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Emma Hoel, co-founder of Peacefield, feeding Bernadette, one of the chickens living at Peacefield.

John and Emma Hoel only had three goals: to save animals, to inspire people and to avoid putting on a winter coat again.

That’s what led the Minnesota couple to open up Peacefield, a 30-acre nonprofit farm sanctuary located in Newberry, Florida, right outside of Gainesville.

The Hoels founded Peacefield with the goal not only to save animals but to promote a whole food, plant-based diet. More than two months after opening the farm on April 20, they hosted their first plant-based cooking class on Sunday.

“It seemed like a cool agricultural community but also with a progressive vibe because of the university,” said John Hoel, co-founder of Peacefield. “It seemed like a perfect fit.”

A whole food, plant-based diet is made from vegetables, grains, fruits and nuts, John said. While a vegan diet also excludes animal products, a vegan can still eat unhealthy processed food. A whole food, plant-based diet does not.

This diet still allows for one to obtain their nutritional needs while not harming animals, John said.

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John Hoel, co-founder of Peacefield, sitting down on their 30-acre farm with their newly rescued rooster and their 11-year old Dalmatian, Kaiser.

 

On Sunday night, the Hoels’ rescue animals — Toby, a miniature pig; seven chickens; two roosters and dogs Kaiser and Judy — greeted guests during a farm tour. The couple then opened up their home to teach the 16 guests how to cook four meals, all vegan.

Guests learned how to make a protein-filled oatmeal with cacao powder and goji berries, a cauliflower cashew queso, a mock tuna salad made from chickpeas and a sweet potato Buddha bowl.

Michaela Colin, a 19-year-old Santa Fe psychology sophomore, said she attended the class to learn how to make some quick vegan meals.

“I believe what they are doing can change a lot of peoples’ mindsets and open their eyes to things they were previously unaware of,” Colin said.

The Hoels became vegan three years ago to improve their health and help animals, but it wasn’t until John lost his grandmother to dementia that they thought of opening Peacefield.

Hoel said the loss took a toll on his mother, Kathy. Inspired by her son and Emma’s lifestyle, Kathy Hoel, 60, decided to try the whole food, plant-based diet. She lost over 50 pounds, no longer needs her allergy and cholesterol medications and completed six marathons.

“Seeing her rebound after losing my grandmother and going whole food, plant-based, we knew we had to tell everyone,” John said.

With Peacefield, the Hoels hope the promotion of a whole food plant-based diet will help not only the community but also the animals.

“By eliminating animal products from our diet, we can save the animals, our health and the planet,” John Hoel said. “The ultimate win-win-win.”

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Toby, 2-year-old Potbelly pig, often referred to as a “mini pig” enjoying the afternoon at his new home in Peacefield. Toby was neglected in a confined space before a local animal rights activist brought him to Peacefield where he has acres to explore, friends to keep him company and lots of love.

The Hoels believe even one person who switches from a meat-based diet could have the ability to save thousands of animals during their lifetime, which is why they want to educate the public on the importance of eating whole food, plant-based meals.

The Hoels plan to host more cooking classes in exchange for a $30 donation to continue rescuing animals.

Emma was a pediatric nurse but now focuses on the farm full-time. John creates wedding films to help out the farm. The couple also sells merchandise online and accepts donations.

Peacefield is looking to grow with the help of volunteers to maintain the farm and socialize the animals. The Hoels plan to open a communal garden soon that will allow anyone to grow vegetables, fruits or plants of their own.

“The main goal is to pass on this gift of a whole food, plant-based diet, which saved my mom,” John Hoel said. “It is to uplift people in their health.”