Zen Donkey Farms — known for its raw, organic, cold-pressed juices available through home delivery — is expanding while continuing its mission of rescuing donkeys and bringing donkey-facilitated wellness programs to Kansas City, said co-founder Kate Barker.
The purpose-driven wellness business — which also offers plant-based mylks, hemp protein superfoods, CBD skin care products, and farm experiences with rescue donkeys — recently moved into a larger production facility in Lone Jack, Missouri, and just last month, launched a line of sparkling waters.
Barker — who began Zen Donkey Farms in 2018 with her husband — said it feels amazing to be using the new location, which has been a couple of years in the making.
“These types of projects never unfold the way you really think they will,” she continued. “So there were a lot of just unexpected things — good and bad — that popped up throughout the process. Now I’m just really excited to be physically in the space.”
The 4,000-square foot building — which is about a 10-minute drive from the couple’s six rescue donkeys (Olive, Pickle, Earl, Elliot, Pico, and Annie) — is an upgrade from the commercial kitchen space in their barn, Barker noted.
“This is where all the product magic will happen,” she explained. “We are currently juicing in this facility and making our sparkling waters. We will be expanding, getting some new equipment and actually turning the reception into more production space at some point because we’re just running out of room already. And we’ll be developing more canned products.”
The sparkling waters — made with Zen Donkey Farms’ cold-pressed juice and launched in July with a tart lemon lime flavor — are the first beverage product that will reach more people geographically, she said, noting the waters have a 90-day shelf life thanks to the product’s carbonation. The business is testing a grapefruit flavor now and plans to release more citrus flavors this summer, with more “funky” flavors coming in the fall.
“The juices are amazing and very popular locally, but they have a five-day shelf life and can’t be shipped beyond the KC area,” continued Barker, who teased the possibility of canned cocktails and other more scalable beverages through a sister brand in the near future. “A lot of people want to support us who are in Kansas City, but just beyond our delivery zone, or they don’t make it to the farmers market (Overland Park, Brookside, and Lee’s Summit), or to see any of our partners. So the sparkling waters will pioneer our ability to expand our beverage business beyond those boundaries, an exciting endeavor that will allow more people to enjoy our products.”
Zen Donkey Farms recently partnered with local professional soccer player Dániel Sallói in releasing the sparkling waters. The sale of those special edition cans will go to support youth mental health initiatives.
“We’ll be developing some really amazing programs with Dániel through our product to help drive awareness around mental health and help connect more youth in the community to the donkeys and just animal-assisted wellness in general,” she added.
Healthy beverages — with no artificial preservatives, added sugars, fillers, high pressure processing, freezing, or pasteurization and flavors like Bray of Sunshine, Paradise, and Donkey Dreams — are the focus of Zen Donkey Farms, Barker noted, but the brand offers other products that support the wellbeing of the mind, body, and soul. It has several hemp-based products, including protein superfoods and cannabinoid-rich skincare creams and oils.
“We love hemp,” said Barker, who mentioned potentially adding ingestible CBD products and beverages. “It’s an incredible ingredient for calming naturally. So we’ll definitely be leaning into that in the next couple of years.”
The skincare products might seem random, she continued, but they actually tie back to the brand’s mission of rescuing and protecting donkeys.
“Two million — with numbers rising — donkeys are killed annually for their skins, which are boiled into an ingredient that’s used in cosmetics and luxury skin creams,” she explained. “Our vegan skincare line is in response to this cruel industry as a way to help spread awareness about the issue donkeys are facing while promoting our belief that donkeys are more therapeutic alive, not in a jar.”
Zen Donkey also offers several farm experiences, Barker shared, which allow community members to connect with the donkeys and nature as a form of stress relief. Donkey meet-and-greets, farm yoga, and private donkey-facilitated Reiki healing sessions, are among the experiences with more being added soon.
“Donkeys just have this really unique way of connecting with people,” she said. “They’re essentially, I think, the most misunderstood animal in the animal kingdom. And it makes no sense because they’re highly intelligent, incredibly zen-like therapeutic beings.”
Before rescuing donkeys, Barker spent 20 years as an equine-assisted therapy volunteer.
“I’ve had horses my whole life,” she continued. “I love horses, but I had no idea how smart and just sentient and empathetic donkeys are. So they really are incredibly healing to spend time with — even just sitting on a bucket next to one of our donkeys.”
Their calm, in-the-shadows demeanor might cover their need for help, she noted.
“Horses are like the valiant, gallant steed; they’re always in the spotlight,” she added. “But the donkeys are always just this sort of misunderstood, unseen, unheard beast of burden. They’re just incredible and they helped us build this country. They were domesticated 3,000 years before horses, yet they get sort of the short end of the stick and they never get to be in the spotlight. But I think they’re just incredible for helping humans and connecting with us and also being companions for other animals.”
On Sept. 30, community members will get the opportunity to meet the Zen Donkey Farms donkeys during the annual Dining for Donkeys event, Barker shared. A farm-to-table, organic, plant-based dinner with fresh cocktails/mocktails, live music, and a fireside dessert are planned.
“That’s our favorite night of the year,” she added. “We’ll be hosting it actually this year here in our new location, which will be fun.”
The proceeds from the event will go to the couple’s nonprofit — Zen Donkey Experience, which they launched in 2020 — with the goal of building a new barn and facility on the same property as their new production space, she said.
“We would build a barn where people can come have the experiences and it’s weather agnostic,” she explained. “Right now, we are totally at the mercy of Mother Nature. If it rains or if it’s too hot, a lot of the people that come visit the donkeys can’t necessarily handle extreme heat and extreme temperatures. So we need that weather-agnostic facility that’s just a safe experience for everybody.”
On that same property, she is hoping to build up the garden space, Barker noted, so they can grow the ingredients used in their juices.
“Within our new space, we’ll produce the amazing products that support the therapeutic experiences that will eventually happen right up the hill from us, when we’re able to expand our donkey-facilitated healing program” she continued. “We hope to invite customers to enjoy the farm, pick their own produce, and juice it in our facility, so they can feel more connected to the products they’re drinking. They can enjoy a nice beverage and visit the donkeys that those same products support — it’s a virtuous cycle.”
The long-term goal, she shared, is also to have a satellite donkey sanctuary near the farm she grew up on about two hours from their current location. Barker would like to have veterinarians and other qualified staff members who could be first on site to rescue donkeys and care for them with the goal of an adoption program.
“Our long-term vision includes educating people about proper donkey care and facilitating adoption into loving homes,” she added. “Eventually the donkeys that we think would fit well into wellness program may rotate up to the KC area to help humans in need. We envision our rescue expanding significantly to 80-100 donkeys as a goal in the coming years.”
Watch a video about Zen Donkey Farms below — produced by Flatland, one of Startland News’ fellow Kansas City Media Collective members. Click here to see Flatland’s original coverage.