The Minnesota State Fair is a great state fair. Don’t miss it. Don’t even be late. I’m not sure who originally penned those lyrics, but they’ve been floating around my head since watching a 4-H Arts In performance while at the state fair an unknown number of years ago. Those lines and the melody came to the front of my mind the other day while sitting in the 4-H building with my wife and daughter waiting to watch this year’s 4-H Arts In performance while it poured rain outside. Arts In is always entertaining because I enjoy watching the kids do something many aren’t brave enough to do with a smile on their face. Usually the show’s plot goes something along the lines of: There’s a problem, and we’ll solve it through teamwork and positivity.
I had been hiding from a downpour in the 4-H building because last week I had the pleasure of spending four days at the Minnesota State Fair with my sons, Jonnie and Erik, and the other dairy kids from Dakota County. Jonnie was fortunate enough to win reserve champion with his Brown Swiss aged cow, Cece, during his first year eligible for a state fair trip. Erik wasn’t so lucky as his best cow he picked out and trained for the county fair got pinkeye the week before the fair and had to stay home. He was disappointed to not get a trip, but sometimes things just work out in life. This year there was not enough space for all the 4-H members to stay in dorms at the fair, and counties close to the metro area like ours were asked to find alternative places for the kids to stay during the fair or commute. I decided to check if there were any open rooms at my college fraternity, Alpha Gamma Rho. The guys at the house were happy to have us stay with them. The bonus to not staying in 4-H dorms was that Erik could come even though he didn’t get a trip, and everyone was happy to have an extra person around to keep the cattle clean and fed.
Despite the state fair not being nearly as well attended this year as it has been in years past, there were lots of people walking through the barns asking questions about farming and whether they could pet the cows. It was great watching the 4-H dairy kids doing something just as brave as standing on the Arts In stage. They listened attentively and answered people’s questions the best they could. For some people, a walk through the state fair cattle barn is their only direct interaction with agriculture all year. I’m glad when, instead of staring at people like they just said the dumbest thing ever, even if it wasn’t far off, the kids smile and tell the person about how great their cow is and how much they enjoy working with it. Those people walking through the barns are our customers, and like all good businessmen and women, we know no matter how silly the question, our job is to treat them in a way that when they walk away they enjoyed the interaction and want to keep purchasing our products.
If you have kids who go to events like fairs or even just their school, teach them how to be a good dairy ambassador or, to steal the marketing slogan from recent years, a dairy good ambassador. While there’s no band behind us or rehearsed choreography to practice, we can all stand there, put on a big old smile and solve the problem of fewer and fewer people having a connection to dairy products by being their farmer.
I hope everyone has gotten some rain that needed it and the corn silage harvest season goes well. Until next time, keep living the dream, and maybe consider putting together a little tune and a dance number to tell people about your farm. It doesn’t matter if it’s cheesy. In fact, it should be. That’s one of our most popular products.
Tim Zweber farms with his wife Emily, their three children and his parents Jon and Lisa by Elko, Minnesota.