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“Oh, look at the little brown cows,” the young voice behind me exclaimed. “They’re so cute."

“Those are  Brown Swiss calves. I explained to the youngster and her parents looking at the calves in the heifer barn. They are just babies that are growing up and will someday  be cows giving milk that will be made into cheese or yogurt.”

The parents admitted they had never seen “brown cows” before and asked a few questions. I explained that Brown Swiss was a breed of cattle originating in Switzerland and that these calves were owned by Voegeli Farms just up the road and were growing up on this farm that was hosting the June Dairy Breakfast that morning. 

First time

“Yes, we’ve already eaten our eggs and sausage and are on our way to get ice cream sundaes,” the mother said. “We’re from Madison and this is our first farm breakfast and we’re really enjoying it.” 

And, that’s as it should be. After all, this is the 39th edition of the Green County Breakfast on The Farm, one of about 60 such breakfasts held all across Wisconsin during June Dairy Month. (Note — The Green County event is always held the last Saturday of May and is not always held on a dairy farm but the menu  and purposes are the same.) 

Family farm

Host for the 2018 Green County Breakfast on the Farm was the Danance Karlen Farm that is owned and operated by Nancy Jo Karlen who, with her husband Dan, also hosted the breakfast in 2007. At the time the Karlen herd was made up of 65 registered Holsteins.    

“I see it as an honor to host this great event that brings farm and city together,” Nancy says. Note — the farm has been owned and operated by the Karlen family since 1926.

Changes

Much has changed on the Karlen farm since 2007: The dairy herd was sold in 2011 and in 2015 cancer claimed Dan's life. Nancy was determined to continue what she and her husband had started and the farm remains in operation. While the barn no longer houses Registered Holsteins, Nancy raises Brown Swiss heifers for the neighboring Voegeli Farms. 

The barn has been remodeled to serve as a haul-in station for Stateline Veterinary Services' bovine reproductive programs where Nancy’s daughter Dana is an embryologist with the clinic. 

The farm's nearly 150 acres is now managed on shares with neighbor, Dan Bauman of Bauman Custom Farming, and another neighbor, Dewey Bernet of Valley Mead Farm, utilizes the bunkers on the farm.

The farm location, just across Highway 69 from Monticello on County C,  
made for easy access by car or bus from a city parking lot which, along with perfect weather, drew 4,500 - 5,000 guests to see the farm, enjoy the many exhibits, listen to music and eat a hearty breakfast complete with ice cream sundaes.

The Green County Breakfast On The Farm has become what one might call almost a county festival, with the big craft show, exhibitor tent and machinery (old and new) on display.  

Ag Chest

The Green County Ag Chest,  the sponsor of the event works with hundreds of volunteers and and donors to stage the event which includes erecting
tents, securing, preparing and serving the food for thousands of people, seeing there is  ample parking and hoping that rain does not disrupt the entire affair. 

The Green County Ag Chest dates to 1958 when the Green County Dairy Promotion Committee and the Green County Agricultural Foundation merged. Their purpose is to promote Green County, its products, its resources, and its people, especially youth and youth activities involved with home economics and agriculture. It sponsors many projects including: Dairy Queens Program, Breakfast on the Farm, Dairy Days, Green County Tourism, 4-H Clubs and FFA trips, State Fair transportation and scholarships.

The first Dairy Breakfast was held at a Juda Church in 1961 with June Dairy Month kickoff breakfasts held every year from then through 1979 at various churches and schools. 

On the farm since 1980

In 1979, the idea to move the breakfasts away from schools and churches to an "on-the-farm site" where  visitors could get firsthand knowledge of what makes up a modern  farm surfaced and was put  into action in 1980.  

The move to farm locations has proved a most successful one as the 38 breakfasts held since show with the many thousands of attendees each year.  At the same time the sponsorship, in terms of finances and volunteers continues to grow. 

June Dairy Month 

It was in 1937 that June Dairy Month got its start when a group of chain stores staged National Milk Month, with a theme of "Keep Youthful—Drink Milk." The objective was to show goodwill toward dairy farmers and to increase milk sales during the month, a time of peak production when cows were let out on fresh green pastures and milk production boomed.  

Special sales efforts were made at the chain store's soda fountains to help use the existing milk surplus. The promotion ran from June 10 to July 10 and was supported by the National Dairy Council, which supplied promotional materials to participating stores.

With an 80-year history, June Dairy Month is the longest continuous national food promotion event in the country. 

First breakfast

The first June Dairy Breakfast on the Farm dates to 1970 and the Clever Clovers 4-H Club in Jefferson County where members were looking for a project for the annual Pure Milk Association dairy promotion contest. Dairy farmers Craig and Laura Bean with their children, Tom and Marcia, offered their Holwis farm as the site.

The 4-H club invited members of the Jefferson business community to a breakfast on the farm. The city of Fort Atkinson got behind the project and 155 people showed up and it was considered a booming success. It seemed like a good idea, so the club did it a second year. 

The next year a few other counties picked up on the idea and the June Farm Breakfasts spread statewide during the 1970s and early 1980s. Ironically, Jefferson County now is one of the few counties that holds a June dairy breakfast off the farm — at the county fairgrounds.

A family fun day

Breakfasts on The Farm offer opportunity: To visit an actual farm, talk to living breathing farmers, see farm animals up close, eat a great meal and make new friends.  

The farm breakfast season is just getting started. Pick your location and load up your children and grandchildren, leave your cell phone at home and have a good time at the farm.  

Go to www.hooraywisconsindairy.com for a list of times, dates and locations. You’ll have a great time!  And, hopefull  will remember a bit of what you saw and learned — especially that your dairy foods come from contented cows and caring farmers.
 
John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or e-mail him at jfodairy2@gmail.com.

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