EAGLE RIVER — Jenna Kukanich spent much of last school year working inside at a department store.
That experience taught her a valuable lesson: She doesn’t like working inside.
“Actually, it drove me crazy,” she said. “I hated sitting inside all the time. That’s just not me. I need to be outside.”
The 17-year-old senior at Northland Pines High School shifted gears during the summer by working at Rocking W Stable horse farm and now says she couldn’t be happier.
Kukanich is embracing the opportunity to work in agriculture at a local potato farm while enjoying the perks of being outside as a second-year Derby Princess for the recently held World Snowmobile Championships here in Vilas County.
“I’m having a lot of fun with everything,” she said.
Thousands of snowmobile racing fans recently descended upon Wisconsin’s northwoods. Kukanich’s duties as a Derby Princess included interacting with racers and spectators, having her picture taken alongside winning racers when trophies were presented, attending banquets and being an all-around representative of the 56th annual event.
“I love it. I grew up going to the derby,” she said. “I don’t think I missed one since I was like 6 years old. It’s definitely a big tradition up here.”
Kukanich began riding snowmobiles not long after she started walking, and she still finds time to ride her Polaris when she isn’t ice fishing or cruising in her truck.
Kukanich’s passion for the outdoors continued this school year when she started learning the ropes at Eagle River Potato Seed Farm through Northland Pines’ school-to-work program.
She starts work at about noon each weekday and works until 5 p.m., sometimes longer during harvest season, and often puts in hours on the weekends.
“I like the farm aspect of the job,” she said. “We work hard, but it’s fun. I can wear jeans and a T-shirt in the summer and my bibs and a hat in the winter. Everybody who works there is really great to work with. I enjoy the atmosphere a lot. And I don’t have to go and work out at a gym — working at the farm itself is a workout.”
Noting that she’s the only student working at the farm, Kukanich added, “I’m not trying to talk trash about my generation, but hardly any kids my age want to do hard work, put in the actual labor. I just think it’s way better than scanning things at a cash register or waiting on tables.”
Janelle West, the farm’s warehouse supervisor, said Kukanich’s determination to excel in agriculture is exciting to see.
“Jenna, in my opinion, is wise beyond her years,” West said. “She is driven, and whatever field she chooses in life she will most definitely excel in it.
“She picks up on things quickly, which is a huge help at the farm because it can be really busy and we might not have the time to go into detail about the job. So having someone jump right in is ideal. Jenna was that person. … I can count on her to get things done even when I’m not there.”
West said Kukanich’s work ethic and sense of humor are reminiscent of her parents, Dan Kukanich and Laura Hoffman. West worked alongside them when she joined the farm about 14 years ago.
“I remember one time when she was about 2 years old, I had her in the tractor seat when we were mowing alfalfa and she was sitting with me,” said Hoffman, who added with a chuckle, “So she helped on a farm before she even knew it.”
Kukanich has carried on her parents’ interests in agriculture and horses. Her late grandfather raised beef cattle, and her father still has a few that she helps with. Meanwhile, her mother owns a horse farm, where Kukanich keeps Henry, her beloved Gypsy Vanner.
Kukanich said she’s looking forward to a career in agriculture. She hasn’t finalized which higher education institution she’ll attend after high school, but she intends to major in agribusiness.
“This is definitely what I want to do,” Kukanich said.