Inside the farm where a Silicon Valley couple saves animals from slaughter

Many Silicon Valley transplants leave their hacker houses or shoe-box apartments in the morning and climb aboard shuttle buses to work. Anna Sweet, a Facebook employee, and her husband Nate Salpeter, a nuclear energy engineer, commute from their farm.

The prospect of juggling careers in tech and farming didn’t faze the husband-wife team when they opened Sweet Farm, an animal sanctuary and non-profit organisation, in 2016. The farm promotes the humane treatment of animals by providing a loving home for livestock saved from meat markets. Sweet and Salpeter also work to educate visitors about the many places from which their food comes and encourage them to lead more livestock-friendly lifestyles.

We visited the Half Moon Bay, California, sanctuary to see what life is like there.

Anna Sweet develops content partnerships for Facebook's social virtual reality team. Before she heads to the tech giant's campus in the morning, she joins Nate in their front yard.

Around 6:30, it's breakfast time for their animals. The couple owns about four dozen chickens, three goats, three dogs, three sheep, a cow, a horse, and several feral cats.

Walking around the 12-acre farm, they introduce their fuzzy and feathered friends by name.

The animals that occupy the half-century-old barn come from all walks of life. There's a sheep that was rescued from a backyard breeding operation and a retired dairy goat.

The common thread may be that all 50-or-so animals escaped death when they came to live with Sweet and Salpeter. Many were en route to butchers or live meat markets.

In many cases, the animals' owners contacted Sweet Farm because they had no need for male animals or older females that would not lay eggs or produce milk.

Sweet, who grew up on a horse farm in upstate New York, knew little about these animal species when they opened the farm. They have been calling on Sweet's dad and other farmers for help.

The couple has felt embraced by the local farming community, who they say has been more than happy to share knowledge about different animals. Today, Sweet and Salpeter can tell you which eggs came from which hens based on their subtle colour differences and spots.

The couple said they get about a dozen calls a week from farmers, begging them to take their roosters, since many cities have ordinances that prevent people from owning roosters.

Many people find Sweet Farm via Facebook. Their page has over 40,000 followers.

Hoover, a male Boer goat who was raised by a local butcher to sell at a live meat market, runs to Sweet every morning for a hug. She says it's the highlight of her day.

Courtesy of Sweet Farm

Gizmo the steer might have been burger meat had a local girl not saved him as a calf for her 4-H animal project. When the miniature Hereford tipped the scale at 900 pounds, the family knew they couldn't keep their new friend, but didn't want to see him slaughtered.

They called Sweet Farm to find him a loving home. Gizmo now spends his days munching on grass and clover and romping around green pastures with his best friend, Sturgis, a geriatric horse.

Sturgis, a 33-year-old stallion, lived in a local woman's pasture until it flooded and left Sturgis knee-high in mud. He was going to be put down, but Sweet Farm stepped in.

At the farm, Sturgis eats a kind of kibble softened with water, carrots, and apples as a treat. Sweet and Salpeter said they spend more money on the animals' food than their own.

Salpeter designs heating and cooling systems for nuclear reactors as a consultant, and currently works with the Department of Energy. He makes his own hours, which allows him to check on the animals' water and food supply throughout the day.

'We're lucky to have day jobs that we love, and then we found this side-job, as well. It's a really amazing balance. I go over and work in virtual reality, which is like the highest of high-tech, and then I come home and do stuff on the farm,' Sweet says.

Sweet says her coworkers show up for open houses. The couple would like to host them for a retreat someday. 'I feel like everybody at Facebook secretly wants a farm,' she says.

This spring, Sweet Farm will open its doors once a month for an open house, giving the community an opportunity to meet, feed, and learn about the animals.

Sweet Farm's mission isn't to convert visitors into vegans, but rather to educate people on the small steps they can take to lead a more humane lifestyle.

Sweet and Salpeter encourage visitors to take up Meatless Mondays, eat smaller portions of meat, and ask their grocers where they can find pasture-raised animal and dairy products.

Twelve and half acres isn't 'enough land to rescue even a small fraction of the animals in need,' Sweet says. That's why the couple has turned their focus to education.

The couple hopes to eventually convert the old barn into an education center, where they can hold programs on animal welfare. They also plan to grow vegetables.

Sweet and Salpeter hope to add pigs to the roster this year, but don't expect to take in too many more animals. They plan to start up an adoption program that will allow the couple to place animals in need with families and other farms that can provide a home.

Sweet and Salpeter said they feel like they have made an impact whenever they get a text from a friend who's tracked down pasture-raised eggs at a grocery store.

'We've found that, even though we don't have the most animals, just the ones we have are charming and their stories are powerful. People really connect to them,' Sweet says.

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