Our family has spent the last 12 months happily supporting Princess Kay of the Milky Way Emily Annexstad in her more than 80 events and 6,000 miles to help tell the story of Minnesota’s dairy farmers. And, that does not include the 12 days of the Minnesota State Fair where each newly crowned Princess Kay does countless interviews and appearances near the dairy building at the Christenson Stage outside the Miracle of Birth Center and the Moo Booth milking parlor.
    The media interviews with local and national venues are interspersed throughout the 12 days of the fair. Being a first-hand witness to what the program encompasses, though not always present, I think the PK program is a phenomenal way for dairy farmers to have their story told. In addition, the 11 finalists each tell their own personal stories to local media. The coverage is excellent, thanks to the hard work of Midwest Dairy Association staff, the PK coordinator and Bellmont Partners PR agency. That is one key thing I learned being a Princess Kay Mom this past year.
    The year was a great opportunity to open our farm for tours, interviews, photo sessions, videos and gatherings. We were asked to be ready at a moment’s notice to host or attend any number of events across Minnesota. When Emily asked us to, either my husband, I or another family member tried to go along. It was eye-opening to see how people wanted to interact with her and to listen to the questions they asked about our farm, how we take care of our dairy animals and why dairy foods are important to include in a healthy diet.
    Having a PK in your household is a unique experience. Since the crowning of the 65th Princess Kay Aug. 22, it is quiet at our house. Emily has moved back to the University of Minnesota-St. Paul campus. Our twin sons, Matthias and Leif, freshmen majoring in animal science at the University of Minnesota this fall, joined her there, so that adds to the change in dynamics around our farm and home.
    Will there be more opportunities to continue to tell the story about dairy to people who are typically interested in listening? I want to continue to find out, even though our Princess Kay is a has been, as she says.
    Here are key things I have learned:
    - Build relationships with people who consume our products to earn and build trust. They want to know that we share values with them more than they want to know about the science and facts, according to Roxie Beck, of the Center for Food Integrity, at the Dairy Experience Forum July 24-26 in Bloomington, Minn.
    For example, when I give tours of my calf barn, I often get the question, “Why do you take the calves away from their moms so soon?” I used to delve into a long explanation of how the calf needs an adequate amount of colostrum, might be injured by the mom, etc. Now I often just say, “I’m the calf-mom now, so the cow can be taken care of in the special barn for new moms, and I can make sure the calf is getting everything it needs to stay healthy and thrive.” People seem to accept that statement.
    - When asked to host a tour, do an interview, participate in a video to help inform others about how we dairy farm, if at all possible, do it. Sure it takes time and effort to make sure your farm is camera ready. During the past year, I learned to be a couple hours from having the key areas cleanable for a tour. Yes, first-crop hay or something equally as important will likely be a task at hand when the date rolls around for the tour from the local school group. Try to be accommodating and know that a majority of those on the tour sincerely want to see your farm and learn what you do. Treat them as friends and make sure the farm is safe (tie up or hold the farm dog, make sure they wash their hands after handling calves or cats, lock the detergent pump in the milk house, etc.).
    - Think of yourself as a expert of how you do things on your farm, Beck suggests. Try to use language to acknowledge that you have heard their questions and share their values. Strive to find common ground. Use statements such as, “As a mom who feeds our milk to our own family, I want to make sure the milk from our cows is safe to drink.” Beck also recommends to listen, ask and share.     
    Leverage your values and who you are to incite confidence with those you are telling your story to. If they have confusion, embrace the skepticism, Beck said.
    I also believe, as Beck said, that who you are is as important as what you know. You are a person first and an expert later. Most people who eat would like to know more about their food. We are among whom they trust the most to tell them about our dairy story.
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children Emily, Matthias and Leif. They farm near St. Peter, in Norseland, where she is still trying to fit in with the Norwegians and Swedes. They milk 200 cows and farm 650 acres. She can be reached at jeanannexstad@gmail.com.