The second annual Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm took place on the Jary and Celene Holst dairy farm near Kellogg last Friday night. A warm summer evening saw a great turnout and a wide variety of activities for people of all ages to take part in.
The goal was a simple one: to introduce the non-farm public to the people behind the food they eat and to show them what goes into producing that food. Displays of old and new farm equipment lined the farmyard, as well as history displays, a petting zoo, a lunch stand, kids activities, and much more that made for a busy family night on the farm.
“This is the second year of doing this event,” said Katie Brown, a member of the group putting on the event. “Last year, many of us put together the first event last year at Klein’s Cow Palace near Lake City. This year, the Holst family graciously offered to host the event out here, so it’s a new event for our county but we’re hoping to make it a tradition.”
Brown described the turnout on Friday night as “amazing.” Events like this just don’t happen without a large number of people who are passionate about agriculture and want to tell its story to people who don’t have much of a connection to the farm.
“We want to make sure we tell the next generation about what farmers do every day and how hard they work,” said Brown, who lives in Millville, “and not just in the dairy industry but every segment of farming, including corn and soybean farmers, and hog producers. We just want to make sure we share that story with everyone.”
The list of activities was a long one on Friday night. The displays included the history of agriculture, with actual working equipment from back in the day as well as some of the newest equipment, a chance to watch the dairy farm at work, and plenty for the kids to do as well.
“We have a little bit of history,” Brown said as she took a break from helping at the lunch counter, “not just about the farm but how agriculture has changed. We have a cream separator, which a lot of people may not know how it works, so it’ll be interesting to watch that. We have a large sand pile for kids with hidden baseballs to find for a chance to win Twins tickets. We have old and new tractors, a pedal tractor, calf feeding, and much more.”
She said it’s incredibly important to do more activities like this because of that growing disconnect between urban folks and people on the farm. She sees that disconnect every day in her job as a Calf and Heifer Specialist with Land O’ Lakes.
“I’ve been involved in the American Dairy Association and the dairy industry all my life,” Brown said. “I’ve become very good friends with a couple from New York, and when I explain what I do when working with dairy farmers on the nutrition side making diets for cows and calves, they said ‘you do what?’ It’s interesting to talk to people that have no experience on a farm and tell them about what farmers do on a daily basis.
“When they ask ‘how do you milk a cow,’ they see you sitting on a stool between cows,” she said. “We send them pictures showing that there’s a new way of milking cows in parlors which is more safe for humans and more efficient to operate. It’s interesting to hear their take on it.”
As Brown was watching people walk by, she did see a lot of people from the surrounding community but did notice a large number of people who came from far away to enjoy a night on the farm with their family. The other noticeable thing about the crowds was an incredible number of oranges shirts that signified volunteers who were helping the event run smoothly.
“I definitely couldn’t do it myself,” she said with a smile, “the Holst family has been great about bringing in family members and neighbors to help out. The tractor club helps out, and so does the Farm Bureau, the Farmers Union, and people sometimes just come in to help without being asked. They show up and say ‘give me a shirt and tell me what to do.’ That’s when you know you’re truly in an agricultural community when people step forward to help. They step forward to help even when sign-up sheets at local banks are filled up.”
Brown and many of the other people running the event have roots that run deep in agriculture. Katie grew up on a dairy farm and is very proud of what her family does. Although she and her husband don’t dairy farm, their kids still get the experience of being on a farm regularly when they want to. Not everyone is so fortunate to have farming in their immediate, or even extended, family.
“I do worry about the next generation getting further and further away from understanding what is going on in farming,” Brown said. “It’s not generally even the grandparents that farmed any more, it’s getting further away in the family. It’s vital that we share our story with the next generation about where their food comes from, otherwise, they won’t appreciate it as much as they should.”
Last year, she was hoping for approximately 200 people to show up and they had an actual turnout closer to 600 people. This year, the goal was 900 people.
“It feels good to see the turnout and it’s a beautiful evening,” Brown said. “It’s exciting to see so many people show up.”
Here’s the complete interview with Katie Brown shortly after I pulled her out from behind the lunch counter for a quick chat. I think you can hear just how busy the place was in the background.