Interview with Patricia Smuga Co-founder of Cici Life Farm Sanctuary

Paula Smuga of Cici Life Farm Sanctuary


Creamy Cauliflower Mac and Cheese

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Patricia Smuga co-founder of Cici Life Farm Sanctuary, a non-profit family-run farm animal rescue and sanctuary located on 3 mountain acres in the Rockies of B.C. Patricia runs the sanctuary with her husband Ernest while raising their three children. This amazing couple did what many of us wish about and made it a reality, and their story is truly inspiring. Following the interview, check out one of Patricia’s favourite personal recipes for Creamy Cauliflower Mac and Cheese.


Tell us about Cici Life Farm Sanctuary. How did it all begin?

The idea of starting a farm sanctuary had been floating around in my mind for the past few years. I’ve been to quite a few farm sanctuaries and I absolutely loved interacting with the animals. Farm sanctuaries to me are like a beacon of hope when you’re surrounded by so much darkness and pain knowing what happens to billions of animals every single day. So in a way, I had a very selfish reason for wanting to start the sanctuary. I needed to have something tangible for those times when the world just seemed too dark and hopeless. To see these animals physically in front of me and know that they are alive and happy because of what I am doing. To have that sense of control when the bigger picture feels so completely out of my control.

So last year around this time we were renting a house on Pender Island and found ourselves at a crossroads as our lease was coming up. We knew we could either invest in a property and start a sanctuary or we could use the savings and move to Costa Rica for a while. As tempting as the latter idea was (I am a complete gypsy at heart, traveling and moving around has been a huge part of my life) I knew it wouldn’t be meaningful enough.

One day I found an ad on the internet about a lady who had gotten 3 baby chicks a few days earlier only to find out that her landlord wouldn’t let her keep them in her basement and she needed a home for them ASAP. I knew that if we took those chicks, our decision would be finalized and so the next day I jumped on the ferry and came home with 3 baby chicks. Fast forward to June of 2017 and we moved into our new property and officially started the farm sanctuary here in the Kootenays.

The name of the sanctuary is a way for me to remember and honour my mom who passed away when I was young. Her name was Cecilia, and Cici was her nickname. She was a lot like me and I’m sure she would have been so proud of our work.


What were some of the challenges you faced?

In terms of challenges, there have been tons. Neither Ernest nor I have had any experience in farming or farm animals, so it’s all been a learning curve for us. A lot of research goes into the care of our animals but of course, first hand experience is essential.

You can read about what to feed an animal online but you can only learn how to connect with and form a relationship with them through experience. A lot of animals come with a bad history and need to learn how to trust humans again. They each have their own personalities, their own quirks and just like humans need to be recognized as unique individuals.

Besides all of that, there are of course the challenges of having enough money to care for each animal, the constant need for fundraising or volunteers, and one of the hardest in my opinion of being able to say no to taking in new animals when there just isn’t the capacity/funding. This is always a hard one for me because if it was up to me I would take in every single animal out there without blinking an eye. However, I’ve had to say no to many because we just don’t have the funds or the manpower and knowing that those animals are probably dead now does put a lot of guilt on my conscience.


Are there any memorable moments that stand out as a result of starting the sanctuary? 

The feedback has been pretty incredible so far. To see how many people follow our journey and truly care and love these animals from afar is unbelievable. We’ve had some incredible volunteers along the way as well that have dedicated their time to helping us build a new barn or other structures. I’ve also had 2 amazing people that have helped me with one of our hardest rescues, Jimmy, who has had to travel for vet care and surgeries nearly a dozen times. His vet is 4 hours away so it was always a tough journey for me and I couldn’t have done it without their help.

Jimmy was by far our most memorable rescue. Not only does he stand as an ambassador for the dairy industry (he was a male calf rescued from a local, organic, grass-fed, family run farm in the Kootenays) but his journey to recovery has been the most rewarding thing we’ve done so far. He was only 10 days old when we took him from the dairy farm and had an untreated wound on his hind leg that had reached into his bone. A few days more and he would have been dead. Due to the nerve damage in his hind leg, he wasn’t able to walk on it at all and the first 3 vets we saw all advised us to have him euthanized.

Jimmy had such a will to live even through all of his pain, that it was never an option for us. Thousands of dollars, hours of wound care every day for 3 months straight, and all the long vet trips went into his recovery and as of this past Christmas he has been walking normally and on his own for the first time in his life.

This past weekend in Vancouver I met an incredible woman who told me that his story was the reason she went vegan and that was by far one of the greatest moments in this journey. Reaching people with our animals’ stories is exactly what we are trying to do.

I needed to have something tangible for those times when the world just seemed too dark and hopeless. To see these animals physically in front of me and know that they are alive and happy because of what I am doing.

Tell us about your journey to becoming vegan?

My journey to veganism was a slow and gradual one. After watching Food Inc almost 9 years ago, I had my first realization of where my food came from and decided to stop eating meat. Somehow the reality of the whole dairy industry didn’t sink in until about 4 years ago. I don’t remember the exact moment or documentary that sealed the deal for me, but I do remember watching a youtube video of a dairy cow crying and chasing after her baby as it was being taken away. That was a moment that really shook me, especially as a mother, and I probably spent a good week like a complete wreck either crying or hating everyone that drank milk and tore these families apart. So officially I’ve been vegan for 4 years now and so has our entire family, including our 4 dogs.


You are a superwoman also raising children while saving animals. How has sanctuary life changed day-to-day life?  

Sanctuary life has definitely complicated regular home life a lot. There is at least an hour or two per day of extra work that goes into daily chores, plus the never-ending need to fix and build and clean things that are constantly coming up and not to mention the social media aspect, the fundraising, networking and working on future goals. I am very lucky that Ernest and I are great at co-parenting as well as running the sanctuary together.

We each have our own roles, visions and goals, and we balance our work equally between the two of us. Our kids are all vegan and have grown up with the knowledge of where their food comes from and what happens to these animals. Being able to connect and form friendships with their own animals on the farm only serves to strengthen their bonds to all living beings. Raising compassionate children is one of the most important goals in my opinion.


What is the vegan community like in Nelson?

The vegan community in Nelson, and the Kootenays in general, is growing exponentially. Since we’ve moved here in June, 3 new fully vegan restaurants have opened and a vegan facebook group has started and already grown to 150 members. Most restaurants and cafes have tons of vegan options as well and the grocery stores carry a huge variety of vegan products that are not easily found in any other small towns. I’ve found the community here to be extremely open, welcoming and conscious. I believe it’s only going to keep growing and expanding.


Cici Life Sanctuary is just in its first year. Can you share any future plans, hopes or dreams for the sanctuary?

We have tons of plans and goals for the future. My personal one for this year is to do more outreach, more direct activism and public speaking. I’m a firm believer in conscious activism and I think it’s crucial for the vegan movement to be directly correlated to the conscious movement. We need to connect with people on a conscious level in order to educate or be able to facilitate any real change. And for that to happen, we need to be conscious ourselves. To speak from a place of authenticity and with pure intentions. It always starts within. For the sanctuary itself, we want to turn it into a community center where people can come and spend the weekend, learn about plant-based eating and connect with the animals. Also, a place where animal lovers can come and find peace knowing that these animals are safe and loved. We would like to eventually set up a kids’ camp as well, where kids can spend a week learning how to care for animals and how to eat and lead a more compassionate lifestyle. I’m sure as we continue to grow, more and more ideas will come up and I’m very excited to see where it will all lead.


How can people help or get involved?

There are endless ways to help. Directly, we could always use volunteers and funds. More information for sponsoring animals, donating or volunteering can be found on our website. Of course, this isn’t the only way to help. In the big picture, this isn’t about us or the 44 animals that live on our sanctuary, It is about the whole world, the animals that are slaughtered globally each day, and it’s about creating a more compassionate and loving planet for everyone. If one person goes vegan or vegetarian or even eats less animals products, I consider that more beneficial to my life’s work than a monetary donation.



Thank you so much to Patricia for answering sharing her story and recipe! To those who want to learn more about Cici Life Farm Sanctuary you can visit their website at or connect with them online: Instagram| Facebook


Creamy Cauliflower Mac and Cheese


  • 450 g of boiled brown rice pasta (or any type of pasta you choose)
  • 1.5 cups organic firm tofu
  • 1.5 cups diced cauliflower
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp mustard
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp of salt (feel free to adjust based on taste preference)
  • 1 tbsp tamarind
  • 1.5 tsp turmeric



While the noodles are boiling you can start making the sauce. Simply place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend WELL. The tamarind especially can take a bit of time to incorporate properly. The sauce will be a big tangy raw but the taste will change once you cook it. After draining the noodles, return to pot and add the sauce cooking on low heat for a few minutes. Top with freshly ground pepper, homemade vegan parmesan, hemp hearts or extra nutritional yeast and enjoy!

Nia’s notes: You may like to add 1/4 to 1/2 cup soy or almond milk to the sauce as needed for consistency


Have any comments or questions? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below![/panel]


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