Before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, few of us had heard of Zoom. These days, everyone seems to be using the video conferencing platform. When Grandma finally joined in on the calls, you may have thought you’d seen it all. But you were wrong.
Two Sonoma County residents, Amos and Johnny, have recently been turning virtual heads by making guest appearances on Zoom, showing call participants how to live your best life — as a sheep and a goat.
Amos and Johnny reside at Charlie’s Acres in Sonoma, a nonprofit animal sanctuary that is home to 140 rescued farm animals. Charlie’s Acres is one of more than 30 farm animal sanctuaries across the country that is now offering farm video calls through a program called Goat 2 Meeting, created and operated by Half Moon Bay nonprofit Sweet Farm.
Launched only a month ago, demand for this special service is already through the roof — from animal rights clubs to birthday parties to Fortune 100 companies, everyone wants to join in on the fun.
“You wouldn’t believe the diversity of people asking for us to call in,” said Nate Salpeter, co-founder and executive director of Sweet Farm.
For a $65 donation, you can book a 20-minute virtual private tour for up to six people. Corporate meeting cameos and virtual tours for unlimited guests run from $100 to $750. Virtual field trips for public schools are free.
With the cancellation of in-person tours, Charlie’s Acres and other animal sanctuaries have lost a key source of revenue. Thanks to proceeds from Goat 2 Meeting, Charlie’s Acres founder, Tracy Vogt, has been able to bring a furloughed employee back to work.
“We’re absolutely booked well into May, which is amazing,” said Vogt.
So far, Charlie’s Acres has participated in video calls with a variety of organizations and companies, from schools and nurses associations to online dating services, insurance companies and law firms. A live television morning show is on next week’s schedule.
“We’ve done several (calls) with people working really hard on some aspect of Covid-19 relief and they seem to be extremely grateful for a smile during this time,” said Vogt.
When interested groups sign up online, they can request a certain animal and farm sanctuaries will do their best to accommodate wishlists. But regardless of what kind of animal eventually joins the call, they all seem to be naturals when it comes to eliciting smiles.
Sarah Hernholm, founder and president of Whatever It Takes (WIT), a program that teaches entrepreneurial and leadership skills to middle and high school students, recently booked a Goat 2 Meeting for her students, which took them on a virtual trip to Charlie’s Acres animal sanctuary.
“I had such a hard time keeping the surprise and I only had to hold it for two days,” said Hernholm, who’s been working hard to inject some lightness and humor into an otherwise somber situation for her students.
Before the Go 2 Meeting, the WIT book club had just finished reading The Alchemist, a novel by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, which follows the journey of an Andalusian shepherd boy. So you can imagine their surprise, and delight, when they discovered Amos the sheep on the call.
“When I first saw the sheep on camera I was so surprised, I really didn’t expect an animal,” said Rosie Alchalel, a WIT student from San Diego. “Never in a million years would I have thought I would be on a Zoom call with a sheep!” added Lila Chitayat, also from San Diego.
“As someone who is on week six on quarantine, it brought me so much joy to see nature and wildlife through the lens of my computer,” said Sarina Chitkara, from New York City, who also found it inspiring to learn about how Tracy’s nonprofit is pivoting to accommodate to the ever-changing circumstances of Covid-19.
Along with providing a much-needed break from the seriousness of the pandemic, the farm video calls and tours teach participants about the farm animals. While the animals tend to not hold still for very long, the multi-talented educators at Charlie’s Acres have developed a knack for keeping that Zoom square on point, catching those must-see, smile-inducing moments, like when muddy pigs decide the perfect time to shake it off — including on the educator — during a live call.