It gets dark in rural Nebraska.

Just after 4 a.m., Alex and I loaded our equipment – cameras, mics, lights, cords, batteries, etc. – and turned from the glow of the hotel parking lot lights onto a two-lane highway, and the early morning darkness came on thick and heavy all around except for a single glowing window in the distance.

Yia-yia (Greek for grandmother and pronounced Ya-Ya) was waiting for us. She was at the kitchen table: hair done, coffee on, plates of Greek cookies set out – at 5 a.m. She smiled and held the door as we brought in our bags and set up the cameras and lights. Not long after, the rest of the family trickled in as they do every morning.

Mornings are usually quiet at Yia-Yia’s, Cassie Lapaseotes said, but every day the four managing partners of Lapaseotes Limited – Cassie, her dad, uncle, and cousin – meet for coffee before tackling the day’s work. We sat around the dining table listening to the news and the weather – it was going to be windy – and Yia-Yia kept our coffees full and hot. At sunrise, we departed.

Lapaseotes Ltd. farm and ranch spans 30,000 acres in western Nebraska and can feed about 15,000 head of cattle. On the farm side, they primarily grow corn and some hay, which all goes into feeding the cattle, and then sugar beets that go to the local sugary factory. The Lapaseotes family have been partnering with Tyson Foods for over five years.

Over two days, we traveled with Cassie across pastures and newly harvested fields, around boulders and natural landmarks that once led settlers west along the Oregon Trail. Cassie’s great-grandfather emigrated from Greece and worked his way across the country on the railroads. Her Papou (grandfather) brought pivot irrigation to the area when he started establishing the family farm, and her dad and uncle continued to grow the ranch over the years. Now, she and her cousin, Nicholas, are taking the helm with Cassie leading the cow, calf, and feedlot operations and Nicholas overseeing farming and agriculture.

“Being a family business and being successful and continuing on a tradition, a legacy for lack of a better term, can be difficult,” Cassie said.  “I’m very proud of how our family brought me and Nicholas back on board, and they’ve been strict about some things when they need to be, but they’ve also let us take our own path as we need to. And then we can pass this on to the next generation.”

After morning coffee, Cassie’s day usually starts at the feedlot working with Servando, a 21-year Lapaseotes Ltd. veteran, on moving cattle, checking feed, and assessing the lot. “I’ve grown up working with Servando,” Cassie said. “We both thrive off a challenge, and we can work without have to talk about what we’re doing. We can just read each other.”

We then rode out to one of the pastures to meet with Lindsay and see how the mamas were doing. It was calving season at the ranch – the time of year when calves are born – and cows and calves needed to be registered and monitored.

“Lindsay’s been with us for over two years now and is a fantastic asset to the operation,” Cassie said. “She always comes to work with a smile on her face and is very passionate. I look forward to keeping her on board for many years.”

Educating and supporting the next generation of farmers is cause near and dear for Cassie. She’s served on the Board of the location FFA (Future Farmers of America) chapter and Lapaseotes Ltd is still involved in the auctions and opens their farm to members for educational experiences. She currently serves on the Board and Advisory Committee of the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln.

“It’s a program creating, investing, and promoting entrepreneurship in our youth,” Cassie said. “I come back from those meetings thinking, ‘I need to start another company. I need to start two more companies.’ Those kids are so inspiring, and I’m thankful to be a part of that.”

On the second day, after a lunch of homemade lahanodolmades (cabbage leaves rolled and stuffed with ground beef and rice in a lemon sauce) at Yia-Yia’s, we rode out to meet up with Bill – “I’m the cow guy.” –  as he monitored some of the new calves and checked in on nursing processes.

From birth, Cassie stresses the importance of proper cattle handling and a commitment to animal welfare. All cattle handlers and both feedlots at Lapaseotes Ltd. are BQA (Beef Quality Assurance) certified. The nationally coordinated, state implemented program provides guidelines on optimum management and environmental conditions through coupling science and animal husbandry techniques. Animal welfare even impacts how the cattle handlers interact with each other.

“We’re very quiet,” Cassie said. “I’m very particular about that, and everyone knows my expectations. We don’t yell; we handle the cattle quietly and keep everything calm. There’s no reason not to treat the animal right.”

After, Cassie showed us the main street of Bridgeport and talked about the importance of keeping community alive.

“Bridgeport is a huge ag community. There’s a lot of families that do exactly what we’re doing,” Cassie said. “There’s a lot of younger people moving back, and I think they realize that in order to keep Bridgeport thriving with opportunities, we have to continue to support it. You’re starting to see a wave of the next generation taking the lead on giving back to the community. We realize that if you want something done, you just have to find a way and make the town better.”

And for Cassie, in business and in the community, it’s all about moving forward.

“You have to have the mindset and the attitude that something will happen. A drought will happen, hopefully not another pandemic, but something will happen. It’s a part of being a cattle feeder and being in agriculture. You keep moving forward, and you never take anything for granted.”