by Debra Helbach
“Agriculture is our wisest pursuit because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness.
Imagine going to a job every day that challenged you in so many ways: mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially. With the demands of each day being different than the one before, what would keep you coming back to it? For those involved in agriculture, it’s the deep connection to the land and animals, providing for your family and the world, the promising morning sunrises, bountiful crops, welcoming new life onto the farm, or working side by side with your family. Farming is a time-honored and cherished way of life, and to be able to share your passion and knowledge with your children, grandchildren, or even complete strangers is something extra special. To be able to pass the farm on to the next generation is even more humbling.
“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” This well-known quote by Marc Anthony sums up what farming means to fourth-generation farmer Bart Sopa of Sopa Fairview Farm of Amherst. Dating back to 1893, Bart’s great grandfather, John Sopa, bought the farm that is being worked by the Sopa family today. The farm name “Sopa Fairview Farm” is in part homage to the Wysocki family. Ernest Wysocki, Bart’s maternal grandfather, called his farm “Fairview Farm.” Maintaining the connection to the Wysocki and Sopa family farms, Sopa was added to the farm name.
Raised on a dairy farm, Bart is the son of Janice and Charlie and sibling to Chuck, Jill, Kelly and Jolene. As a young child, Bart was always in the barn. At age nine, he was promoted to helping with milking the herd of 50 cows. Milking was done at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Summers were spent cutting, raking, baling, and chopping hay. In high school, he was active in FFA, serving as chapter secretary and president. As an adult, his love of the family farm resulted in Bart taking over in 2006. At that time, the milking herd consisted of 55-60 Holstein cows. In December 2009, milk prices plummeted from $19 per hundredweight down to $9 per hundredweight. Deciding to downsize, the cows were sold. He continued to cash crop but reduced the acreage of corn, wheat, soybeans, and alfalfa grown and rented out the remainder of the ground to area neighbors. He also began working at the Waupaca Foundry in June 2010. Farm life poses many challenges, especially when you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature, and 2012 brought the worst drought his father, Charlie, had ever seen or, per his dad’s recollection, even that of his grandfather’s time. Given all the challenges farming can bring you, with a vision in place, Bart’s future plans are to go back to farming all of the homestead without having to rent out any land and with a dream to go back to milking cows with his family alongside him.
As a fourth-generation farmer, farming has had a huge impact on Bart and is carried through to his step daughters, Rebecca and Rachel, and daughter, Faith. Rebecca enjoyed horticulture at Amherst High School, Rachel enjoyed milking cows at Rob Cri Dairy, and Faith currently milks the cow, Nichole, that she raised from a calf. The struggles and rewards of the farming life are many and raising his daughters in this lifestyle has helped them to develop a good work ethic, have an appreciation of simpler things, understand where their food comes from, and appreciate the beauty of nature. One such beauty is the sea of sunflowers he has planted.
In 2008, the sunflowers were planted as a vibrant tribute to Bart and his wife Sarah’s twin sons, Evan and Clayton, who passed away in early infancy. Over the 12 years since planting them, anywhere from 5 to 50 acres of sunflowers have been grown on the Sopa homestead. The Sopa family has graciously allowed visitors to take in the beauty of the bright yellow sunflowers. The Sopas have enjoyed educating the public on many aspects of growing them. Some interesting tidbits of information some may not know about sunflowers are that they take approximately 110 days to mature. There are hundreds of seeds in each head, and one seed is technically a flower. The outer ring of flowers is pollinated first, then the inner rings. Sunflowers are planted in rows east to west, so that when harvesting them the heads lean into the combine as to not lose product.
People have travelled from near and far to the rolling hills of Old Amish Road to admire the flowers. Many have come to simply photograph the beautiful landscape of sunflowers, take wedding pictures, senior and graduation portraits, family photos, and, of course, selfies! For some moments in time, people were able to bask in their splendor. Freeing their minds of the pandemic, visitors could be heard laughing and were seen smiling, soaking in the beauty around them.
The black oil sunflowers are planted in May, peak in their beauty in late July/early August, and the seeds are harvested in October. Some seeds are bagged for bird seed and some are cold pressed into oil used for cooking and can be mixed with essential oils. The cold-pressed sunflower oil can be purchased at The Village Hive in downtown Amherst. You may also contact Bart directly for either product by messaging him on his personal Facebook page or at the Sopa Fairview Farm Facebook page. Future plans are in the works to sell the oil online as well.
Maintaining his love for agriculture and its youth and his community, Bart is currently serving as the President of the Amherst FFA Alumni and also serves on the Amherst Fair Board as well as being a front-line firefighter and first responder for the Amherst Fire District. Thank you, Bart and Sopa Fairview Farm, for your service to your community and for educating and welcoming so many to enjoy your sunflower fields.
I’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Bonni Miller (editor and publisher of the Jensen Community Spirit), who recently passed away. She was instrumental in allowing me to write for the paper about one of the things I love and hold dear, agriculture and educating those who didn’t grow up with that upbringing. I was in the beginning stages of my latest article when I heard of her passing. Every time I see sunflowers, I will think of her and the ray of sunshine she was to myself and so many others.