Video chatting has become a part of daily life for many who are “flattening the curve” by following stay-at-home orders. Social distancing may keep us apart, but apps like Zoom, WebEx, HouseParty and others make it possible to see half a dozen or more faces of coworkers, friends or loved ones at a time.
You might even see a llama.
Pitched as a way to lighten the mood of stuffy corporate meetings and enlighten people at home about farm animals, Goat 2 Meeting is run by the Sweet Farm animal sanctuary in Half Moon Bay, Calif., near San Francisco. The sanctuary has a web-connected camera set up so some of its more photogenic residents can join video meetings for a donation.
“Our board member, Jon Azoff, came up with the idea and said, ‘You know, we’re having so many company meetings and happy hours but they’re all boring. What if we could get a goat or llama on the call’?” Salpeter told CNN.
Before long, farm Sweet Farm animals were making appearances in meetings around the country. They took part in 100 video calls the first month alone, with hundreds of other donors waiting for their scheduled meetings to take place.
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The new source of income has been important to the sanctuary which, like other sanctuaries and small businesses in the U.S., has suffered economically during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. When travel restrictions went into place in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19, the sanctuary’s help and revenue was drastically reduced.
“Sixty to 70 percent of our revenue has gone out the door” Nate Salpeter, who founded the farm with his wife, Anna Sweet, told NPR. “So very quickly we had to figure out a way that we can still execute on our mission while also driving revenue.”
For the short term, that strategy involves video calls with Paco the llama, a “curious and precocious llama” who “can be found chasing friends around the pastures and forever wondering when his next carrot is coming.”
Not to offer limited options in the way of farmyard personalities, Juno the goat, Magnolia the cow and Steve the rooster are also available for a chat from their home at Sweet Farm.
“At the time same, we’re teaching people a serious lesson,” Salpeter said. “There is so much news about things like the coronavirus and swine flu that come out of the way people treat animals. We’ve been working for years and years to show people that this is a byproduct of the way we treat them.”
Sweet Farm focuses its efforts on saving farm animals from the slaughterhouse, while advocating for sustainable and compassionate agricultural practices.
“We’re here to educate the public and change their perception of the food system while encouraging people to rethink what they’re putting on their plate,” Salpeter said. “Cows behave a lot like your pet dog. They’re just much larger, but people don’t make that connection. This is a good way for people to get up close and connect with the animals in a respectful way because it’s just someone the animal is comfortable with and a phone.”
It’s hard to tell how much of an impact Goat 2 Meeting has had on meeting attendees. Perhaps they will think more about the food choices they make even after stay-at-home recommendations are lifted. In the meantime, at least the meeting was much more fun.
“With animals, everything is totally unscripted,” Salpeter said. “People’s spirits get lifted for just a little bit in this crazy, crazy time when people drastically need it.”
Learn more about Sweet Farm sanctuary in the video below.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.
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