Leilani Farm Sanctuary: A haven for animals where compassion reigns
Sheltered in the hug of Haiku’s wild jungles, Leilani Farm Sanctuary spills out across eight lush acres that rise and fall in perfect harmony with the land.
On the northern side of the property, thickets of towering bamboo stand sentry like a garrison of wooden soldiers. Red and white barns dot the gentle slope of green pastures where a tribe of farm animals, commonly used for meat, milk, eggs, wool and other products, graze in quiet contentment. Some, like Dorothy the spent dairy cow, were saved from slaughter at the 11th hour; others arrived as abandoned infants left to die after hunters killed their mothers.
Named for the farm’s first resident donkey, Leilani Farm Sanctuary is a non-profit organization that operates with an all-volunteer workforce and provides a safe home for animals freed from a life of neglect and deprivation, while educating the community on the humane treatment of farm and other animals.
Along the ridge of the sanctuary, where the vista opens to a blue expanse of ocean, snakes a well-worn path dubbed Animal Alley. As dawn slips into morning, goats, sheep and a pair of inseparable donkeys slowly meander from the main barn down to the pastures. For Leilani Farm Sanctuary Founder and Director Laurelee Blanchard, it’s a favorite time of day. She sips her coffee and watches from the upstairs bedroom of a cheery cottage painted the color of sunshine.
In her former life as a successful, high-powered Southern California commercial real estate broker, Blanchard might have opted for a penthouse in the glistening high rises that pepper Newport Beach or a rambling estate in one of Orange County’s tony neighborhoods.
Today, the bright yellow cottage perched on a hill in Haiku is her palace of riches; she’s surrounded by animals she cares for and adores and spends her days advocating compassion for all living things.
“I have a close relationship with each animal,” Blanchard says. “I can tell all the pigs, goats, chickens and cats apart by their voices. They all know their names. When I stand before the herd of goats and call out to a particular goat, just that goat answers back.”
Twice a week, on Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons, Blanchard conducts tours of Leilani Farm Sanctuary providing an opportunity for the public to intimately interact with the animals and, hopefully, realize that farm animals are not that different than their dog or cat curled up at home.
“Most visitors have never had the experience of hugging a chicken, a turkey or a goose,” Blanchard explains. “People are amazed at how soft and warm the animals are, and how much they enjoy being petted.”
Upon arriving, visitors walk down a short gravel road onto a pathway ringed by ornamentals and food plants, such as papayas, pineapples and bananas, for the animals. The well-tended grounds yield an artistic display of flowering plants awash in vibrant splashes of color. After signing in and receiving a brief orientation, the tour begins.
As Blanchard takes visitors around the farm, she introduces the animals by name and shares the idiosyncrasies that define them as unique individuals.
Matthew, for example, is a large, impressive turkey who sometimes thinks he’s a lapdog, often seeking Blanchard out for impromptu snuggle sessions. Kai, a young white goat, becomes so excited when he recognizes one of the regular volunteers, he dances a jig.
Then there’s Berney, a wild boar with the soul of a poet who came into Blanchard’s life as an orphaned piglet. Now fully grown and on the coy side, Berney is an elusive Romeo who rolls over for belly rubs and sweet talks those he trusts in playful grunts and snorts.
“These days, Berney eagerly seeks affection and follows me around the farm,” Blanchard says. “He has become an exceptional ambassador on farm tours. He helps dispel the myth that wild boars are inherently vicious and mean. This formerly wild boar is truly the gentlest pig on the farm and a favorite of many who meet him.”
So much so, Blanchard explains, that she’s witnessed firsthand the change in people’s perspectives about pigs, food and hunting after meeting Berney, with some visitors swearing off bacon, pork chops and hot dogs.
“I think the chickens are often the best ambassadors for the sanctuary because they give visitors a chance to hold them, look them in the eye and see them as sentient beings,”
Blanchard continues, adding chickens in broiler- and egg-production farms are excluded from the Animal Welfare Act and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
“Many people love animals in general, but their circle of compassion doesn’t include farm animals when it comes to breakfast, lunch and dinner,” she says. “People assume (as I once did) that laws are in place to ensure the humane treatment of animals raised for food, and that the slaughter process is painless. Unfortunately, the sad and shocking truth is that animals raised for food on factory farms suffer every minute of every day.”
It was this realization, discovered after watching video footage of the horrific treatment of animals in factory farms and slaughterhouses, that compelled Blanchard more than 15 years ago to cash in her significant investments and retirement funds, leave a posh executive position and purchase a large swath of land on Maui to launch a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) animal rescue organization.
Unfortunately, circumstances ultimately forced the sale of the property back to the original owners, and Blanchard now leases the same land in her quest to fulfill the labor of love that is Leilani Farm Sanctuary. She hopes through tours, fundraisers, private donations, and the sale of her memoir “Finding Paradise: Leilani Farm Sanctuary of Maui” which has received glowing reviews and is available for purchase on Amazon and at Costco in Kahului, to reappropriate ownership of the eight-acre parcel and continue the Sanctuary’s mission of awareness and humane education. Blanchard has also established the Promise Fund to protect the farm’s nonprofit sanctuary status in the event of her demise or dismissal.
“I am determined to ensure the animals will be cared for after I’m gone,” she says. “Owning the land will make certain that the sanctuary animals will have a home far beyond my lifetime.”
For now, the reward of watching visitors “light up” the first time they hold an affectionate chicken close to their hearts or gaze into the soulful brown eyes of a cow fuels Blanchard in her pursuit to keep the sanctuary viable.
“It makes me especially happy when people tell me that after connecting with the animals and seeing them as individuals, they opt to no longer eat them,” she says. “When we realize that each farm animal is ‘someone’ not ‘something,’ and that farm animals have the capacity to experience emotions and feel pleasure and pain just like humans do, our food choices often shift.”
One young couple visiting the sanctuary from California was so inspired that they transitioned to a vegan diet and opened a farm sanctuary of their own, Blackberry Creek Farm Animal Sanctuary.
“We watched Food Inc. years ago and started by cutting out fast food and only buying ‘humane’ meat (which doesn’t exist),” writes Danielle Hanosh, founder of Blackberry Creek Farm Animal Sanctuary. “After that we visited Leilani Farm Sanctuary and began educating ourselves on both the animal agriculture industry and nutrition. We were vegetarian when we bought our property, but by the time we founded our sanctuary we had learned so much about the treatment of animals in the egg and dairy industries that we gave up animal products altogether.”
Over the last year or so, several couples have selected Leilani Farm Sanctuary grounds for their wedding ceremonies. Some chose the sanctuary for its magical aura and natural beauty; others, like Hillary Glickman of Mercy for Animals and Chris Hendrickson of the Humane League, because of deeply-held values shared with Leilani Farm Sanctuary’s core mission — a mission Blanchard never regrets undertaking.
While Blanchard’s journey from driven career woman in designer business suits, wining and dining corporate clients, to agrarian kamaaina in rolled-up jeans and rubber boots, raking muck and pushing wheelbarrows, may seem the stuff of popular fiction, it’s all true.
Her story is the real-life account of an impassioned activist following her true north — and giving up everything to find the only thing that matters: abolishing cruelty one changed heart, one rescued animal at a time.
Sanctuary tours, programs and volunteer opportunities
• TAKE a guided one-hour tour of Leilani Farm Sanctuary. Tours are 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10 a.m. Minumum age is 4 years old; reservations are required. Tax-deductible donations of $20 per person are greatly appreciated. Please arrive 15 minutes prior to the start of the tour. To reserve your spot, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
• CONSIDER a visit to the Sanctuary for at-risk youth programs, school field trips, special needs children and elder activities for a hands-on, thought-provoking experience that stimulates social and emotional growth.
• DONATE. There are several ways you can help, including sponsorship of your favorite Leilani Farm Sanctuary resident or monthly or one-time donations. For more information, visit www.leilanifarmsanctuary.org/meet-the-animals.
• VOLUNTEER your time, love and energy as a regular rounds person helping with day-to-day care or on special volunteer days to assist with landcaping and property upkeep. For more information, visit www.leilanifarmsanctuary.org/volunteer.
“Jonathan and I have been volunteering at Leilani Farm Sanctuary since the fall of 2013. The Japanese word, ‘ikigai,’ I think best describes our experiences at the farm. Visiting with the animals twice a week, bringing them culled produce, feeding and giving them water gives us a ‘sense of purpose.’ “ – Valerie Bromberg
LEILANI FARM SANCTUARY