Free To Be
Strawberry Fields Sanctuary
Leviticus was not the first animal Karen Dorkings took in. And he’s not even really hers, but a boarder at her Strawberry Fields Sanctuary, a tract of eight acres of farmland near Gray Court where she cares for abused and neglected farm animals. You can see the cross branded into his foreleg, a vestige from the times he was ridden through the streets of Fountain Inn by his evangelist owners, distributing Bibles. He has a particularly regal presence.
All of the animals at Strawberry Fields kinda do. Rocky, one of the pot-bellied pigs with a bristly pig-mohawk, was found wandering through a neighboring garden like he owned the place. The neighbors used persimmons to lure him into a crate so Karen could pick him up. He lives with three of his kind, all rescued from Brother Wolf in Asheville, where they were surrendered when they didn’t turn out to be the kind of petite pot-bellied pigs folks like to walk on leashes. Olive, Bubbles and Margaret root and slop in their red clay wallow, and Karen laughs. “They should be out there, doing that,” she says, “not living in someone’s house.”
In many, many ways, that’s the core philosophy here at Strawberry Fields: that there are things we’re meant to do, ways we’re meant to be, and the preserve came about through following that spirit. Karen says, “I’m the girl at the party who’s stroking the dog instead of talking to people.” She cannot bear to think about animals being mistreated. Her goats, Bob and Sadie, she bought off Craigslist; her four ducks, who’d spent their whole lives previously caged in a chicken coop, came from Facebook contacts. They now wander the property, and splash in the blue plastic wading pool. Are there risks of predators? Yes. The question seems to be which is worse.
And how much good freedom might bring.
The summer of 2015, the same summer Karen and her family moved to Strawberry Fields, she was in the audience for The Greenville News community forum on “Unseen Greenville,” a discussion about the underprivileged, often unnoticed, population in our midst. Karen began thinking about the kids growing up without access to open spaces, nature, animals and dirt. She thought of her own childhood near Liverpool, how narrowly she once saw the world around her. “It resonated with me,” she says of the stories told at the forum. “That’s how I felt as a kid.”
And so she began to imagine Strawberry Fields might be part of the solution. “Not just some animals in my back garden,” she says, laughing. She’s putting plans in place to host groups of inner city kids at the sanctuary, the same groups several times throughout the year. They can learn about the animals, of course, but also record what changes, the differences in the insects and the trees, the vegetables they planted when they visited before. “I would like kids to learn while they’re here they can speak up for themselves, get to know their own voices,” she says.
It hasn’t been an easy, or cheap. The sanctuary accepts donations for animal feed and welcomes volunteers, but it’s a lot of work. What keeps her going?
She turns again to kids, her hopes to make their lives better, to current events and larger conversations. She speaks of the tragic police shooting in Greenville where Deontea Mackey shot Officer Allan Jacobs and then turned his gun on himself. “It’s what made me want to start with third grade kids,” she says. “If he’d had some ownership of something. Something his.”
Something like what her animals find at Strawberry Fields: a sense of purpose and place.
“I think when you love it,” she says, “it doesn’t seem hard.”
Strawberry Fields Sanctuary
206 Sarah Stroll Place