I'll take Tofu Tom," says the voice with the Southern twang, calling from Texas.

"I want Cinnamon Bun," says the caller from New Jersey.

"Here's $15 for Sunflower," says Mary from Minneapolis.

This is the Home Shopping Club for turkeys. But with a difference.

These turkeys are not glazed. They're not stuffed and thermometered. Not flash frozen or just-killed. They're alive, and ready for adoption.

And there are plenty of takers.

By the time Thanksgiving rolls around later this week, nearly 4,000 Americans will have called the Adopt-a-Turkey program offered each fall by the animal lovers at Farm Sanctuary. Including last-minute frantic phone calls to the turkey hotline--(888) SPONSOR--to make sure that their order is filled by Thanksgiving.

And what will they get for their pledged $15? A photo of their chosen turkey, along with an official adoption card. Plus a year's subscription to Sanctuary News, the newsletter for Farm Sanctuary, which began Adopt-a-Turkey 11 years ago to wave the flag to Americans that turkeys don't necessarily have to die for people to celebrate the holiday.

"We want people to consider a new tradition--adopting turkeys instead of eating them. That's our basic spiel," says Farm Sanctuary co-founder Gene Bauston, who, with his wife, Lorri, runs sanctuaries in upstate New York and in Orland, near Sacramento.

While most settle for the color glossy and adoption card, some actually adopt live turkeys into their families.

"We already have three of their turkeys at our place now from past Thanksgivings, so this year we've decided instead to sponsor one. We're waiting for our picture," says Stewart David, an accountant from Asheville, N.C. Stewart and his wife, Terry, share their 10-acre wooded farm, barn and a stream with the turkeys. And children? "Not human ones," Stewart says. "Just four goats, three dogs and four turkeys."

The Davids, like most turkey sponsors, were already inclined to catch Farm Sanctuary's message. "We've been involved in animal rights for many years and it seemed natural that turkeys have as much right to live as a dog and a cat," Terry explains.


Corporate trend-watcher Faith Popcorn predicted that the '90s would be a decade of vegetarianism, and turkey adoptions have marched a similar path from the fringe toward the center.

"For vegetarians and animal activists, Thanksgiving has often been a very depressing holiday," Gene Bauston says. "I think it's something a lot of people have felt and now are willing and able to talk about it as it comes out in the open more and more."

And turkey adoptions are moving beyond the family circle into grade school projects, and corporate and union gift giving. "We had a union giving away turkeys, and wanting to find an alternative for a vegetarian employee, so they called us," says Holly McNulty, who lives and works at the East Coast Farm Sanctuary as its administrative director and fields the hotline calls. At Thanksgiving, she is one of many who volunteer to field the calls for turkey sponsorships.

Adoptions are running 150% ahead of last Thanksgiving. "The way the calls and letters are going, we think we'll hit close to the 4,000 mark, more than doubling last year's adoptions," says Gene, who takes care of the financial and promotional aspects of Farm Sanctuary. "And last year's 1,500 adoptions were up over the year before."


Farm Sanctuary began from the decidedly fringe roots of Lorri and Gene selling tofu hot dogs from the back of their VW van at Grateful Dead concerts. It now has 50,000 members nationwide, including Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, and former "Saturday Night Live" comedian Kevin Nealon. The sanctuaries rescue and care for discarded or abused farm animals.

Tofu Tom, Cinnamon Bun and the other turkeys at Farm Sanctuary are lucky survivors of the 10% to 20% surplus built into the turkey breeding industry.

"We found Cinnamon Bun in the corner of a really large farm warehouse. We went in after they had shipped off the turkeys to slaughter to see if any had been left behind. She was way back in the corner, shaking, barely 3 months old," Lorri says.

Some turkeys fall off the back of moving trucks. "We got a call from a motorist a few years ago. He had seen hundreds of little baby turkeys along the side of the highway in Pennsylvania," Lorri says.

"We ran to pick them up, 126 of them."

The annual Thanksgiving festivities have grown, along with the turkey adoptions, into a major event. More than 100 visitors have already booked to spend Thursday at the California sanctuary with the Baustons and feed the turkeys.

"We have people driving or flying in from all over the state, and elsewhere, tour the farm, take a hayride, feed the turkeys and have a vegetarian feast of Tofurky [a soy-based turkey substitute that simulates sliced white meat] . . . cranberry and nut stuffing and gravy," Gene says. Tofurky itself has grown from 800 "turkeys" sold in 1995 to "roughly between 5,000 and 10,000 Tofurkys this year," according to its owner, Seth Tibbott, who is donating the dinners and 1% of annual profits to Farm Sanctuary.

The turkeys at Farm Sanctuary experience Thanksgiving much like people all over America.

"At the beginning of the day they are eating voraciously," Lorri says. "By the end of the day, just like human beings, they're feeling pretty stuffed."

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