In April, I took my two best boys to Gardner Village for a photoshoot. It was Sunday so pretty much deserted save a rather aggressive duck who didn’t want to abandon his post on a bridge I wanted to use. We settled for a bench on the other side of the water because…birds.
Fun fact: after being attacked by a flock of pelicans while living in Florida, I’ve since been low-key scared of all birds. Beaks, man!

After wrapping things up we head back to the car and I got my dog, Milo loaded in. I had just started to get my human boy into his car seat when we hear the melodic tunes of a country song being sung by a deep voice, accompanied by the rhythmic clip-clopping of horse hooves. My son, Rowan, is staring in fascination and frozen to his spot as he watches this man dressed in a plaid shirt, overalls and cowboy hat leading a pony with a little boy atop it across the parking lot.

Seeing how riveted my son is and how his little jaw is basically sitting in his own lap, the man leads the pony right over to us, continuing to sing his tune, and lets Rowan pet the pony right from his car seat. .

We get to talking and I learn his name is Farmer Gil. He invites us over to the small working farm at the entrance of Gardner Village. He leads my son around and introduces him to every animal. Rowan got to hold rabbits, pet an alpaca and feed the new lambs. After all of that, Farmer Gil asked if he wanted to ride the pony. He loaded Ro up onto the horse and we clip clopped our way back to the car. My son was in heaven and couldn’t stop talking about it for the next several days.

Upon returning to the farm a couple of weeks later to talk more to Farmer Gil and photograph the animals, I learned that The Farm isn’t actually a petting zoo as I’d thought. It’s a small working farm housing rescued animals that otherwise would have nowhere to go. These abused or orphaned animals are loved and cared for by Farmer Gil and his small staff. I tagged along while he fed the animals and chatted with his employee that was there at the time. There was an orphaned lamb that wasn’t doing too well and it had become apparent to Gil that it wouldn’t make it through the night. His assistant manager, Courtney, bundled the sweet baby in a blanket and sat down to hold and comfort him during his last day on earth. It was all I could do to hold back the tears. If love alone could pay for and run this farm, it would be dripping in dolla dolla bills y’all. As it is, they’re a non-profit who rely on donations and volunteers to keep it up and running.

Donations help to feed, house, care for and provide medical attention to all of the wonderful rescues. Much of their support comes from their dedicated volunteers. If you’d like to know how to contribute, your time, materials, and financial help are greatly appreciated. You can contact staff here to find out how to apply. Children under the age of 12 can volunteer when accompanied by a parent. Older children and adults are also welcome! If you’d like to make a monetary donation, you can do that here.

It was such an honor getting to spend this time with Farmer Gil and Courtney. It helped restore my faith in humanity and it was an incredible reminder that there are people doing amazing things behind the scenes and getting zero credit or acknowledgement for it, nor are they seeking it. There is tenderness and an emanating love when Gil talks to and about the animals and his volunteers and employees. There is no glory or money in what he’s doing.

“Farmer Gil, a.k.a. Russ Murdock, has always loved animals. Because of an abusive childhood he was drawn to caring for animals, especially those that had been abused. Animals are very non-judgmental and are quick to recognize and respond to kind and loving hearts. Approximately eight years ago he purchased a small farm in northern Utah and began rescuing abused horses and orphaned livestock. This hobby farm soon became his healing passion. Helping animals trust humans and experience kindness became a way he could heal from the painful childhood memories. It wasn’t long until other people learned of this safe haven and began volunteering around the farm.

Russ was content being a single dad until a kindhearted Texas cowgirl caught his eye. However, he was determined to never “fall in love” again (because it didn’t work out too well before). As their friendship began to blossom, he still refused to sign any correspondence; “Love, Russ” instead choosing to sign letters ; “Growing in love, …”. Eventually the nickname G.i.l. (Growing in love) stuck. For those who truly know him, this new name is very apropos, because of the love he freely gives to the people and animals he is surrounded by.”

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