A Visit to the Gentle Barn with Hannah Gunderman

As a nearly lifelong vegetarian and now committed vegan, I first learned about the Gentle Barn Tennessee in the fall of 2015, when they hosted Gentle Thanksgiving, a dinner and event aimed at providing a cruelty-free Thanksgiving experience. Ever since then, I have held a soft spot in my heart for the Gentle Barn.

The Gentle Barn was founded by Ellie Laks in 1999 in the San Fernando Valley of California, and in 2015 a second location was opened in Knoxville, Tennessee. Naturally, for my 26th birthday this year, I knew that a visit to the barn would be one of the best gifts I could receive, so I promptly booked a visit. In case you’re planning a trip soon, there’s a $20 donation for each adult to participate in a Saturday visit. 

My boyfriend and I excitedly made our way from Old North Knoxville to Watt Road, the major road on which the Gentle Barn is located. Upon arriving, we were given free GoMacro bars from their Gentle 52 sponsor (each week, the Gentle Barn at both locations is sponsored by a company that shares their cruelty-free values).

We then listened to a talk by Andrea Burritt, the manager of the Tennessee location, about the mission behind the Gentle Barn, the stories of some of the animals, and general guidelines for interacting with the animals.

We then went into the main barn to watch a short film on the birth of Eclipse, a baby calf and the youngest member of the Gentle Barn Tennessee. Eclipse is the daughter of Maybelle, one of the former dairy cows in residence.

The video, which left very few dry eyes in the audience, highlights the magic behind Eclipse’s story: due to the functioning of the dairy industry, normally the calves are taken away from the mothers shortly after birth. Eclipse, born on-site at the Gentle Barn, is the first baby that will not be taken away from Maybelle.

Here’s a video with more about Maybelle’s story:

On the particular Saturday of our visit, Eclipse was only a couple of weeks old, and still stayed close to her mother in their stall. I was touched and humbled by the care, compassion, and consideration showed by the volunteers and staff towards all of the animals, and especially Eclipse as she began to navigate her new life!

The Gentle Barn Tennessee’s first resident, Dudley the cow, was unfortunately not on site due to health complications at UT Vet School, but speaking for myself, I was happy that he was getting the treatment he needed. All the more reason come back and visit in order to get some Dudley time! 

We were incredibly lucky that the founder, Ellie Laks, was on site the Saturday of our visit. I was taken aback by Ellie’s kind demeanor—the love and compassion that she shows for the animals also shines through in how she interacted with us. I often judge people by how they treat animals, so I instantly knew that I could trust Ellie because of the love and compassion she shows them. 

For the remainder of the tour, we were able to interact with volunteers and learn the stories of the turkeys, chickens, horses, and pigs that are permanent residents of the Gentle Barn. Following the meet-and-greet, we were treated to a plant-based lunch of veggie dogs. We were extremely pleased with our experience and will plan to visit more in the future.

I am finding that each time I visit the Gentle Barn, I gain a renewed sense of pride in the burgeoning vegan movement in Knoxville and surrounding areas. I highly encourage vegans and non-vegans alike to visit the Gentle Barn, and if you do, please let me know how your experience was! 

If you’re interested in becoming a guest blogger like Hannah, just get in touch.

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Hannah Gunderman

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