State fair's "Dairy Lane" exhibit provides family-friendly consumer education

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Dairy Lane got a high-tech upgrade with interactive TV videos and games.

Since debuting in 2019, the Dairy Lane exhibit at the Wisconsin State Fair has been aimed at people outside of the dairy industry to teach them more about what dairy farming is all about.

And with a year off from the fair in 2020, that extra time provided opportunities to re-evaluate and revamp what the exhibit looked like and even felt like, with a calf and two dairy goats ready for pets from kids and adults alike. The exhibit also got a high-tech upgrade with multiple screens playing videos and games that the whole family could enjoy while learning about dairy.

Since the fair is in Milwaukee suburb West Allis, Dairy Lane is especially geared towards bringing in people from urban and suburban areas who may not be familiar with agriculture in their own communities. In general, several exhibit onlookers noted that they wanted to know more about where their food comes from, and made sure their kids knew, too.

"The pictures and the display drew my attention," Xochilth Dunn, a mother of three, said. "I said to the kids, 'Come on, let's go see what we find.' It's very important to know (the origin of your food), especially right now when I know there's a lot of shortages."

"I did hear ... one cow could feed a whole family," Dunn's young son Xavier Rodriguez said. "I would love to pet a baby cow."

Morgan McCoy, a mother from the Milwaukee area, said she brought her husband and kids to see the Dairy Lane exhibit because the education is really effective. Her family has gone to the fair every year since their kids were born.

"(We're here) not just because the animals are cute, but we actually talk about beef and dairy and the life cycles, so it's important getting to see everything, not just the product," McCoy said. "We love this part, so every year we ended up spending the most amount of time in this area. ... I do notice that all of this is different from 2019, so I am excited to look around."

A baby calf lays in a pen for kids and adults alike to pet and learn about.

Dave Sattler, husband of JoDee Sattler, who sits on the Wisconsin State Fair Dairy Promotion Board, helped educate exhibit visitors about dairy and tended to the baby calf on display for petting. He said all he wants to do is teach more people about what the Wisconsin dairy industry looks like because misinformation is out there.

"The calves attract people. The kids want to pet the calves, but then that can spur some conversations of how we care for the calves, what they eat, the lifecycle of a dairy animal," Sattler said. "I think it's important to spread the message that we care well for the cattle, that they are treated well. To get the production out of them, they need to be cared for – they aren't abused. We just need to have that connection with the urban and rural people."

Other exhibits were tended to by Cochrane FFA members Donnie Jo Dittrich, Cecelia Dittrich, Joette Wolfe and Janelle Wolfe. They said they've been fielding questions from simple to complex, helping to dispel dairy misinformation too, and also spread the word about dairy nutrition.

"We've been telling kids about how good milk is for you, and why you should drink it – because it's really good for you," Janelle Wolfe said.

"We've been asking kids simple questions, like what kinds of breeds they know and how much a cow milks, and just trying to educate children about how dairy farms are safe and family farms are more commonly owned than company farms," Cecelia Dittrich said.

A goat munches on some hay at the Dairy Lane exhibit.

They also said the job helps them fulfill their FFA mission in service by helping others learn more about dairy, whether it's a cow or a goat.

"It's kind of been fun learning different stuff. I've never worked dairy goats before, so it's kind of a new thing for me, too," Donnie Jo Dittrich said. "(The kids) always ask, are they pregnant? No, they're not pregnant. They're just eating and getting ready for breeding season. So it's kind of fun to see what they think about the goats and what they don't know."

"It's fun just teaching them and then also us learning it," Joette Wolfe said. "It all just ties into educating the general public about agriculture ... where their food comes from."