Emily Annexstad and her family milk 200 cows near St. Peter, Minn., in Nicollet County. PHOTO BY JENNIFER COYNE
Emily Annexstad and her family milk 200 cows near St. Peter, Minn., in Nicollet County.
ST. PETER, Minn. - Through school and community organizations, Emily Annexstad has created many goal cards, listing her personal and professional aspirations. Of all the goals she has hoped to accomplish, one has remained the same with each card: To be named a Princess Kay of the Milky Way finalist.
"This was always one of my long-term goals. It's a dream come true," said Emily, the daughter of Rolf and Jean Annexstad.
The 19-year-old, who grew up on her family's 200-cow dairy farm near St. Peter, Minn., in Nicollet County, was the 12th young woman to be named a finalist in May.
"A couple times before my name was called, I thought it could be me. But then when they read the clues off about day-to-day chores and giving 4-H livestock demonstrations, I knew it was me," Emily said.
On the farm, Emily helps with the routine responsibilities alongside her younger twin brothers, Leif and Matthias. When she is home from school and throughout the summer months, Emily feeds the heifers and calves, and also helps milk cows and bed the pens.
"Really, I fill in wherever I need to," Emily said.
For the Annexstads, sharing their farming story has been a family affair - hosting farm tours to educate the public and promote the industry.
"We always open our farm up to groups that want to learn, from kindergarteners to college classes at Gustavus (Adolphus College)," Rolf said.
Jean agreed, recalling a moment when urban legislators came to the farm and learned how to milk a cow.
"To be a part of the dairy family means we're all in it to educate consumers about the product we're all working so hard to produce," she said.
Watching her parents proudly represent the industry and being a small part of that, it only seemed natural for Emily to develop into her own advocating role through 4-H and the Minnesota Junior Holstein Association at local and state fairs.
"I've always tried to engage people in conversation, either while I'm on my way to the show ring or as consumers walk through the barns," Emily said.
But, Emily's desire to educate the public about the industry did not stop there. After seeing two fellow Nicollet County ladies go through the dairy princess program, and being named finalists themselves, Emily knew there was a larger platform to share her story.
"To be able to watch [the other princesses] and then attend Princess Kay coronation, I knew I would enjoy being in a similar role," Emily said. "My dairy farming family is a role model to me, and I hoped I would have this chance to represent them."
As a finalist for Princess Kay of the Milky Way, Emily has treasured the summer as she interacts with consumers, telling of the livelihood of Minnesota dairy farmers, like herself and her family, and highlighting the nutritional benefits of the dairy foods produced.
"People may not realize how good dairy products are," Emily said. "It's important to reach out to everyone, especially kids, because they're open to gathering new information about milk and dairy farming."
Emily also hopes to emphasize the role farmers take in preserving a future in the dairy industry for the next generation of agriculturalists.
"Dairy farmers are rooted in tradition, and even though that's constantly changing with technology, those who produce food really care about the land and animals in order for the next generation to farm," Emily said.
This fall, Emily will be a sophomore at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, studying animal science and agricultural communications and marketing. With her classes and involvement in school organizations, Emily has gained a greater understanding of the industry and the need to share that information with consumers.
As Rolf and Jean watch their daughter grow with knowledge and develop a desire for communications and production agriculture, they see Emily exemplifying the role of a finalist.
"There's a sparkle in her personality - it's genuine - and she's enthusiastic for the dairy industry," Jean said.
By growing up in the industry and taking on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Emily has learned that none of it would be possible without the unconditional support of her family and community.
"If you work hard on the farm, that reflects well on the entire dairy community, and I still can't believe how excited everyone is for me and the support I've been given," Emily said.
Jean agreed.
"She has a love for dairy because of the connections she's been able to make," she said.
As summer continues, Emily is most excited to meet her fellow finalists and is looking forward to her time at the Minnesota State Fair.
"Now, I get this amazing opportunity to connect with people at the state fair in a way that I haven't been able to do," Emily said.
Emily's parents are relishing their daughter's journey as an advocate for the industry.
"I'm most excited for the butter," Rolf said. "In all seriousness, it's great to see her achieve what she's set out to do and has worked hard for."
With one goal already checked off the list, Emily has her sights on the next one and Aug. 23 cannot come soon enough.