Things don’t always go as planned, and that’s precisely — and happily — how Deborah Blum and her rescued farm animals ended up together at Goatlandia in northwest Santa Rosa.
A former restaurateur, swimwear designer and commercial pilot who flew corporate and cargo destinations, Blum simply wanted to leave big-city life for the calm and quiet of the Sonoma County countryside. She never imagined she’d run a nonprofit dedicated to saving orphaned, abused and neglected farm animals.
Six years after moving from San Francisco, Blum, 48, now provides a safe and loving “forever” home to 20 hens, 16 goats, nine roosters, five pigs, two ducks and a lamb.
Each animal has a story, a personality and a streak of good luck that landed them at Goatlandia, Blum’s 2-acre sanctuary for farm animals. Blum and a team of 20 “awesome” volunteers care for the animals, from maintaining pens and pastures to feeding, grooming and bonding with the rescues.
Residents include Ruby, a playful white goat bred for show but born with an underbite; Max, an undeniably adorable black Shetland Romney lamb born blind and unwanted by his breeder; and Sheldon, a gray miniature pet pig who could fit inside a pumpkin as a piglet but overwhelmed his guardians when he blossomed into a hefty 200-pounder.
The sanctuary also is home to two friendly, floppy-eared Nubian goat sisters raised by a 4-Her who ultimately decided not to take the goats to auction, plus four rotund female Kunekune swine raised by a man in the South Bay. He imagined them as bacon, pork chops and ham until he gained an appreciation for their brains, emotions and personalities and couldn’t send them for slaughter.
“It’s so hard. There are so many unwanted animals,” Blum said. “It’s tough. We save the ones we can.”
She has reached capacity since establishing Goatlandia in 2012, but continues to field calls “every single day” about farm animals in need of rescue.
Blum shares resources but recognizes taking additional animals could impact those already in her care.
Blum is a member of Sonoma County Farm Trails, welcomes tour groups to Goatlandia, hosts educational and fundraising events and does as much outreach as she can. The nonprofit even hosts popular yoga sessions in the field, where curious goats interact with practitioners.
Blum will be among the vendors and featured speakers at Sonoma County VegFest from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 12 at Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa.
She’ll be accompanied by Max, her blind and personable 6-month-old lamb and therapy animal, and will host an informational booth. Blum also will sell vegan food, like replacement cheeseburgers she says can satisfy (and surprise) even hardcore carnivores.
“People love it. It’s great,” she said. “It’s really delicious; yummy, drippy cheeseburgers but it doesn’t have to have dead animals in it.”
Blum became vegan six years ago, after moving to Sonoma County. She watched a video by noted animal rights activist Gary Yourofsky detailing the slaughter of animals for food consumption “and I was done, like, that day,” she said. “It was the truth about where meat comes from.”
She wants people to know there are healthier, more humane and environmentally friendly diets beyond burgers and fries. She embraces compassion over judgment, recognizing she was a meat-eater for more than 40 years.
Blum began questioning the ethics of eating meat while still working in the restaurant industry. (She is in partnership with her former husband as an owner of five restaurants in San Francisco, but no longer provides hands-on work.)
“I always felt a real heavy weight when I ate meat,” she said. “I always kind of felt guilty.”
Blum recalls ordering baby animals for “whole beast dinners” at a restaurant she managed. Today, she has a tough time thinking about a traditional Thanksgiving dinner featuring turkey.
She bases her decision to follow a plant-based vegan diet on three factors — animal ethics, human health and environmental impacts. “It’s one of the best things I ever did,” she said. “If I’d known earlier, I would have done it years ago.”
Blum said the animals at Goatlandia help spread a message of compassion. “Once people meet the animals, it opens their hearts.”
Goatlandia, which grew from Blum’s desire to have a few animals on her acreage, serves a dual mission to save animals and educate the public. It’s also a model of eco-minded living, with solar power, composting, a large garden, graywater usage and two rainwater tanks with a total capacity of 10,000 gallons.
“I’m trying to keep as closed a loop as possible,” she said.
Goatlandia partners with Compassionate Living, a nonprofit dedicated to a vegan lifestyle and the end of farmed animal suffering, with Compassionate Living sharing tools, resources and expertise to support Goatlandia’s mission.
Blum wants visitors to have fun and enjoy interacting with the animals, but hopes they’ll question the practice of eating meat.
“It’s about animals and it’s about the public, how animals can be tools for inspiring compassion,” she said. “I’m just here to show people you can live a good life without creating harm.”
Blum has witnessed numerous transformations with her animals. Rainey, a white Saanen goat born to a breeder but unable to reproduce, has become so comfortable and personable at Goatlandia that she’s considered “our ambassador,” Blum said. Rainey was saved “just in time” from slaughter.
Another friendly (and handsome) goat, Noah, was a backyard animal whose companion goat had died. Since coming to Goatlandia he’s been dubbed “The Mayor” and has developed a special friendship with Rainey.
“Noah was shy and scared but once he knew he was safe and around other goats, he became so happy,” Blum said.
They’re among the herd that enjoys climbing upon a multitier redwood play structure — a jungle gym for goats — designed and constructed by high school volunteers from the Marin School of Environmental Leadership.
Blum is grateful to the volunteers who help provide care and comfort for the animals, and credits the animals with giving everyone a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
“I get so much back from them,” Blum said. “It’s therapy. It’s grounding.”
She’s watched, too, as people respond to the animals at Goatlandia. Even the man who intended to raise the four pigs for meat had such a change of heart that he returns every few months to visit the foursome — Gigi, Dippy, Portia and Brianna.
“Seeing that awakening in people is why we do what we do,” Blum said.
For more information, to schedule a visit or attend an event, call 707-541-6216 or visit goatlandia.org. The next guided group tours are at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Aug. 20. The donation is $15 per person.
Contact Towns Correspondent Dianne Reber Hart at firstname.lastname@example.org.