Abby Hopp, left, converses with her friend, Jessica Fenske, while the two package fresh cheese curds while working at Kappers Big Red Barn Dairy just outside of Chatfield.
Abby Hopp, left, converses with her friend, Jessica Fenske, while the two package fresh cheese curds while working at Kappers Big Red Barn Dairy just outside of Chatfield.

Abby Hopp has a cow, man, and that’s just the beginning.

“My cows are my friends, my passion, my life,” she said. “They have taught me compassion, work ethic and a dream for my future. I honestly believe that if you love what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. And that is exactly what I’m doing.”

A recent Chatfield High School graduate, Hopp has a great affection for bovines and all that the dairy industry means to her.

Hopp, who lives on Sass Farms east of Chatfield – owned by Rahn Sass and where her father, Doug, is herdsman, continued, “I honestly cannot imagine a life without the farm. It has made me who I am. I have lived on Sass Farms since I was 7 years old, or about 11 years now. My dad has been the herdsman there longer than that. We milk about 230 cows on average, and we have a double-eight parlor.”

She elaborated on her interest in dairy as she grew up on the farm and how she explored it through FFA and 4-H as a member of the Root River Rabbits 4-H Club.

“I have been an active member in the FFA since seventh grade. I just recently graduated. However, I am still able to participate in FFA until I am 21,” she explained. “I will definitely be doing so. Also, I have been in 4-H since kindergarten. I have been showing dairy since second grade, been active in dairy judging since third grade and in dairy quiz bowl from fourth to 11th grade.”

Home and organizations aren’t the only places where Hopp works with dairy cows, however, as she’s employed at Kappers Big Red Barn, a cow-to-consumer milk operation owned by Bob and Jeanette Kappers of Chatfield.

“I have been working at Kappers Big Red Barn since October 2013,” she said. “We have always been good friends with the Kappers family. When I was finally old enough to work, I started picking up shifts, one job at a time. At Kappers, I help with the bottling process, deliver milk to area businesses, pack route and market coolers, clean and sanitize empty bottles, make cheese curds and ice cream and sell product at the farmers’ markets. Kappers uses the milk directly from their cows to make fresh skim, one percent, two percent, whole, cream and chocolate milk. We also use that milk to make ice cream and cheese curds right on the farm. Working at Kappers has given me a chance to expand my dairy knowledge, from farm to table. I truly have an understanding of all aspects of the dairy industry.”

Being employed by dairy producers with whom she works directly has been beneficial to her future and also to the dairy industry.

“Family farming is a very important aspect of farming. So much knowledge and skills are passed down from one generation to another,” Hopp said. “The amount of passion the Kapperses have for what they do is incredible! They are truly a family farm, working their very hardest to provide the community with a wholesome, healthy product. Bob and Jeanette Kappers give so much back to the community, and I am proud to be a part of that.”

The Kapperses take their products to farmers markets in St. Paul, the Rochester Downtown Market, the Winona farmers market, Thursdays on First and Third and also sell from their sales room off the barn at home in Chatfield.

Hopp is a part of their staff, but she’s also out and about at the markets, promoting their products and the dairy industry.

“People at the market often call me Bob and Jeanette’s daughter. Most of the time, I just roll with it because they treat me like family. Bob and Jeanette are fantastic role models for both me and all the others associated with their farm,” she added. “They love what they do and they love their community. The time they give to the milk plant and the farm is incredible, but they still have time to give back to their community.”

Even though she’d love to stay on, Hopp hasn’t decided whether she’ll be able to return to Kappers Big Red Barn once she starts college this fall, but she knows that the experience she’s gained will be very valuable in the continuation of her agricultural education.

“I haven’t decided yet. This all depends on internships and other opportunities,” she said. “I will definitely be more than willing to help out whenever needed. Dairy is a huge part of my life. I definitely have a passion for agriculture. Farming has given me a work ethic and a love for something so real! Because of dairy farming and working in dairy, I have a purpose and a goal in life.”

Hopp concluded by sharing what the dairy industry means to farmers and what it does for their families and those who work for them.

“Dairy farmers love what they do and they work at it with all their heart,” she said. “The love and respect they have for their cows is one of the strongest bonds. And it’s not just that – dairy farming is a family tradition of gifts and knowledge gained from one generation to the next. It’s not just a job. It’s a way of life!”