George and Mary Gierok milk 45 cows at their High Hillside Acres Farm near Independence, Wis. They hosted their second Trempealeau County Dairy Breakfast June 8.
George and Mary Gierok milk 45 cows at their High Hillside Acres Farm near Independence, Wis. They hosted their second Trempealeau County Dairy Breakfast June 8. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
    INDEPENDENCE, Wis. – For George and Mary Gierok and their children, there is nothing unusual about hosting large gatherings of people at their picturesque High Hillside Acres farm nestled in the hills of the Traverse Valley near Independence, Wis.
    The Gieroks hosted their second Trempealeau County Dairy Breakfast June 8. They also hosted the gathering in 2005.
    “No one had stepped forward to host the breakfast this year. We figured that since we’d just had the wedding here, a lot of the work was done,” said Mary, of their daughter’s, Jorgiann’s, wedding last month.
    The Gieroks milk 45 cows, mostly Holstein, with their children: Aaron, 20, Jorgiann, 19, Mason, 14, and Owen, 11. They raise their replacements and sell excess replacement heifers.
    Mary’s father, a Swiss immigrant, held true to the farming traditions of his home country, including Swiss cow bells. Many of the cows in the herd wear the traditional bells. George and Mary received their first cow bell as a wedding gift and have continued to collect them.
    “I married into the bells,” George said. “Mary’s cows came here with the bells. I didn’t think too much of it at first, but I was afraid that if I took them off, it would insult Mary’s parents. I left them on in the winter when the cows were in the barn all the time, and her dad asked me why I still had the bells on. Eventually, I decided I liked them. They are like our trademark.”
    The bells also serve a practical purpose, allowing the Gieroks to know the approximate location of their cows, particularly the dry cows while they are grazing.
    The Gierok’s farm, which was purchased in 1991, consists of 285 acres, 132 of which are tillable. They grow corn, oat and an alfalfa-grass mix for dry hay for winter feeding and supplementing the cows during the summer. No additional proteins are purchased for the feed. Because of the terrain of the farm, the Gierok’s cows spend the majority of their time rotationally grazing the hillsides.
    “Just about everything you see, we put here,” George said of their farmstead, as he readied the barn for the cows to come in for morning milking. “This dairy barn and the silo were here, but we’ve built everything else. It was an opportunity for us.”
    The morning before the breakfast started out normal for the Gieroks with the exception of the large tent located outside of their barn. The morning turned humid as George and Mary packed their two youngest children off to school for their last day of the school year.
    “With school going so late this year, I’m missing half my work force,” George said.
    George swept cow mangers while Mary filled wheelbarrows with fresh silage for the cows to come for milking. Jorgiann took care of readying the milkhouse and the milking equipment.
    While George and Jorgiann got to the business of milking cows, Mary retrieved a fresh heifer. As they were finishing up milking, the day began to take on a slightly different rhythm and pace than a typical day for the Gieroks.
    The first of many delivery trucks that would arrive that day pulled into the yard. First came a truck delivering portable toilets. Next, a trailer bringing a giant charcoal grill arrived followed by a roll-off truck bringing a dumpster. In the midst of all the special deliveries, the Gierok’s milk truck arrived.
    “Today was our regular day for milk pick up,” Mary said. “That worked out nice that we didn’t have to have him come a day early.”    
    Volunteers began to arrive, and soon there were over 20 people from the Trempealeau County Dairy Promotion Committee on hand to help the Gieroks prepare to host over 1,300 guests the next day. Several of the volunteers have served as breakfast hosts in previous years and place value on the connection made with the public during a breakfast held on the farm.
    Mary Dejno is a long-time volunteer for the Trempealeau County Dairy Breakfast, having been involved since the first breakfast in 1981. Her family also farms near Independence, Wis., and has hosted the event twice.
    “Giving non-farm people the experience of being on the farm is very important,” Dejno said. “It has always been important, but these days with all the misinformation about agriculture it is even more important.”
     As people arrived to help, they began picking up brooms and sweeping the large machine shed where the breakfast would be prepared and served. Some set up tables and chairs in the tent.
    More deliveries continued to arrive. A large flatbed was backed under the tent to provide a stage for the live entertainment. Several griddles were delivered and positioned, ready to provide a hearty breakfast in a few short hours.
    Despite all of the hustle and bustle interrupting the daily routine on their farm, George and Mary relished the opportunity to welcome the public to their farm.
    “Yes, I should probably have been making hay this week with the nice weather,” George said. “But, it can grow a little more, and hopefully the weather will hold out for me this next week.”
    Sharing the story of the dairy industry and their small family farm in particular is an important part of the Gierok’s motivation for hosting the event.
    “Too many people don’t know where their food comes from,” Mary said. “They think it comes from the grocery store. Or, they have a bad perception of the industry. We want to show them our farm and how we work hard to supply a healthy product.”