Emily Deschanel and Tracey Stewart are the co-chairs of Farm Sanctuary's gala honoring Kat Von D and Leona Lewis

By Kelli Bender
Updated November 02, 2016 12:08 PM
Courtesy of Farm Sanctuary

For 30 years, Farm Sanctuary has been saving farm animals from abuse and neglect and advocating for their fair treatment. Thanks to the organization, countless animals have been pulled from horrifying circumstances and given a new chance at life.

On Nov. 12, Farm Sanctuary will be celebrating this continued success with a gala, hosted by comedian Kevin Nealon, honoring the stars who are using their fame to help those that cannot speak. Alec Baldwin, Martha Stewart, James Franco, Ryan Gosling and more have all taken part in animal advocacy work for the organization, and Jon and Tracey Stewart will be opening a new Farm Sanctuary location at their New Jersey farm in Spring 2017. Kat Von D and Leona Lewis will be honored at this year’s event.

Tickets are available to the California gala for all those interested in sharing a plant-based dinner side-by-side with compassionate celebrities and animal lovers, while honoring the continued efforts of Farm Sanctuary.

Farm Sanctuary co-chairs Emily Deschanel and Tracey Stewart talked to PEOPLE about what the animal protection organization means to them and why Farm Sanctuary’s work is so important.

Heather Ainsworth

What inspired you to help animals through Farm Sanctuary?

Tracey: Jon and I try to teach our children the golden rule both in our words and in our actions. We want them to value all life and, when they can, give voice to injustices. My husband does that in his work. My background and love for animals made me feel I could have the most impact speaking about the plight of animals and the lessons that they teach us. I chose to work with Farm Sanctuary, which was the first ever of this type of sanctuary. Their 30+ years of experience make them unparalleled in the areas of animal care and outreach. I appreciate that Farm Sanctuary meets people where they are. I didn’t know everything I know today, and I most certainly acted unknowingly against my beliefs and ethics. I wasn’t any less compassionate of a person, I just needed to learn and experience more.

Emily: Farm Sanctuary changed my life after I visited their shelter and met some incredible farm animals who call the place home. I had been a vegan and animal lover for years but I didn’t realize before that trip how incredibly individual each farm animal truly is. It is the kind of organization that inspires you to work hard on their behalf. I have been involved with the organization for a few years and wanted to help out in this way to reach more people, and have a fun evening with like-minded people!

What does Farm Sanctuary provide animals?

Tracey: An animal at Farm Sanctuary receives individual care, medical attention and the promise of a full life surrounded by love. They are free to roam in their pastures, sleep in the sunshine, eat wholesome food, exhibit their natural behaviors and enjoy life. Animals at Farm Sanctuary are treated as individuals and not commodities.

Emily: I believe the most important thing they do is give refuge to some incredible farm animals and introduce people to those creatures whom we so often call “food.” When you see that they are individual souls who deserve to be treated better, it can really open your heart and change your perspective. But FS also advocates on behalf of animals and works to educate people about the reality of factory farms. People deserve to know where their food is coming from and know there are other choices.

Courtesy of Farm Sanctuary

What are some of the ways people can help?

Tracey: A trip to Farm Sanctuary should be on everyone’s to-do list. You haven’t lived until you’ve laid down in a field with a cow or caused a pig to roll over for a belly rub. So many people have never met a farm animal and I’m hoping to change that. When you spend time with them, you realize there is someone there — someone who even shares some similarities with your companion animal at home. You can’t help but start to think differently. From there, you may be inspired to make small changes that can make a huge difference.

If you can’t make it to a farm sanctuary anytime soon, you can also help by bringing a little bit of sanctuary home when you sponsor an animal through the Adopt a Farm Animal Program.

Emily: People can become aware of the animals we are eating and maybe think twice before putting an animal product on the menu. Even making baby steps in this direction can help so much. I recommend Kathy Freston’s book Quantum Wellness which suggests making small steps toward a more compassionate diet. Also, you could volunteer at a local shelter or one of the three Farm Sanctuary locations.

What do you hope people learn through Farm Sanctuary’s work?

Tracey: Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned about animals and myself through Farm Sanctuary is the awareness of the interconnectedness of us all. From healthy plant-based eating, to environmental issues and social justice, the lessons are ongoing.

Emily: Compassion. Compassion for these amazing farm animals who all too often live short, pain- filled lives to eventually end up on our plates.

Heather Ainsworth

How many animals are in your family right now?

Tracey: Oh boy, here we go. I’ll go from largest to smallest. They are Ally, Anita, Steady and Sneakers (horses); Anna, Maybelle, Pugsley, Christopher, Wilbur and Arthur (pigs); Lil’ Dipper, Scout, Barkly, and Smudge (dogs); Romy, Nate, Bob, Barry and Eliza (sheep); Dana, Hope, Harper, Avery and Levi (goats); Snowy, Blackberry, and Panda Bun (rabbits); Pipsqueak and Spud (Guinea pigs), Jolene (parrot) and Brian Williams and Jimmy Superfly Snooka (fish). So as of today, 32. Like most of us, their favorite things to do are eat and snuggle.

Emily: I don’t have a pet now but have had them in the past. I had a dog named Snookie who was a sweetheart and welcomed anyone, no judgments! I used to joke that she was no guard dog! She would have welcomed a burglar into the house with a wagging tail and shown him where anything valuable was.