September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Educating at the state fair
The Great Minnesota Get-Together is not something I like to miss. Being a 4-H alum, I have consistently attended the fair for the last 14 years or so, missing only one or two. I love the fair, taking in the sights, sounds, smells and, of course, food. Lots of food.
Every year I'm reminded what an incredible educational event the state fair is for consumers, not just of dairy but for all ag sectors. This year, that notion hit home more than ever.
I attended the Minnesota State Fair on Aug. 31 this year to cover various events for the Dairy Star, to work a shift in the all-you-can-drink milk stand and spend some time taking in the fair.
After visiting with Princess Kay of the Milky Way, Mary Zahurones, and taking pictures with Viktor the Viking in the Dairy Building, I set out for a photo op at the Miracle of Birth Center.
People love baby animals, but it's amazing how they're drawn to the Miracle of Birth Center to watch the live births. They're simply fascinated.
One of the highlights at the birth center on Aug. 31 was the birth of twin Holstein calves born that morning. I didn't get there until 1 p.m. - long after the calves were born - but people were still packed around the pen, oohing and awwing at the spunky little calves as they tried their legs at walking.
After wandering around the birth center for 20 minutes, snapping shots here and there, my first teaching moment came when volunteers took the calves from the cow and put them in their own individual pens. This left one small group near me wondering if this separation was a common practice and why farmers would do such a thing, especially as the cow circled around obviously looking for her two little ones.
I grasped the moment and explained. While the group still felt for the cow and the calves, they left with a better understanding of the practice.
From there, I made my way to the dairy barn, where a hand milking demonstration was taking place. I was surprised by the number of people who lined up to try their hand at milking - literally. A few kids were tentative about touching such a large animal; some jumped right in, determined to milk the cow. A couple people cheered, "I milked a cow!" when they successfully extracted a stream of creamy, white milk into the bucket.
(I was also amazed at the cow, a Milking Shorthorn. She just stood there through it all, with all the patience in the world.)
Shortly after the hand-milking demonstration, three Milking Shorthorns were brought into the parlor. A volunteer explained the milking procedure step-by-step as the audience watched the cows being milked through large viewing windows.
At 2 p.m., it was my turn to take a shift in the all-you-can-drink milk stand. I had never worked in the milk stand before; it was a lot of fun! I served cup after cup of white, chocolate and mixed milk to very happy consumers. And they were happy; there was not a single person who came up to the window without a smile on his or her face.
People love milk. That was evident during my shift. So many commented on how refreshing the milk was and how it is their favorite stop at the fair. They were also blown away by some of the facts the volunteers offered, such as an average cow produces around 350,000 glasses of milk in her lifetime. I even had a competition going on at my window for who would come back for the most refills. One kid who couldn't have been more than four feet tall and 100 pounds downed seven glasses of milk. Another drank six. I was thoroughly impressed!
"One more chocolate for the ditch," one happy customer said as he handed me his glass for yet another refill.
Next time you attend the state fair, even if it is your very first year, consider volunteering at the milk stand or the moo booth. If not, take time to visit the Miracle of Birth Center, and take advantage of educational opportunities as they arise. If we don't tell the dairy industry's story, someone else will, and who better to tell it than those who live and breath it every day.
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