Rabbits -- pets or meat?
That debate has been zinging through Facebook for days, as animal-rights activists have pummeled Knotweed Urban Farm in Stanton Heights with outraged phone calls, email messages and Internet posts for planning to host a rabbit-butchering workshop that since has been canceled because of the furor.
Or maybe not, depending on whom you believe.
Defenders of the farm say people who eat meat are misguided to protest when it's raised and butchered by small farmers, who, they contend, treat their animals more humanely than do large corporate farms. But to many of the animal-rights activists who have left hundreds of messages on the farm's Facebook page -- which had been taken down as of Wednesday -- and voice mail, there is no such thing as "humane meat."
For Lana Lehr, managing director of the rabbit advocacy group RabbitWise, the recent trend of people -- including an increasing number of city dwellers -- raising rabbits to butcher in the backyard or in a small urban farm is a sickening thought.
Rabbits should be pets, not dinner, she said.
"Rabbits know their names, they come when they're called, they're litter-box trained -- mine run around the house," said Ms. Lehr, a psychotherapist from Bethesda, Md. She helped to organize the protest on the farm's Facebook page. "They are delightful and joyful creatures, and I hate to see them treated so badly."
RabbitWise, she said, became involved in the protest and asked its members to participate after receiving word of the planned "rabbit harvest" from Voices for Animals of Western Pennsylvania, which also protests circuses, wearing fur and serving goose liver pate. Voices for Animals said it received calls from upset Pittsburgh residents, who particularly objected to the demonstration's billing as a family event that would give children a chance to learn where their food comes from.
Although members of the farm, a collaborative that raises organic vegetables, bore the brunt of the protest, Knotweed Urban Farm itself was not the event's host. Someone from the farm did confirm that the butchering demonstration would be held on the property on Friday morning, according to Voices for Animals.
The owner of the property is longtime social activist Randa Shannon, who leases it to a group of farmers, musicians and artists who call their operation Wild Red's Gardens and share the property with Knotweed Urban Farm. Ms. Shannon once helped operate a farm known as Mildred's Daughters on the 5-acre property, which has been grandfathered as agricultural land in a busy urban neighborhood.
And the person at the center of the rabbit drama is Cornelius Frantz-Deppe -- an urban farmer from Garfield who raises rabbits, chickens and guinea hens for food -- who was going to "harvest" some of his own rabbits on Ms. Shannon's property to demonstrate butchering skills.
In a voice mail message, Mr. Frantz-Deppe confirmed that he is not planning to demonstrate rabbit butchering -- at least not publicly -- any time soon, but declined to be interviewed. He did not return several calls for comment.
His friend and fellow farmer John Creasy, executive director of the Garfield Community Farm, explained the rationale for the butchering demonstration, however.
The idea, Mr. Creasy said, is to teach people to take responsibility for all the implications of eating meat, rather than relying on someone else -- often the employees of a huge factory farm and slaughterhouse -- to do their dirty work.
And the desire to avoid seeing the realities of how animals are butchered has led to those factory farms, where animals are packed together tightly, often in filthy and inhumane conditions, he said.
"If you're going to eat meat, then you need to be able to see an animal from birth to your plate, and if you can't stomach that then the vegans are right and become a vegan," said Mr. Creasy, whose farm in Garfield raises organic vegetables for local residents and occasionally keeps rabbits for their manure but not their meat. "Farmers see it as a beautiful thing if you can raise animals properly and care for them properly."
Despite some defenders, including several new Facebook "friends," many people posting on Knotweed Farm's Facebook page didn't see it that way.
"How many murders are you planning to commit is really the one question we want to know," Julie Christa Stephens posted Tuesday afternoon.
To Cassandra Fairbanks of Pittsburgh, the main problem with the event is exposing children to the butchering.
"You really think young children will grasp a positive lesson from this? I don't ... young children will not understand the 'knowing where your food comes from is good' concept and will just see blood and violence towards an animal," she wrote.
Holly Wood, however, couldn't understand why rabbits shouldn't be eaten just because they are "real cute." After all, 12-year-old girls at Clarion River Organics, an Amish farm cooperative in Sligo, Pa., raise and butcher rabbits to sell, she stated.
"They have no problem with reality," she posted. "Not everyone that eats meat wants to buy it shrink-wrapped in a grocery store and be completely disconnected from their food source."
Correction/Clarification: (Published September 28, 2012) Randa Shannon, who runs Wild Reds Gardens in Stanton Heights, says the cooperative shares its land with her family members and others interested in learning about farming and sustainable living. She says the Post-Gazette mischaracterized the land arrangement in a story Thursday about a rabbit-harvesting event advertised to only 10 adults via email that was canceled after animal-rights activists protested. The farm also complies with current city zoning laws pertaining to urban agriculture activities.
Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: 412-263-1719 or email@example.com.