5/15/2017 3:37:00 PM Facebook cofounder sees Wisconsin dairy firsthand Gant family uses Zuckerberg's visit to advocate for agriculture
Gant family members shared Sunday dinner with their famous guest, Facebook executive Mark Zuckerberg. Clockwise, from left are: Austin Gant, Jason Gant, Mark Zuckerberg, Jed Gant, Joslyn Gant, Norma Gant, Nick Hartman and Ashley Gant. PHOTO PROVIDED BY FACEBOOK
Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of the social media website Facebook, drove a tractor for the first time during his Wisconsin visit. He’s at the wheel of a 1940 Farmall B, accompanied by farm owner Jed Gant. PHOTO PROVIDED BY FACEBOOK
BLANCHARDVILLE, Wis. - This has to be a joke. Right? A multibillionaire businessman wants to visit our farm? That's more or less what the Gant family of Blanchardville, Wis., thought when they were told Mark Zuckerberg, the cofounder of Facebook and worth roughly $63 billion, wanted to stop by their 30-cow dairy farm. "We thought we were getting our chain pulled," said Austin Gant, the son of Jed and Rona Gant. But no, that phone call a few weeks ago was no joke. On April 30, the chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of the social media website arrived at the Gants' Lafayette County farm. Zuckerberg brought with him from his headquarters at Menlo Park, Calif., half a dozen or so associates, Gant said. They were set on visiting all 50 states this year, and Zuckerberg wanted a firsthand look at a real Wisconsin dairy farm. How does a world-known figure choose a farm to tour? Gant said his twin sister, Ashley, played a role. Her boyfriend's brother lives in the Golden State. That California brother and his children visited the Gant farm a few weeks before Zuckerberg did, and posted pictures of their adventure on Facebook. Zuckerberg saw the pictures and decided the fifth-generation farm would be an interesting stop on his 50-state tour. The 33-year-old internet entrepreneur and computer programmer got to try new things during his Sunday afternoon at the 129-year-old Gant farm that was homesteaded in 1888. "Today was a bunch of firsts for me: first time feeding a calf, first time trying unpasteurized milk straight from a cow, first time driving a 70-year old tractor," Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page. Along with the dairy herd, the Gants have a beef herd of 400 cow-calf pairs. The farms total 2,000 acres, most of it pasture. The cropland grows alfalfa, corn and oats - all of it fed right on the farm. Other key people in the dairy and beef operations are Austin's uncle, Jason, and Austin's great uncle, Karl. Approximately 15 members of the family were on hand for the Gants' noteworthy day, Austin said. As Zuckerberg wrote, he tried his hand at activities farm folks take for granted, since they're part of their daily lives. The 3-week-old Holstein calf that the CEO fed with a bottle dug right into her meal. "It was fun for him (Zuckerberg)," Austin said. "I think he really got a kick out of it." That 70-year-old tractor Zuckerberg told his estimated 89 million Facebook followers about is actually 77 years old. Austin said his great-grandfather, Bernard, bought the 1940 Farmall B when it was new. The smallish tractor was used for cultivating. Several members of the Gant clan cut their teeth learning to drive it. Austin said his grandpa, dad, uncle and sisters all chugged around the farm on the red machine. "[Zuckerberg was] really excited about driving it," Austin said. The Gants had the beloved, old Farmall painted last fall. They had planned to have the restored tractor debut May 13, when Austin marries Kelsey Fink in an empty barn on the farm. "We were going to unveil it for pictures at my wedding," Austin said. "But it's not every day Mark Zuckerberg comes to your farm." The computer whiz also got to hold a baby kitten and see the inside of the tiestall barn, with its pipeline. Jed started the dairy 31 years ago. Many milkings find Austin, Jed and Jason in the barn together, sharing the work. "We enjoy milking cows," Austin said. "There's no better way to start and end your day." Perhaps the highlight of Zuckerberg's visit was the family dinner Austin said his grandmother, Norma, prepares every Sunday. Dinner took place in her white, two-story house that's on the farm. Austin's aunt, Joslyn, lent a hand in making the meal. It included hearty country fare: roast beef, mashed potatoes, corn, peas, ice cream, and Norma's homemade hot fudge, chocolate cake and brownies. After leaving the Gant farm, Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook that he enjoyed more Wisconsin food. He posted a picture of himself in a restaurant in nearby Madison, Wis., noshing on bratwurst and cheese curds. According to Zuckerberg's Facebook post, "I basically inhaled the first brat and cheese curds before remembering I should take a photo to thank you all for telling me to come here, so then I ordered this second brat. I do not regret it." Neither do the Gants regret Zuckerberg's visit. "He was as common as common could be," Austin said. Gant added, "I cannot stress how genuine and nice and polite he and his entire staff were. Their willingness to learn was just unbelievable." Austin said he, himself, turns to Facebook multiple times each day. He finds it especially helpful in learning about the cattle genetics other farmers use. As to why his family agreed to let Zuckerberg visit, Austin explained, "We, as livestock producers, want to shed light on what we do. We're not evil people. We're out here seven days a week, 365 days a year, rain or shine, no excuses. Every livestock producer knows the livestock always come first. We're just like everybody else: If you don't take care of the livestock, you're not in business." In his Facebook post, Zuckerberg wrote about his appreciation for what farmers do. "The family is incredibly disciplined," Zuckerberg wrote. "Everyone works daylight to dark, seven days a week. When we were driving around his property, Jed told me he'd rather feed the cattle than feed himself if it came down to that. And even though the demand for milk and cheese has declined in recent years, he's never taken a subsidy check from the government. The way he sees it, 'If you don't take the check, they can't tell you what to do.'" Zuckerberg added that Jed Gant called farming "'the greatest job there is,' ... Their self-reliance is impressive." The Gants sent the CEO and his crew on their way with steaks and roasts from the farm, plus seven kinds of Wisconsin cheese. Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook, "Thanks to the Gants for being such gracious hosts. Priscilla (Mrs. Zuckerberg), I hope you're hungry for cheese, because I'm coming home with a lot of it."