Publisher's note: This Q&A was published in fall 2015. Follow Farm Sanctuary for information about the 2016 campaign.
Started in 1986 to combat the abuses of factory farming, Farm Sanctuary cares for thousands of rescued animals at its three shelters in New York and California. Here, the organization talks about getting turkeys off the dinner table and into the spotlight.
1. What is the Adopt a Turkey Project? When and why was it started?
Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt a Turkey Project started in 1986, the same year Farm Sanctuary was founded. It was established as a response to the cruel conditions faced by up to 300 million turkeys in the United States annually. These birds are bred to reach crippling weights at an unnaturally fast rate. Most are debeaked and de-toed without anesthetic, at risk for disease, and plagued by constant stress and physical debilitations, all before being slaughtered at just 14-18 weeks of age. Unfortunately, more than 46 million of these birds are destined for a Thanksgiving dinner table. The Adopt a Turkey Project serves as a compassionate alternative to this practice by encouraging people to help a turkey rather than to eat one.
2. Through the project, people may sponsor a turkey for $30. How does sponsorship work, and where does the donation go?
For a one-time donation of just $30, anyone may sponsor a turkey. Turkey sponsors receive a special Adopt a Turkey certificate with a color photo and fun details about their new friend. Turkey sponsorships also make perfect gifts, so people may make an even greater impact this holiday season by sharing the love with others. Individuals may sponsor the whole flock and have adoption certificates sent to family and friends. These sponsorships help us rescue animals and provide care for them at our sanctuaries, as well as educate and advocate for turkeys and other farm animals everywhere.
3. People also have an opportunity to actually adopt a turkey. What is the adoption process? How many turkeys have been placed into permanent homes since the project began?
4. How has the Adopt a Turkey Project grown throughout the years?
From its humble beginnings in 1986 to today, the Adopt a Turkey Project has grown massively, allowing us to rescue hundreds of turkeys and educate millions of people about the cruelties of turkey production. We have had several celebrities endorse the project over the years, including Ellen DeGeneres. Last year, we received more than 8,000 sponsorships, allowing us to continue this lifesaving work and enhance our efforts toward a more compassionate world for turkeys and all farm animals.
5. What impact does the project have on people’s thoughts about Thanksgiving?
The Adopt a Turkey Project is a beloved tradition for vegans and omnivores alike. Thanksgiving’s central focus on turkey consumption often leaves vegans feeling alienated, preventing them from enjoying the holiday and its positive attributes, which include gratitude and togetherness. However, the Adopt a Turkey Project allows vegans to enjoy familiar customs while still honoring animals. It also enables them to inspire their non-vegan friends and family members in a nonthreatening way. By acknowledging an individual bird, sponsors demonstrate that turkeys have unique personalities and behaviors, just like pets. Even individuals who support the project but still eat meat often forsake a Thanksgiving turkey for a vegetarian option, decreasing the amount of birds slaughtered for the holiday. The project allows for seeds of compassion to be planted and encourages people to make educated decisions about what they put onto their plates. Every small step makes a difference and can inspire more widespread change in times to come.
6. Why is it important to raise awareness about the plight of commercially raised turkeys?
The rescued turkeys at Farm Sanctuary serve as ambassadors for their species, demonstrating that birds are complex, sensitive, social and loving creatures who deserve to live their lives free from exploitation and abuse. Through our sponsorship and education efforts, we’re showing people that turkeys are no less deserving of care and attention than dogs and cats. We have found that increased awareness encourages individuals to make informed choices they feel good about, which decreases participation in this cruel system and allows more lives to be spared.
7. In addition to the Adopt a Turkey Project, Farm Sanctuary annually hosts Celebration for the Turkeys events. What happens on these occasions?
Every November, we honor our turkeys by hosting Thanksgiving feasts in their honor. The turkeys are treated to pumpkin pie, squash and cranberries, and hundreds of people come out to watch them enjoy it. Our guests are treated to vegan snacks and time with all the Farm Sanctuary animals. This year, we are hosting events at our Watkins Glen, N.Y., and Acton, Calif., shelters. We are also expanding our celebrations through two off-site events, one at Burleigh Manor in Ellicott City, Md., and one in San Francisco. Due to space limitations, registration must be completed in advance.