By Amy Brase
Between the covers of classic children’s books, happy farm animals frolic and graze on endless acres of rolling green hills. The idyllic scenes comfort us into believing that everything is just as it should be.
But, reality is not always so beautiful. For some farm animals, their existence is anything but happy. This reality is what has driven Kelly Tope to dream of providing a haven for animals rescued from cruelty situations.
On a 79-acre farm in Lindstrom, Minn., Kelly has founded a sanctuary called Farmaste (farmaste.org), where farmed animals find zen living as someone, not something.
Facing the Facts
The rise of factory farms has led to a system in which efficiency trumps welfare. Animals are often treated like products on an assembly line.
According to the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), over 99 percent of farm animals in the U.S. are raised on factory farms. This may mean never feeling the sun on their backs or being able to fully extend their limbs or flap their wings.
Cramped conditions and physical alterations are just a few of the common hardships that farm animals may suffer. But, there’s a degree of abuse and neglect that inspires people like Kelly Tope to step forward.
“Cruelty to animals is wrong,” says Kelly. “I want to take a few of them out of a bad situation.”
The Making of a Rescuer
As a child, it was not uncommon for Kelly to arrive late to family events because she was rescuing a turtle, bird or even herding cows off the road.
“I was surrounded by animals,” she says. “My parents allowed us to keep a lot of them around: dogs, cats, salamanders, frogs. There were a lot of opportunities because of where we lived in Stillwater. As I grew older, I remember driving by farmland and wanting to take pictures of cows out in the pastures. I’ve always just wanted to be with them and enjoy them.”
Kelly spent over 20 years recruiting new franchises for numerous brands but ultimately decided that she would be happier working from home as an executive recruiter. It was a combination of her business experience and passion for animals that led Kelly to her dream of Farmaste.
“There are a lot of dog and cat rescues out there, but the Midwest is severely lacking in farm animal sanctuaries. The east and west coasts are blanketed with them. I’ve always been aware of the plight of food animals and became fully vegan two-and-a-half years ago. But it wasn’t until our dog became very ill and required a lot of medicine, wound care and vet visits that I realized that I want to take care of animals and be on this side of it.”
A Slice of Heaven
Kelly’s vision for Farmaste mirrors the stereotypical images we have of happy farm animals grazing, pecking and living out their lives in peace. It’s her way of pushing back against the societal belief that animals are products instead of living beings.
“It’s not meant to be disrespectful to farmers,” says Kelly. “My grandfather was a farmer and they have a tremendously difficult job.”
Farmaste will be a place for rescued animals to receive necessary medical care and attention, whether it’s medication, an amputation, prosthesis or even just space to heal.
One couple generously donated the land for Farmaste. Many other volunteers have stepped forward to help, but fundraising is the hardest part. Fencing was installed in May and there’s hope of building a welcome center. A more immediate goal is to install a well.
“This isn’t about me,” says Kelly, whose 15-year-old daughter is just as compassionate and devoted to the mission as she is. “It’s for everyone who wants to work against animal cruelty. I’m the face of the farm and everyone else will become the foundation of the farm.”
Kelly hopes to share the farm with others as they build relationships with the animals. Hopeful plans include teen camps centering on issues like divorce and depression as well as preschool programs, yoga classes and even a bed-and-breakfast option.
“The animals come from a broken place and they heal people just with their presence,” says Kelly. “I want to keep moving forward with this. I’ve never felt happier or more fulfilled.”
Amy Brase is a writer, a mother and a gentle farmer’s daughter. As a little girl, she sang to the dairy cows and created artwork for them to enjoy in the barn.
Join the Farmaste Fun
More information at www.farmaste.org
June 1 Launch online auction – www.farmaste.org
June 20 Farmaste at “Townie Tuesday” Lift Bridge Brewery, Stillwater, 5–9 p.m.
July 8 Kelly Tope, president/founder, guest spot on Food Freedom Radio AM950.
July 17 Soft opening week
July 22 Grand opening weekend
August Grand opening party!
September 9 VegFest, Como Park, St. Paul