by Kristen Kelderman
As a little girl, I can remember one of the biggest events we held on our farm was the annual Holstein barbecue. I remember this specifically because of all the extra work I was assigned to do that summer, cleaning the window sills, brushing the cows and painting just about anything you could slap a coat of paint on. And on that warm July night, some 400 neighboring farmers and friends gathered to enjoy a night of fantastic food, great people and to celebrate dairy farming. This distant memory crossed my mind this summer as my colleagues and I travelled to Michigan State to visit the Judges’ dairy farm in Isabella County for a program called Breakfast on the Farm.
The Michigan Breakfast on the Farm program began in 2009 and since then, has hosted 23,000 people to 20 different breakfast programs. There were eight held across Michigan in 2012.
Along with 2,000 other visitors we braved the rainy summer weather to be served a warm breakfast in the family’s drive shed before being toured around the family owned dairy farm. The scale of the entire Breakfast on the Farm operation blew my expectations out of the water. Everyone from the farm vet, to the nutritionist and farm machinery dealer were on site to answer questions and engage discussion with visitors. There were 200 volunteers running around in bright yellow t-shirts who were assigned to specific jobs from cooking the delicious pancakes and sausage, to talking about biosecurity and getting everyone to put on the plastic booties.
The self-guided tour of the barns was a large attraction to the kids and city goers as they were able to watch a calf being born and pet an actual milking cow. Another popular activity was the calf feeding station, where kids could take turns bottle feeding the 20 calves born that week. But as the warm afternoon sun came out and the calf’s bellies filled up, they soon settled in for their afternoon nap and the kids moved on to ice cream and face painting stations.
As we toured around the farm and talked with people about the program and the farm, it became apparent that all those who were involved were passionate about public outreach and telling their farming story to the public. We briefly were able to chat with Rick Judge (owner) and when we asked what made him want to have the event on his farm he was very humble in saying that he believes that we all need to take our part in educating the public on farming and – it’s one of the responsibilities of being a farmer. He said that we should be proud to bring people to our farms and let them see where their food comes from.
While there is a formal application process to host Breakfast on the Farm, the Judges’ farm was one of the top picks of the committee even before they submitted their name. And it was easy to see why. The pristine condition of the grounds and the animals were easy indicators that this young farm family took a lot of pride in their farm and it was a great representation of modern agriculture.
I can only imagine the preparation and elbow grease that it took to ready themselves to have over 2,000 people tour through their barns. I must commend the family in taking on such a large event and opening their doors to the public. I believe that the Breakfast on the Farm program, run by Michigan State University since 2009 is a phenomenal program. For more information on the Michigan program visit www.breakfastonthefarm.com
Farm & Food Care Ontario is exploring options for an Ontario version of the Breakfast on the Farm program in 2013. Stay tuned for more details.