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When was the last time you ate breakfast outside in a big tent or machine shed with 2,000 to may be 5,000 other eaters?  And, topped off your meal with a strawberry ice cream sundae?

Last year? Great, then you know what a June Dairy Breakfast is all about and have probably attended more than one and may well be making plans for this year.

Never? Too bad, then you don’t know what you have been missing. But it’s not too late. You have another chance because June Dairy Month is here again and there are some 70 farm breakfasts happening in the month, just waiting for you.

Most Wisconsin counties and many cities and organizations host the breakfasts traditionally — but not always — held on dairy farms. Scrambled eggs along with pancakes, sausage, yogurt, cheese, milk and most often ice cream sundaes are the common menu except for the few events that are billed as dairy brunches that offer toasted cheese sandwiches or maybe pizza.

Meal costs are more than reasonable ranging from about $3 to $8 for adults and less for children. Eating times are in the 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. range as are the asking, talking, learning and fun times.

Eat and tour

The highlights of the breakfast include time to tour the dairy farm: see the cows and calves up close; watching milking in some cases;  looking at modern farm equipment and talking with actual living/breathing farmers. You can visit with the host farm family and the many other farmers and ag business people serving as volunteers for the event.

Ask and find out

Each farmer, host farmer and farm is different and the owners will be eager to tell you about their farm, its history  and how it’s operated today. And I’m sure you will be surprised to learn about farming up close and will go away shaking your head in wonderment as you ponder what you saw and marvel at how a 2019 farm is different from the one you grew up on or visited as a youth. 

Not always dairy

In recent years there has been a small movement to holding the June Farm Breakfasts on other kinds of farms other than dairy. The idea being that grain and goats are important factors in Wisconsin’s ag economy. I’ve attended farm breakfasts on both types of farms in recent years and they worked well as the big crowds attest to. 

The Dane County Breakfast on the Farm this year (June 8) will be hosted by the Kevin and Erika Klahn family at their Klondike Farm near Brooklyn.  

They are grain farmers with several thousand acres farmed and a custom farming business. You will see the most modern farm equipment and a 400,000 bushel grain storage unit. Again, you will wonder how a farm family without an office full of experts can run such a big and complicated farming business.

More off farm

I note from the list of Breakfast on the Farm events a bigger than usual number being held at fairgrounds or community sites. I’m not sure if it’s a matter of fewer available farms, fewer volunteers or what, but the big loss in dairy farm numbers is no doubt impacting the the potential list of hosts in some counties. 

Why attend a June Dairy Breakfast?

It’s a chance to see an operating farm and learn where food actually comes from rather than just reading the sometimes “fake” science articles often offered on social media. Perhaps your children have never seen a cow or calf just a few feet away — here is the time to give them that opportunity.

It’s also true that as farms get fewer and bigger we can’t just stop in and expect a farm tour. Farmers are busy and often can’t take the time and aren’t really set up for visitors. 

Attending a June Dairy Breakfast is the perfect time for parents to help their children learn about farming. It may also be one of the few times you can see a small family farm with a red barn, cows in stanchions and/or grazing on green grass. 

The fact is these kind of traditional dairy farms are increasingly on the endangered species list as the economics of dairy farming are fast changing. 

One near you

There were some 70 June Dairy Breakfast events scheduled in Wisconsin this June with several already held as early as mid-May. Go to hooraywisconsindairy.com for the full list of locations, times and details.

A rather unusual breakfast is the Kewaunee County Breakfast on June 16 at the much publicized Kinnard Farms with over 7,000 cows. It begins with a 7 a.m. polka mass followed by food and tours from 8 a.m. - noon. 

Another interesting breakfast is actually a two-day event sponsored by the Watertown Agribusiness club on June 15 and 16 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. It’s at Peter and Cindy McFarland’s Mcfarlandale Dairy just west of Watertown. The 650 cow dairy farm dates to 1852 and is now in its fifth and sixth generation as daughter Christine and husband Robb Bender are moving into ownership.

June dairy breakfasts on the farm date to 1970 in Jefferson County when the Clever Clovers 4-H Club was looking for a dairy promotion for a state 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 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 with 155 people attending and enjoying 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.

Went statewide

Because of the success of the event, it became a statewide event the next year as the Beanes again were hosts. The American Dairy Association (ADA) of Wisconsin (predecessor to the Dairy Producers of Wisconsin) sent out invitations and the Department of Agriculture got behind the effort.  

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.

When you go, wear comfortable clothing and shoes and be aware that the food line is usually long (maybe a half hour or longer) — it always is at farm dairy breakfasts — but that's half the fun as new friends are made while standing in line. Every year the same thought enters my mind:  In these days of instant communication, hurry up and get there and fast results, no one was complaining, jumping ahead in line or threatening to go home if things didn’t speed up.  

The long tables in the big tent offer another opportunity for folks to get acquainted with strangers sitting next to and across the table. It’s the perfect time to meet and greet others, to learn about farming (if they are in the ag business) and make new friends and memories. See you there.

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or email him at jfodairy2@gmail.com.

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