Harriet lives on a new satellite farm adjacent to the original Peace Ridge facility. Construction is underway on a large animal barn, and this summer crews will break ground on a heated medical building on the 244-acre property now part of sanctuary. Photo courtesy of Peace Ridge Sanctuary

One of the largest farm animal sanctuaries in Maine has grown even bigger. Peace Ridge Sanctuary, known for rescuing animals from the state’s worst abuse cases, now covers more than 1,000 acres in rural Brooks. It’s a fitting milestone as the nonprofit marks its 20th anniversary.

In October, donors paid for the purchase of a 244-acre farm that abuts the existing sanctuary. The adjacent property, which Peace Ridge staff call the satellite, comes with a small house, an outbuilding, an apple orchard, a large pond, 25 acres of grazing fields and even the other half of Patch Hill, which means the whole mountain and its mature hardwood forest are now part of the sanctuary, which is situated between Belfast and Unity.

The purchase enlarges the sanctuary’s wildlife rehabilitation area, where local wildlife rehab groups release animals back into the wild such as, recently, eastern cottontails, porcupines and raccoons.

The house provides a home for the farm stewards and the outbuilding is now a functioning animal barn. A new barn designed for large animals is under construction on the satellite property, and this summer work will start on a heated medical building with a triage room and showers for veterinarians. Because of the expansion, the nonprofit has hired another employee, bringing the staff up to eight.

“The satellite makes us more flexible,” said Daniella Tessier, who founded Peace Ridge Sanctuary in 2001. “The satellite has allowed us to move animals around, so we’ve opened up capacity in both places and made space in all our general habitats.”

Peace Ridge is currently home to 311 animals, including cows, pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, geese, turkeys, rabbits, donkeys and horses.

When the state of Maine investigates and prosecutes large farm animal abuse and neglect cases, officials often seek safe homes for dozens of animals at once. This is what happened in 2019, when animal welfare agents removed 100 small animals, including chickens, ducks, rabbits and pigs, from a midcoast farm where they were being denied food and water and kept in squalid conditions. All the animals were taken to Peace Ridge.

The year before, Peace Ridge rescued a herd of 15 sick and malnourished cows, calves and one bull as part of a case investigated by Maine’s Animal Welfare Program.

Tessier said in both cases, and many others, the sanctuary has had to undertake major fundraising campaigns to not only build barns but to pay for the expensive veterinary bills that accompany each rescue. With the expansion, Peace Ridge has the capacity to take in more animals, particularly smaller animals, on short notice.

In normal times, the sanctuary is regularly open to the public and hosts events, many featuring all-vegan food. But since last March the sanctuary and its employees and volunteers have been in strict lockdown. With a small staff and hundreds of animals to care for each day, they can’t afford an outbreak of the coronavirus, Tessier said. Who would tend the animals? She and the staff wear masks to prevent passing the zoonotic virus to the animals and follow strict COVID guidelines when not at work.

“We usually have a pool of 20 volunteers,” Tessier said. “We now have six or seven volunteers who keep coming. To have 40 or 50 less hours (in volunteer time) a week has been difficult. But we have a good staff and we buckle down and do what we need to do.”

Brandon Keim of Bangor is among the volunteers who have continued to help at the sanctuary during the pandemic. “What has kept me coming back is what a joy it is to be with those animals,” said Keim, who has volunteered at Peace Ridge for three years. “Once you start to get to know them and have friendships with some of them, they become part of your life. I don’t like missing a week.”

Keim said knowing the animals of Peace Ridge has changed the way he sees the world.

Hazel is one of 311 formerly maltreated animals now living at an expanded Peace Ridge Sanctuary in Brooks. Photo courtesy of Peace Ridge Sanctuary

“In Maine, we have this very idyllic image of animals living on small farms,” said Keim, a science and nature journalist who’s written for the New York Times and The Atlantic. “At least, I always had that image. But when you get to know the stories of the animals at Peace Ridge, you realize how problematic that image can be.”

Karla Starkenberg volunteered at Peace Ridge in its early days, beginning in 2002, and even lived there for a time. Now a medical technologist at an animal hospital and a resident of Lynn, Massachusetts, Starkenberg continues to donate to Peace Ridge and is pleased the organization is mindful of the land’s carrying capacity.

“Big, domesticated animals like cows, horses, donkeys and pigs really do churn up the land and ruin the soil structure if they don’t have enough space,” she said. “The expansion means they can rotate the pasture area to rejuvenate the land and allow the soil structure to come back.”

Starkenberg also appreciates that land has been set aside as part of the wildlife sanctuary area. “We’re hurtling so fast toward extinction with global warming and industrialization,” she said. “Leaving as much as they can for native plants and animals to have the space they need is really important.”

The more than 700 acres now reserved for wildlife is an essential part of Peace Ridge’s mission, according to Tessier: “We don’t want to overdevelop the property or cut down the woods.” The age of the forest and the diversity of ecosystems, including an estuary, make the land is ideally suited to being a release site, she said.

It’s part of Peace Ridge’s mission that Tessier calls vegan environmentalism. It also may have played a role in the town of Brooks denying the sanctuary a nonprofit property tax exemption, a decision that led Tessier to sue the town for discrimination. The lawsuit is on hold because of the pandemic.

“We’re very aware that as a society we need to turn back the clock in terms of the destruction of the past 50 years,” Tessier said to describe the urgency that underlies her work. “The planet is on fire.”

But at the Peace Ridge Sanctuary there’s still more woods and water than fire and development, and because of the organization’s vegan environmental ethic, both wild and domesticated animals get a second chance at life.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at

[email protected]
Twitter: @AveryYaleKamila


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