Don't forget the June Dairy breakfasts held throughout Wisconsin
How can we visit a family farm? That is a question I'm often asked.
It is the right question at the right time, and I have the perfect answer: Attend one of the many June Dairy Month breakfasts being held during the month of June across Wisconsin. Most are held on actual dairy farms where you and your family can see cows up close, pet the calves and talk to living, breathing dairy farmers.
And for the low, low price of $5 or $6 - less for children - you'll get a farm tour and a big country breakfast, including an ice-cream sundae at many of the breakfasts.
The entire listing of events is at the www.thedairydifference.com website, where you'll find them listed by date and location. Just searching for June dairy breakfasts will get you pages of listings. You can also call the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board at 608-836-8820.
June dairy breakfasts on the farm go back to 1970 in Jefferson County when the Clever Clovers 4-H Club was looking for a dairy promotion for a contest. The idea of inviting a few city folks from nearby Fort Atkinson to a breakfast on the farm took hold, and Craig and Laura Beane and their children, Tom and Marcia, offered their Holwis Farm as a site.
The Fort Atkinson Chamber of Commerce sent invitations "to visit a dairy farm and have a free breakfast ... limited to the first 100 people that call."
The event was a booming success as 155 people actually came and were fed scrambled eggs, Jones Farm sausage, Tuesday morning cake - Laura Beane's specialty - milk and strawberry sundaes. And the Clever Clovers 4-H won the dairy promotion contest.
Because of the success of the farm-city gathering, the next year it became a statewide event as the Beanes again were hosts. The American Dairy Association (ADA) of Wisconsin sent out invitations, the Department of Agriculture brought a huge frying pan, and Lt. Gov. Marty Schreiber attended.
The idea spread statewide, and the June Dairy breakfasts on the farm continue as a popular event for the host committees and the public, who eat a big meal and get to learn a bit about the dairy business.
Two years later, the ADA of Wisconsin, predecessor to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, got involved, and it became a dairy promotion event for the nation's No. 1 dairy state.
Of course, the breakfasts are tied in with the nationally celebrated June Dairy Month, an event that got its start in 1937, not as a dairy farmer event, but as a drugstore promotion to sell more products by giving away free ice-cream cones.
I remember well Dane County's first June Breakfast on the Farm held at the Maurice and Gerry Cooper farm in Token Creek in 1979. I still feel sorry for that big crew of women cracking eggs by hand for two days. Nowadays, the volunteers putting on the breakfast buy the eggs in plastic pails. I also remember Sen. Bob Dole shaking hands with one and all.
Dane County is holding its 33rd annual Dairy Breakfast on the Farm on Saturday, June 11, at the Haag family farm west of Dane, not far from U.S. Highway 12 north of Springfield Corners. (See www.danecountydairy.com for directions.)
The Haag family represents dairy farming at its finest.
John was a Waunakee farm boy who worked as a hired man at area dairy farms while trying to save money to begin his own farm. He married Julie, a Lodi girl, and they rented a farm until buying their own 170-acre, 50-cow, stanchion barn dairy in the town of Dane in 1993.
Since then the old red barn has been remodeled into a double-6 milking parlor and holding area to milk the 100 cows housed in the freestall barn nearby. Newly born calves are housed in individual stalls in a remodeled older building and, after a bit, moved to the new open, airy heifer barn.
The Haags' two children are much involved in the farm: son Josh, 26, attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison Farm Short Course and is already a member of Haag Family Farm LLC. His wife, Melissa, is a senior in the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Science. Daughter Amanda is a senior in animal science at UW-Platteville.
A visit to the Haag dairy on June 11 will not only provide a breakfast but also an opportunity to learn how the family has built such a beautiful dairy farm and why they expanded their cow numbers over the years. John says they will hurry their early morning milking to allow all the family to be available to talk with the guests.
When you attend a Breakfast on the Farm, don't be shy. Talk with those standing in the food line; chances are you'll have a wait, and it takes time to feed several thousand people.
Seek out the Haags. Ask them about their cows, crops and family. Ask the hundreds of volunteers - food servers, tour guides, parking attendants and exhibitors - about dairying and let them tell you about life in food production.
Take a look at the field where you parked. Chances are it is a hayfield that was cut and harvested in late May or early June and will be harvested three or four more times before fall sets in. Then ask the farm family where they stored the hay - in a bunker, bags, silo or barn - and how much a cow eats each day.
Most dairy breakfasts have entertainment of many kinds. Take time to grab a seat on the hay bales and listen to the music and speeches. Usually, there will be exhibits of dairy products.
The breakfasts vary in the food served: Dane County serves scrambled eggs as the main course. Rock County will serve pancakes on June 4. Dunn County on June 4 will feature Belgian waffles and the Milk Buds, John Shottler's pony hitch, will perform. Kewaunee County will serve cheese omelets and pizza, and have a 7:30 a.m. church service on June 12. Columbia County will serve pizza at its Moo-day Brunch on June 18. And the last Breakfast on the Farm is in Door County on July 3 and will serve cherry juice. Take a day off, slow down, see how food is produced on Wisconsin family farms. Gather the family and visit a farm. It's June Dairy Month!
John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.