You might notice fewer cows along Dairy Farm Road these days.
That's because the Hopkins family has downsized their operation and after 80 years no longer sells milk commercially.
And farm owner Walt Hopkins is turning over the operation to the next generation, with sisters Ingrid Hopkins and Amy Hopkins leading the way. “We'll let the next generation decide what happens next,” Walt said.
The family has sold 600 of its cows but still maintains a herd of over 400 at Green Acres Farm west of Lewes.
“We still have a dairy here, but we are not shipping milk,” Walt said.
Most of the cows were sold to a large dairy farm near Watertown in upstate New York, near Lake Ontario, while some ended up on farms in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Walt said at one point, eight double-decker tractor-trailers pulled up to the farm to load cows. “We milked them just before and then gave them a pat goodbye for their eight-hour trip,” he said.
The remaining cows are young replacement stock, and none have had calves yet. “We'll have to make a decision on whether to sell or keep them before they have their first baby,” he said.
He's proud of the fact that the farm never missed the three-times-a-day milking schedule or its daily milk shipment for 80 years in spite of some horrible weather conditions over the years. The Hopkins Henlopen Holsteins were producing 6,000 gallons of milk daily as part of a contract with Land O' Lakes, which the family did not renew.
Green Acres Farm contains some 900 acres of farmland with three-fourths of that in the farmland preservation program. “We have no intention of selling any land,” Walt said.
He said he's not retiring and will still remain in charge of the farm's crop business. He also plans to do a lot of traveling with his wife Jenny. “We can't wait to go to New York and visit our girls,” he said with a laugh.
Getting back into the milk-producing business is still possible, as are other agritourism ventures. “There may be a focus on the local market. There is more to come with endless opportunities on the farm,” Ingrid said.
“The farm is still a lot of work, but it's not 24/7, 365 days a year,” Amy said. “It gives us time to think about what's next.”
Cows, crops, bees, events and ice cream
Besides cows and crops, family members operate an ice cream shop, wedding and events venues, and a honey business. Ingrid and Amy have expanded the farm's agritourism options in a big way over the past few years.
“Every generation has adapted the farm to family and community needs,” said Ingrid, who runs Hopkins Heartland and Covered Bridge Inn, a farm-based, award-winning wedding and special-events venue.
Honey Bee Barn is the newest addition to the farm. The small-events venue also includes a honey extraction operation. Amy, who is senior director of Boeing Phantom Works, operates the growing honey business and its 25 beehives.
The Hopkins Farm Creamery reopened March 4. Since 2008, the ice cream shop has become a favorite for locals and tourists alike, and because of the demand, it will stay open all year from now on.
Because all of the venues are on preserved farmland, the buildings have had to be restored and not torn down. The family's original farmhouse – dating back to 1837 – is now the Covered Bridge Inn, and the original dairy, milking and grain barns have been repurposed as part of the Hopkins Heartland venue.
“We are good stewards of the land, take excellent care of our animals, and we are open to educate the community. We plan to continue to do all of those,” Walt said. “This is a great opportunity for the rest of the family going forward and for others to enjoy a farm in their backyard.”
The dairy farm has been at its present location west of Lewes since 1941 when William Hopkins separated his dairy farm operation from that of Alden Hopkins, who started the original dairy in the 1920s.
Eventually, William's son Walter Hopkins Sr. and his late son, Walter “Burli” Hopkins Jr., took over operation of the farm.
For decades, 500 Hopkins Henlopen Holsteins were milked three times a day each day of the year, producing 2 million gallons of milk annually.
Family members offered the following:
“Now that the baton is being handed to the next generations, Amy and Ingrid alongside Walter's grandchildren want to assure the community this will always be a place where they can come enjoy ice cream and experience a working farm.”