New Tech to Reduce Laboratory Animal Testing

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory show off an iCHIP device which will hopefully one day replace animal testing in the pharmaceuticals industry.  Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory show off an iCHIP device which will hopefully one day replace animal testing in the pharmaceuticals industry.  Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL

In this feature, we wanted to share with our supporters an interesting technology we have come across in the last year.  This new technology aims to help out many of the animals that go largely un-noticed by the public as part of pharmaceutical and toxic substance research by reducing or even possibly eliminating the need for animal testing.

In 2015 in the US alone, over 760,000[Ref. 1] animals were used in laboratories across the country for testing a host of things from pharmaceuticals to cosmetics.  While this number may seem staggering, it should be noted that it does not even account for rats, mice, birds, and fish.  Statistics for the total number of these other animals involved in laboratory testing are not available as they are unfortunately not included under the Animal Welfare Act, but it is fair to say their inclusion in the total figure would push it significantly higher.  Animals that were included in this figure include pigs, sheep, dogs, cats, and (non-human) primates just to name a few. 

Enter Elizabeth Wheeler, Principle Investigator at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory leading a research team devoted to developing the iCHIP [Ref. 2] (short for ‘in-vitro Chip-based Human Investigational Platform.’)  While the concept of a “lab on a chip” takes its roots from micro-manufacturing processes originating out of the advent of semiconductor industry, the heart of the technology was first developed out of Stanford in 1979 in the form of a gas chromatograph (a specialized piece of equipment for analyzing chemical compounds.)

The iCHIP offers several advantages in the way it couples many different types of cells on a single test medium.  This new approach allows the iCHIP to provide a more faithful representation of how different systems of the human body would interact under the influence of different pharmaceuticals and toxins.  This new advance in testing poses both an ethical as well as a technological advantage and perhaps one day a cost advantage to the industry at large.  These advances along with positive policy shifts are key to moving the industry into a new era where animal testing is a thing of the past.

We at Sweet Farm are very excited about this new piece of technology and look forward to the continued advances in this area of science that provides two-fold benefit of more faithful testing for application to humans while providing an alternate means to animal testing.



[1] 2015 USDA Annual Report on Animal Usage.  USDA Research Facility Annual Reports.

[2] Human-on-a-chip’ could replace animal testing.

A Story of Sweet Farm Love

During the height of the 2016 storm season, a call to Sweet Farm regarding a 32 year old stallion named Sturgis spurred us into action. Along the coast of California, extended rains can often lead to muddy and dangerous conditions. In the case of Sturgis, being a stallion left him with few options with regards to going out into the dry pastures where the mares were kept.

Additionally, rehoming Sturgis to a dedicated equine rescue proved all but impossible as they have limited or no room for Stallions amoung their mares. Sturgis joined Sweet Farm and after a few months of dedicated medical care he's now looking healthier than ever.

A few months later in February of 2016, Sweet Farm became aware of a steer by the name of Gizmo who was raised by a local family as part of the 4-H program. Being a steer, he was destined to a fate of being sold at auction for slaughter. A last ditch effort by the supporters of Sweet Farm raised the funds necessary to spare Gizmo from this ultimate end and bring him to the farm to live out his days.

Since joining Sweet Farm, Gizmo and Sturgis have quickly grown attached to each other as both are large herd animals. Chasing each other around the pastures like a couple of 1000lb puppies, bathing each other, or taking up shelter together on a rainy day are just some of the many ways these two show their interspecies friendship on a daily basis.

Winter Damage to the Sweet Farm Barn

old_barn_2 copy.jpg

This Winter, Northern California has been hit with huge rain storms. These storms have returned much needed water to the area, for which we are all grateful. Unfortunately, the strong winds and blowing rain have damaged our old barn.

The Sweet Farm barn has stood on this property since the 1850s. It's original use was for cattle, when the property was a dairy. Since then, it's fallen empty and into disrepair, useful only for basic storage. When we purchased the farm in 2016, we braced the structure in hopes of preserving it. But even with our bracing the recent storms have caused the front corner of the barn to collapse. 

Our goal is to someday soon build a new barn for Sweet Farm, that will serve as the hub for our agriculture programs. In the meantime, we will continue to admire and preserve it's beauty as best we can.

Planning for Spring

Sweet Farm has dedicated a portion of our land to the growing of heirloom fruits and vegetables. We believe its important for people to understand where their food comes from, across both plants and animals. Just like the animals harmed by factor farming, the factory farming of crops has resulted in a decrease in the variety and quality of the food we eat, and the loss of some of the most beautiful types of plants. 

While it's currently rainy and cold in Northern California, this January the Sweet Farm team has begun starting seeds under our barn grow light setup. So far we've planted a selection of Sweet Peas and Zinnias, as well as early starts of tomatoes and peppers. 

This year we are partnering with Jay's Sober Living house - a Bay Area organization that helps youth and young adults build new skills and lives while recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. The group for Jay's will be joining us starting in February to prepare the fields for planting and get our little starters into the ground. We're looking forward to working with them to create a positive agricultural impact.

The fruits of this labor will be available to Sweet Farm visitors at our open houses this spring. Keep an eye on our website and Facebook page for upcoming Open House dates!

Sweet Farm in the News

Recently, Sweet Farm has received some fantastic news coverage. Our local paper, The Mercury News, and the CBS Channel 5 News both featured the farm. We even made it all the way to the CBS National News website! 

We are incredibly honored by the coverage and excited to have our message and our animal stories reach a larger audience. Sweet Farm exists because of the support and donations of our community and we couldn't do our lifesaving work without you. We had an amazing first year in 2016 and are looking forward to seeing what 2017 brings!

Check out our coverage below:

Sweet Farm on Channel 5 News

Sweet Farm in Mercury News

Sweet Farm is SFist

2016 Review & Wrap-Up

This year was a huge one for Sweet Farm! We're so excited about the progress the organization has made and the interest & impact we are starting to see in our local community. Sweet Farm exists solely from the support and dedication of it's volunteers, donors and community and we're excited to review with you our progress so far!

  • New Farm Infrastructure to Support Animal Rescue: During 2016, we put serious effort into retrofitting an aging horse farm into a facility that could support the rescue and rehabilitation of different types of farm animals. We replaced over 1.25 miles of fencing and began work to upgrade an existing horse barn into a more appropriate and updated home for the animals. We also added three large mobile chicken coops that will allow us to house up to 100 rescued birds on their 10,000 square foot chicken yard (with three playgrounds).
  • Our First Farm Animal Rescues: During 2016, we rescued an elderly stallion, a 2 year old steer, 3 sheep, 3 goats and 47 chickens. Each one of these rescues was special and important, both because it enabled these animals to live better, healthier lives while ensuring individual care for the animals and responsible stewardship of the land. With the help of our supporters, Sweet Farm is excited to help many more animals in 2017, both directly at Sweet Farm and through a number of sanctuaries in our network.
  • A Growing Community: As of this blog post we have surpassed 25,000 followers on Facebook. This growing community has been us confidence that our message is being heard and that we can have a positive impact with our message. In addition to online, we've made many amazing connections in our local community. Our base of volunteers is actively growing, we've hosted our first open house events & we've given tons of personalized tours to guests - each one helping us connect people to the lives and experiences of farm animals.
  • An Improved Technology Infrastructure: For starters, we launched this new website! With the help of some amazing volunteers we've improved our ability to connect to the larger world through technology which will help us achieve maximum impact in 2017. We're also much more streamlined in our ability to track the progress of our organization.
  • An Incredible Board of Directors: In 2016, Sweet Farm Foundation worked hard to find talented people to join the board of directors and help guide the organization in 2017.  With their wide range of skills and help, along with our wonderful supporters, Sweet Farm is ready to grow and expand its programs and messaging.

We are looking forward to 2017, and we hope you all are too!