Somewhere north of 5,000 visitors enjoyed scrambled eggs, sausage, coffee cake, cheese, milk and ice cream sundaes last Saturday (May 31) at the Green County Breakfast on the Farm. The site was Roe Farms Partnership, located between Monticello and Monroe just off busy Highway 69.
However, in contrast to the previous 34 editions of this popular event, the crowd did not get to see a dairy barn, milking parlor or cows. Rather, they looked at farm equipment ranging from a modern 4-wheel-drive New Holland tractor to a 98-year-old Case model 2040 tractor, a craft show, a farm organization exhibit tent and a line up of old, but not so antique tractors, all arranged in the shadow of the Roe Farms grain storage complex.
The Green County Ag Chest, which has been sponsoring this annual event from the beginning, made a move this year to feature another aspect of the county's varied agricultural scene by accepting an offer from the Roe family to host the farm breakfast.
Yes, there were four small Brown Swiss calves (compliments of nearby Voegeli Farms), milk and cheese for breakfast and lots of ice cream for dessert, but the center of attention was the huge 370,000 bushel steel grain bin and a series of smaller structures making up the 850,000 bushel complex. Yes, visitors had a chance to look inside one of the bins, which, although empty, provided a never-before-seen sight for most.
The Roe family owners of the facility include Donald and Karen Roe and their son Dan and his wife Sally. The farm includes some 4,400 acres of owned and rented land on which they raise corn, soybeans and winter wheat.
"We are also a registered commercial grain operation and buy another 600,000 bushels of corn," Dan said. "Ninety-eight percent of our corn goes to the ethanol plant at nearby Monroe."
While the site of the farm breakfast is modern and big, it is a relatively new chapter in the life of the Roe family.
Don and Karen were married in 1962 and milked cows at Whitewater until buying a dairy farm and moving their cows to Belleville in Green county in 1973.
Dan joined the farm operation after high school, and the family began adding more land, including the land that is now the farmstead they purchased in 1993. They increased their grain acres, and in 1995, the dairy cows were sold and the farm operation centered on grain.
Dan and Sally were married that same year and moved to the land that became the center of the grain enterprise (and where the breakfast was held).
As the grain acreage grew, additional facilities were needed, and in 2001, the grain storage and drying facility was built. That was also when the Roe Farms Partnership was formed.
Donald and Karen are longtime leaders in the farming community, serving on cooperative, school and church boards —something that Dan and Sally have continued. Dan is currently president of the Wisconsin Soybean Board and a director of the American Soybean Association. Sally has been active in the Mount Pleasant town government, including serving as chair and as a 4-H leader.
While Dan and Sally are the managers of Roe Farm Partnership, Donald and Karen are active on a daily basis with Donald doing all the combining — some 600 hours worth each fall.
The Green County Breakfast On The Farm has become what one might call almost a county festival, what with the craft show, exhibitor tent, corn box and machinery (old and new) display. Credit the Green County Ag Chest and the hundreds of volunteers and donors they assemble to stage the event.
As one volunteer said, "they do a great job because they've been around for a long and really know what they are doing."
The Green County Ag Chest had its start in 1958 to "promote the agricultural interest groups in Green county" and held its first dairy breakfast in a church in Juda in 1961 and yearly after that in schools or churches until 1980 when they moved the event to a dairy farm.
This year's farm breakfast was chaired by Craig Kamholz, Judy Gill and Sue Hellenbrand who assembled near 200 sponsors who donated products or money and a couple hundred volunteers who worked at the event.
One of the purposes of the Dairy (and other) Breakfasts on the Farm is to educate city folks who might know little or nothing about farming or food production by seeing and learning on an actual farm.
This year, that premise surely succeeded in at least one case at the Green County breakfast.
I noted a woman standing alone near the old equipment display (corn binder, shredder, pickup, tractor) who was furiously writing in a notebook. I asked if she had any questions as she didn't appear to be a farmer or maybe not even a local resident.
"I'm so thrilled and surprised at what I'm seeing," she said. I just recently moved to Monticello, heard about this event and got here at 7 a.m. I can't believe what I'm seeing. I didn't know this world even existed."
Holli Rosenberg said she spent all her life in Niles, a Chicago suburb, working as a telephone operator, receptionist and secretary for a series of large companies. "I bought what I needed at the supermarket and never gave food a thought," she said. "When I retired, I moved to Monticello to get away from the very high apartment rents in Chicago.
"This farm is such a different life for me; I can't believe what I'm seeing. It's such an honor to just walk around with these hard working farmers."
Holli also referred to her notebook and talked about the poster she had seen explaining the farmers share of the food dollar. "I can't believe how we take food for granted and how little farmers receive for their hard work," she said. "If city people only knew."
Holli Rosenberg is a true example of what farmer groups have always said about consumer education, and she took the information offered to heart. If you'd like to hear her comments in person, tune in to my weekly dairy commentary this coming Saturday morning at about 5:35 a.m. on WGN Chicago Radio (720 AM on radio dial) where she is my guest on Orion Samuelson's morning show.
One of the common questions I am asked by city folks is how to visit a farm so they can have their children see a cow, barn and farm. That's not easy to do these days except during June Dairy Month when most counties have at least one Dairy Breakfast on The Farm where you can see the livestock, smell the hay, talk with farmers, ask questions and eat a great breakfast.
There are 65 Dairy Breakfasts on the Farm scheduled in June across the state with the weekends of June 7-8 and June 14-15 offering nineteen events each. Go to www.dairydaysofsummer.com for full information and make your plans to attend one (or more). Go and enjoy!