Dear Castleton Community:
The world we live in today is brutal. We live in a time where hatred far exceeds the importance of love and compassion for our neighbors.
But in a world of darkness, a bright light of hope shines just around the corner from Castleton on a small Benson farm. It’s a community of its own where the people – and animals – exude nothing but compassion.
It’s a safe space where humans can communicate ideas and discuss topics freely. It’s a welcoming community, where it doesn’t matter what gender you are, or what the color of your skin is, or even what political party you support. There’s only what thing that matters.
Kinder Way Animal Sanctuary is owned by Mark and Erika Gutel – two of the nicest and caring people I’ve ever met. For those of you who have had the pleasure of meeting them, I’m sure you’d agree.
They spend each day working hard to save farm animals who have been mistreated at other farms. They go to these farms and rescue as many animals as possible, and bring these animals to their farm, where they treat them with as much love and respect as they would a human.
Mark and Erika do it all out of the goodness of their hearts.
You may remember them serving up maple lattes and delicious breakfast sandwiches at the depot in Castleton, where they previously owned the Kinder Way Café. But as Mark always told me, the Kinder Way was more than just coffee.
It was the conversation.
The Gutels genuinely cared about every person who walked through that door. They made a point to remember their names and ask about their day. Their kindness was contagious, and soon everyone in the café at the time discussed everything from the current state of the country to what was going on in town.
Myself and my roommate constantly talked to Mark about life and the importance of caring for all people and animals. We would talk about our struggles with classes and his struggles with running a business. We’d support each other and be there for each other. Mark always told us that if we ever needed anything at all, he would do everything he could to help.
I can assure you, we are not the only people Mark would offer that to. I bet he would offer that to any person who walked through those Café doors.
This is why I decided to write this letter.
When COVID-19 raged across the country and Castleton University was forced to shut down, it’s no surprise that Mark and Erika, like many other business owners in town, struggled. The college students were their main source of income, and in a heartbeat they were gone.
I was devastated to hear of this news. When I came back to Castleton for the first time, my heart ached to see the big “For Rent” sign posted on the depot. As you can imagine, it was even more devastating for the Gutels.
It’s not easy to run a farm, and it’s certainly not cheap. The Gutels have saved pigs, boars, cows, horses, chickens, goats, sheep, ducks, turkeys, you name it. Though money is necessary, they’ve never done any of this for the money. They do it because they care. They let people come visit their animals for free because they want people to feel the same joy they feel when they pet their pigs, or kiss their cows.
They give people complimentary coffee because they love having people there to have those meaningful discussions with.
They do all they can to bring in money to support their farm. They’ve tried getting income from letting people camp on their farm through Hipcamp. They sell Kinder Way t-shirts, and have a small donation jar for their visitors. But with the financial devastation from COVID-19, the Gutels are struggling.
Now it’s our turn to help them.
Mark is a volunteer firefighter in Benson. He and Erika were avid supporters of the Castleton Spartan hockey teams, and they joined the Bridge Initiative – a program dedicated to connecting the Castleton community with Castleton University. They supported local farms and businesses when they had their café in town. They poured their heart and soul into supporting the college and the town in any way they can.
Very sadly, they are now on the verge of losing their farm in Benson.
I am writing this to ask you to help support our friends. Though donations are helpful, they are not the only way to help them during this difficult time. I challenge any of you who were touched by Mark and Erika’s kindness to share your story.
Please, please, please: comment on their Facebook page, leave a comment under this story – better yet, send them a personal, handwritten letter. I want Mark and Erika to know how much they have touched our hearts. Let them know how much we care for them. I understand not everyone can donate money, but I’m sure your kind words will mean just as much to them – if not more.
Donations can be made through Venmo, @kinderwayfarmsanctuary, or through GoFundMe at this link:
You can also support them by joining their Patreon at this link:
Their Facebook page is Kinder Way Farm Sanctuary.
Letters or check donations can be sent to:
Kinder Way Farm Sanctuary
2158 Stage Road
Benson, VT 05743
To read more about Mark and Erika’s story, here’s a few links:
Let’s fill their hearts, and inboxes, with love and compassion and show how much we care and appreciate them. Send them letters. Message them on Facebook. Comment here. They need a smile now more than ever. Thank you all!