Carol Ropp has taught more children as a retired teacher than she did when she had her own classroom. Over 12,000 city kids have learned about life on a farm by visiting the Ropp Jersey Farm in Normal, Illinois. When a group of visitors from preschool to seniors arrives, Carol is the teacher of the day. She conducts a tour that lets kids have hands-on experiences on a farm. They get to milk a cow or bottle feed a calf. Of course, a hay ride gets them out into the fresh country air and the fields where corn, soybeans and alfalfa are grown. The highlight for Carol is taking people to see how cheese is made before sampling their famous green onion cheese. Curds are also passed out to be eaten. “You know they’re good curds when they squeak in your teeth.”
Born a city girl in a suburb of Chicago, Carol met her husband Ray at the University of Illinois. After a stint in the army, they joined the family on the 450 acres fifth generation farm. Jersey cows, known for their rich milk, produced the milk sold to the dairy. Ray and Carol’s son Ken worked in southern Wisconsin, known for its popular snack, cheese curds. He convinced his parents that it was time to take on a value-added project that would increase their revenue from the Jersey milk. So, Ken attended cheese school and in 2006, the family went into business. At this writing, their Roop Jersey Cheese is in 93 stores 17 wineries and four restaurants. Plus the cheese store on the farm property and local farmer markets in the summer. “There’s never a boring day”, claims Carol.
The farm boasts a cozy touch. On one of its buildings, a barn quilt has been painted with a jersey cow head in the center. Blue, orange and brown flying geese patterns surround it. The quilt is part of a rural tradition in McLean County and the Ropp Jersey Cheese Farm is now part of the Barn Quilt Heritage Trail.
Carol and Ken enjoy their life, especially the educational aspect. “Many children today don’t realize where their milk really comes from. In this way, our family shares our knowledge about dairy farming with children, but also we get to share our farm heritage to promote agriculture as a vital industry in American life.”
Retired teacher? Never. You can take the teacher out of the classroom. But you can’t take the classroom out of the teacher. Carol’s farm is her classroom.
The Ropp Jersey Cheese Farm invites visitors of all ages. A quilting group from Minnesota taking blankets to a veteran’s group in Kentucky enjoyed Carol’s tour. Visit their website. A question for our teachers. How can we bring more real life experiences to our classrooms? Please leave your ideas in the comment section.Carol’s farm is her classroom.