Bill and Lou: a complex decision
Green Mountain College continues to be one of the major educational supporters of agriculture in Vermont. GMC is deeply involved in the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link and the local charitable food system. The college played a major role in the support of a successful food co-op in Poultney and has graduated several students who have established farms in Vermont (e.g. dairy and plant nursery). As part of our extensive curriculum, we are committed to teach and model small-scale farm production that is ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable, while maintaining high ethical standards for treatment of the land, people, and animals.
Recently the GMC community made a very complex decision, carefully weighing alternatives on how best to transition two draft oxen, Bill and Lou, one of whom (Lou) had developed a recurring injury to his left rear hock. As with any complex ethical matter, thoughtful and well-informed people may reasonably disagree—and they have! Although it might appear from the letters in the Rutland Herald, particularly the one from the co-founder of Veganism Is the Next Era (VINE) Sanctuary, that everyone disagrees with the decision the Green Mountain Community made, it is simply not the case. I invite the public to view GMC’s Facebook page to review the ongoing discussions.
The College has posted a statement (www.greenmtn.edu/farm_food.aspx
) that delineates our community’s decision-making process. In reading this statement, you will see that we did consider sending the oxen to a sanctuary. Those who know our oxen best—our farm staff and students—were uncomfortable with the ramifications of sending these work animals to a sanctuary. Transition to a new setting for these one-ton plus animals would be difficult for them and would only postpone the fact that someone else, in the not-too-distant future, would need to decide that it is kinder to kill them than to have them continue living in increasing discomfort. If, however, we had decided to send them to a sanctuary, we would have chosen one that has a proven record of handling large draft animals and supports and enhances all aspects of Vermont agriculture.
The college is committed to being a good community partner and always engages in a dialogue with our neighbors in Vermont and beyond. As an academy of learning we will not veer from inclusive decision making processes, but must, ultimately, maintain autonomy in deciding what is best for the overall good of our GMC community.
Dr. Paul J. Fonteyn is president of Green Mountain College in Poultney.