LINDSTROM, Minn.-Violet the Yorkshire pig used to live on a farm in Westport, Mass., in conditions that have been described as "deplorable."
More than 1,000 farm animals were crammed into 70 acres. They had no access to food or water. Bodies of deceased animals littered the property. Pens were layered with up to 12 inches of excrement.
On Tuesday, June 5, Violet was wallowing in the dirt in her new home - the Farmaste Animal Sanctuary in Lindstrom - and reveling in a massage of her midsection.
"Hi Violet," said Kelly Tope, Farmaste's founder, as she entered the pig's pen. "Do you want your belly rubbed today? What do you think?"
Tope rescued Violet and two other pigs, Ophelia and Jeka, from the farm in Massachusetts after the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals put out a call to farm animal sanctuaries.
The pigs were among the first animals to move to Farmaste, which opens to the public on Saturday, June 9.
The 80-acre farm, about an hour's drive north of the Twin Cities, has become a refuge for animals that have been abused, neglected, orphaned or injured.
Blue, for example, has three legs. The sheep's front left leg had to be amputated shortly after birth due to a bone issue, "but she was still marked for breeding," Tope said.
"It would have been very difficult for her to become pregnant and carry a baby with three legs," she said. "One of our rules is she has to stay thinner. ... We keep her at 100 to 120 (pounds) just to make sure she doesn't have too much weight on the three legs."
Blue dotes on Tope and cries when she leaves her sight.
"They are just like our dogs and cats," Tope said. "They're not any different. They love. They have relationships. They are excited to see you."
Another sheep, named Ringo, was given away for free on Craigslist when he was 1 week old.
"He came from a breeder in Osceola (Wis.)," she said. "I always tell people, 'Don't offer animals for free on Craigslist.' Offer a price, so that people at least know that there is a value to them, so that you just don't get anybody coming in and taking them."
Ringo was underweight when he was born and had difficulty latching on to his mother. He lived inside Tope's house in Stillwater and was bottle-fed for the first two months of his life.
"He wore a diaper and was running around the house and slept with me," said Morgan Tope-Yates, Tope's 16-year-old daughter.
Tope, who works in franchising for Taco Bell International, said the dozen animals - three pigs, three sheep, three cows and three goats - will be allowed to live out their lives at Farmaste. She plans to add more animals as funds become available.
The farm, which was donated by Dellwood residents Pete and Laura Hoefler, depends on volunteer labor to clean the barn, feed the animals and do other tasks. Tope is funding the operation through donations, including her own.
"I want to make it a part of people's everyday life and routine," Tope said. "I want them to say, 'Hey, let's go out to the farm for the weekend. Let's go see it this summer.' We want to offer enough things so that people feel there's something for them to come out to."
In addition to volunteer opportunities, Farmaste will offer movie nights, outdoor karaoke, bonfire gatherings, yoga classes and day camps for teenagers suffering from depression and anxiety. Public tours will be offered on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Tope grew up in Stillwater, graduated from Hill-Murray School in Maplewood and attended the University of Minnesota for two years. She transferred to the University of Houston, graduating with a bachelor's degree in business in 1998. She is married and has one daughter.
Tope recently sat down with the Pioneer Press to talk about Farmaste.
Q: How did you decide to open a farm animal sanctuary?
A: I had food allergies that started when I was 21, and that made me gravitate toward vegetarianism. Once I got to a place where I was really eating vegan, I thought I might as well just go vegan. Veganism is not necessarily an easy step for everybody. That's why we always say, "We welcome everybody where they're at." We want you to come here. We want you to build a relationship with these animals and get to know them for who they are and understand their personalities.
Q: How have local farmers responded?
A: We're really just trying to look out for the best interest of the animals. Obviously, we know we're not going to stop the food industry. We're not silly in thinking that that's going to happen. It's about trying to maybe save a few, and then let people get to know them. That's truly what it's about. We're not here to be against anybody about anything. Farmers are the hardest-working people that I know. You can't not be respectful of that, so it's how to figure out that balance of being respectful but also wanting the farmers to do the best they can for the animals.
Q: How can rescued farm animals help kids dealing with depression and anxiety?
A: We want kids to come out here and be able to bond with the animals and give them a chance to be outdoors and work and understand that these animals come from some broken places. We want them to understand the healing process that the animals go through. (The kids) can learn there is something beyond this moment.
Q: Would you ever consider franchising Farmaste?
A: I think a franchise-type system for (animal sanctuaries) would be great because you give them the support, they understand how to do it, you're giving them the tools you've already utilized. It's a perfect setup for it, but we'll see.
IF YOU GO
•What: Farmaste Animal Sanctuary's grand opening
•When: 1-5 p.m. Saturday, June 9
•Where: 12812 347th Street, Lindstrom
•Activities: Live music, children's activities, raffle, plant-based food and drink from Reverie