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One pandemic perk?

Plenty more volunteers at Unity Farm Sanctuary

We caught up with cofounder Kathy Halamka to talk about all things travel.


By Juliet Pennington Globe correspondent,Updated January 14, 2021, 12:00 p.m.

Halamka and her husband, John Halamka, with their alpacas. Left to right: Midas, Stanley, and Domino.DAVID YELLEN


Always the optimist, Kathy Halamka, cofounder of Unity Farm Sanctuary in Sherborn, is looking at the bright side of the coronavirus pandemic. “With more people working from home, and wanting to be outdoors, we now have more than 300 volunteers,” she said. “And we have pivoted hard from purely onsite events to creating virtual cameos and field trips. So many people across the country have discovered us now.” Halamka, 58, and her husband, John, a doctor who is president of the Mayo Clinic Platform, founded Unity Farm Sanctuary in 2016. Halamka said that taking a trip is — coronavirus travel restrictions aside — out of the question for the time being. “When you have 300 children,” she said, referring to the animals on the 30-acre property, “… I’m not going to travel.” Halamka — a Southern California native who moved to Massachusetts with her husband and daughter in 1996 — said that she gets a great deal of pleasure seeing visitors interact with the sanctuary’s animals. “I’m hoping that people who meet our farm animals will come to realize that my Elliot, the steer, who is one big 3-year-old goofball saved from the dairy industry, is as playful and joyous as my dog, Shiro,” she said. “There is no substantial difference. They play, they have joy, they have friends. . . . I like being able to share that with people when they visit.” We caught up with Halamka to talk about all things travel.

Favorite vacation destination?

Over the years, we fell in love with certain places that made you want to return to spend even more time there. We had a few places that were beloved by our family; most notably an elaborate, traditional Japanese inn that is 160 years old. The island of Miyajima — off the coast from Hiroshima — has a particular charm when the last ferry sails to the mainland at night, all the tourists are gone, and peace descends on the island. Then, you can put on a yukata, a Japanese cotton robe, and traditional geta shoes, and stroll the quiet island with the native deer as companions. The ocean gently laps against the sea wall near the famous Itsukushima shrine rising out of the bay. We stayed once at the historic Iwaso Ryokan [inn]. After a traditional Japanese bath in the onsen [springs], we had a traditional dinner in our suite while watching the koi and gardens outside as the sun set. There is a special protective spirit in this ancient place, one we wished to re-create when we built our sanctuary in Massachusetts.

Favorite food or drink while vacationing?

Our family is vegan, so we are always on the lookout for vegan options special to just that locale when we travel. And we love to find the local best beer or wine of the region.

Where would you like to travel to but haven’t?

This might be a surprise to some, but John and I spent a lot of time thinking about all the places we have loved all over the world, and we’re of like mind on this idea: We wanted to create a place to be that captured all the inviting characteristics of our favorite places in the world. This has evolved to be Unity Farm Sanctuary, home to 60 farm mammals, 240 birds, 350 volunteers, and our devoted staff. In the past year, the Sanctuary House sadly could not host retreats, wellness classes, lectures, or story times indoors. However, one silver lining to the pandemic is the explosive growth of the volunteer program. So many people realize the acute desire to get outside, and to do something for others. Our volunteers can feel any anxieties easing as they step onto the sanctuary grounds.

One item you can’t leave home without when traveling?

I love to have a very small sketchbook with me, to make little impressions of things — drawing or with words — because moments are so fleeting and sometimes a photograph is just too two-dimensional to capture the actual mood.

Aisle or window?

Window! I love to watch the beautiful patterns of the land constantly changing.

Favorite childhood travel memory?

Every summer in my childhood, my family drove from Los Angeles to the Eastern Sierra near Mono Lake. In the ’60s, we did not have any air conditioning in the car, but the windows might be rolled down if it was summer. As the scenery changed, you could start to smell the sun-warmed sagebrush and rabbit brush as the elevation rose. Driving away from the congestion of Los Angeles toward the high mountains, it felt like you were literally traveling back in time — especially if you visited the ghost town, Bodie. I can still remember singing along to music on the eight-track. Am I dating myself with that comment?

Guilty pleasure when traveling?

Setting aside the work of regular life, I have worked since I was 12, so to set aside the responsibilities of daily life to travel feels like a decadent guilty pleasure.

Best travel tip? Don’t forget your towel! Yes, Douglas Adams said this in his book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” but we learned this by our travel to Japan. You never know, being prepared with a small towel is worth it.

JULIET PENNINGTON


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