Heather Patrick is hopeful. She sees a future with promise, sustainability and compassion. She started Wild Earth Farm and Sanctuary seven years ago and became a mother five years ago. Through activism, motherhood and working with plants and animals, Patrick sowed the seeds of positivity into the soil and nurtures the land until the roots run deep.
“I thought a lot about Wild Earth being this space where we don’t just say what’s wrong with the world, we really show what can be right with the world,” Patrick said.
Wild Earth Farm and Sanctuary is a non-profit vegan permaculture farm and sanctuary for rescued abused and neglected farm animals located in Irvine, Ky., where the bluegrass meets the mountains. Located in the outskirts of rural Appalachia, Wild Earth is primarily committed to teaching community members how to utilize their backyard to further restore ecological justice for the land and food justice to the community.
“We wanted to combine a lot of different of my personal interests, but also ways to educate the community, to reach out and bring a lot of forms of activism and advocacy together,” Patrick said, this includes “animal protection, working on the climate crisis… food justice and resiliency, connecting people with where their food comes from and connecting people with rescued animals and sanctuary settings.”
Having grown up on a farm in Pennsylvania herself, Patrick knew she wanted to raise children in a similar setting. Being a mother was always a part of her plan, regardless of whether she was married. Her daughter, Everly, now five years old, was the first to make her a mother, but Patrick knew she still wanted to adopt or foster children.
“I really like the idea of adopting kids, but once I started the training to become a foster parent, I felt much more impassioned about helping the kids and the families that are part of the foster system,” Patrick said.
Patrick sees Wild Earth as, “a sanctuary for non-human animals, but also for humans, for children.” She hopes that the children she fosters are able to gain something from living on the farm, and bring those skills and values into their lives should they return to their biological families.
Patrick teaches Everly with a form of homeschool called unschooling, a child-directed approach to education that focuses on the child’s interests.
“I really liked that she’s able to spend a lot of her days, as she’s learning, outdoors,” Patrick said, “She has much more freedom to really go in-depth into something that she’s interested in, and I think that’s why she has some of these really interesting skills I didn’t expect, like knowing all about wild foods.”
Homeschooling was important to Patrick not only to give Everly freedom that she didn’t see offered in a typical school setting, but to teach her using materials that aligned with her own values and morals.
Growing up, Patrick was always an activist for animal rights and climate justice. A book that she read as a teenager revealed to her the treatment of animals in modern agriculture and the environmental impact of the industry. This new information prompted Patrick to go vegan and brought her to the belief that humans “need to fundamentally change the way we live our lives, our consumption, our use of fossil fuels,” Patrick said.
When she was in college, Patrick’s brother took his own life. “It gave me a lot of perspective on… following your passions and your dreams, because you never know, life could end,” Patrick said.
“I really wanted to be in a place where I could die tomorrow,” Patrick said. “There are things that I want to do in this life, and I make them happen. The sanctuary was one of those things, having kids… the farm… the traveling that I’ve done.… I can have that peace of mind of knowing that I was doing those things.”
“When I was healthy, it was a lot easier, but now I have some chronic illnesses that make it a lot more difficult to just keep going and going and going every day, all day, like I used to,” Patrick said.
Patrick has Crohn’s disease and fibromyalgia, causing her chronic pain and food sensitivities that she has learned to cope with. She also spent two years bedridden, suffering from Lyme disease— alone with her thoughts, Patrick considered what was most important to her; “If this is our one life to live, or even if it’s not, you still want to follow your passions, live your dreams and wake up and know you’re doing something that you find valuable to the world,” Patrick said.
“This is the life I want to live,” Patrick said. “This is the life I want for my kids. I get to spend my days with rescued animals. I get to spend my days growing food and eating that food… I’ve gained this fulfillment of knowing that I’ve finally reached my dream.”