This year marked our 20th annual Ocooch Dairy Farm Party. Dad decided we were going to have an open farm type of party and invite all the neighbors. Our long tradition of farm parties was born.
    In those early years, we sent invites to everyone in our township, any employee and our family. We made 20 pounds of barbeque and provided the drinks, and a steady stream of friends rolled in with the sides. We set bales on the lawn topped with planks to make sitting a bit more level and had big bales with plywood sheets to hold the food on the lawn. Back in those days we were milking in the old barn next to the house, so our touring was short. It helped the neighbors stay abreast of all the changes happening on our farm. They asked questions and were happy to be informed of the growth of this progressive farm up the road.
    There were years we cleaned out our granary/garage area and had a friend set up his DJ equipment. The younger crowd danced the night away and helped to limit our beverage leftovers. When we outgrew the lawn, we cleaned out our biggest machine shed. We would spray the gravel down to limit the dust and party on. We also graduated to real tables and chairs. We even managed to wiggle a flatbed trailer in and put a band on it a few times.
    If we happened to have built a new building, the party grew substantially. The year we built the transition barn we had our party in the feed alley before any feed was dumped off and any cows tainted the freshly poured cement. An area band set up shop in the middle of the alley and we all danced for hours. When we built our new parlor, we ate in the front and had the band in the holding area where we partied the night away.
    Then we built our farm shop. It was not only made for keeping equipment warm and dry, but it has been a lifesaver for our growing farm parties. The meal has changed in the past five years, graduating from a potluck of sorts to a full-fledged pizza party. We had heard about other farms that ship to our milk company (Grande) doing the same thing, so we followed suit. After all, is there a better way to show people your cows produce amazing mozzarella cheese than by letting them eat it on a fresh pizza? The way to the heart is through the stomach, and pizza is a crowd-pleaser. We invite guests to put their choice of toppings (sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, olives, peppers and pineapple) on their pizzas, and then bake them immediately. We use eight pizza ovens, identified with cow tags, and give each pizza maker a matching tag for fast pizza identification. It’s a blur of pizza building, baking and cutting. Add in the children squealing and constant hum of neighborly conversation and you have a normal Ocooch Farm Party.
    Nowadays we send postcards with a farm picture on it and put it in the paper inviting the general public. With the addition of Facebook, we now post it on there as well. With us kids growing older and having children of our own, the crowds have grown. On a good year we will make over 140 pizzas in a night. This year the rain dampened our crowd size a bit. We made only 112 pizzas. Peter and Dad spent most of their night taking people on farm tours. Stacy stayed in the calf barn to be available to answer questions about our newest use of technology on the farm. Thomas and Tony helped welcome guests. We had a super team of Mitchell cousins and two incredible employees streamlining the pizza process. Their efficiency made up for me being in and out running pizzas to hungry guests and inevitably stopping to talk every five seconds. Our book club girlfriends brought fresh salads, and an army of sweet cooking club women provided an arsenal of chocolate-laden desserts that helped round out our meal plan. We had our usual corn box set up in the wash bay and sent many a child home looking like Casper the Friendly Ghost.
    It is a tremendous undertaking to get a farm cleaned up for public viewing of this magnitude. It is teamwork at its finest. Weed-whacking, lawn-mowing, power-washing, weed pulling and mulching, scrubbing, sweeping. Because it is a working farm, some of those things cannot be done until the last minute due to the cows not understanding how to keep things clean. There are moments of frustration and a fair amount of stress. When you start having people ask you in June when your farm party is and they tell you how much they look forward to it, it changes your outlook on all the prep work. It has transformed over the years to being a way to get people on the farm to becoming an annual party so many look forward to.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wis. Her children, Ira (11), Dane (9), Henry (4) and Cora (adventurous crawler), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.