With thousands of Wisconsinites cooped up in their homes until April 24 per Gov. Tony Evers’ “safer at home” order, some may be thinking of warmer weather, and in particular, their favorite dairy-centered community event in their county this May and June.
However, plans to celebrate National Dairy Month in Wisconsin’s typical fashion — with dairy breakfasts, farm tours and free milk, cheese and ice cream — are currently up in the air due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday, March 20, members of county dairy promotion groups across Wisconsin received an email from Beth Schaefer, regional program manager for Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, offering guidance to those groups as they approach June Dairy Month and the date of their scheduled dairy breakfasts and events.
While the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin cannot personally cancel dairy breakfasts across the state as they are planned, organized and staffed by community volunteers, Schaefer did offer this advice: “plan your event and plan to postpone.”
“We are all experiencing the virus very differently depending on which part of the state you live in,” she said. “We’re encouraging dairy promotion groups to have a back up plan and urging them to plan accordingly, whether that be to postpone, cancel or get creative, and not just during National Dairy Month.”
At this time of the year, Schaefer and her team are typically sending National Dairy Month materials to the printer; however, they’ve decided to hold off on printing and distributing those materials as “encouraging social gatherings would be insensitive” during this time. Schaefer added that while the content is ready, with the current uncertainty, the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin decided to hold off on investing dairy check off dollars on materials that may not be used this year.
Instead, the former Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board will be focusing on social media content for April, shining a light on farmers through stories and photography. Messaging will include buy local dairy and buy local cheese to support your local dairy farmer and will be distributed through social media, along with some newspaper advertising, and in their own press releases.
“If they have the opportunity to postpone, we will work with the dairy promotion groups to continue to be cheerleaders for Wisconsin dairy,” Schaefer said.
“Dairy promotion groups celebrate National Dairy Month in June but these volunteers work year-round to promote dairy,” she added. “They are finding an infinite number of ways and although dairy breakfasts are their crown jewel, we have volunteers promoting year-round and are grateful for their support. They are invaluable assets to Wisconsin dairy and we will continue to support these groups.”
Dave Pellett, a member of Dunn County Dairy Promotion, was one of the first to give Schaefer a call with concerns. He and his committee were worried about holding off on planning for the 27th annual Dunn County Dairy Breakfast on Saturday, June 13, at Breezy Haven Farm, although he admitted there was a lot that couldn’t wait until the last minute to be planned.
“We did not want to devote time and expense preparing only to find out that we can’t have our breakfast,” he said.
The breakfast’s hosts, Mark and Lynn Dietsche and Aaron and Heather Dietsche of the Town of Grant near Bloomer, were very excited to host, but as of last week, the Dunn County Dairy Promotion Committee had decided to cancel the June event. Pellett hopes it was the right decision.
“We’re hoping to do smaller pop-up type events for June Dairy Month and celebrate farmers,” he said. “We had a general consensus amongst the committee that canceling the event for 2020 was the safe and proper thing to do.”
He said it helped that the committee was open to holding the event again next year at the same farm, if the host farm agreed.
“They were willing to say ‘yes’ and put it on hold. It makes it easier for us,” Pellett said. “If they hadn’t been so gracious, the decision would have been more difficult than it was.”
Debbie Bauer, program director for the Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said their dairy-centered community event, Dairyfest, planned for May 29-31, is still going on as planned.
“With everything happening, people are still excited about Dairyfest,” she said. “And with the amount of business support as well, it offers a glimpse of hope that there’s a light at the end.”
In its 39th year, Dairyfest encompasses many family-friendly activities, including the Dairyfest Mayor’s Breakfast at the Central Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, an annual YMCA Cheese Chase race, Dairyfest parade and more. It’s a community tradition that brings people together, Bauer said, and what better time to do that than now.
Over 200 volunteers are scheduled to help serve breakfast on Friday morning, May 29, working in two-hour shifts to make sure no one leaves hungry. Many community members eat and then sit and talk with others the remainder of the morning — and it’s something Bauer anticipates there will be more of this year.
“People need each other,” she said. “I’m a believer and an optimist. We have to be optimistic of what the future should hold for us.”
The planning committee has not considered another date for Dairyfest yet, but Bauer was certain if the event couldn’t be held in May, the event would be postponed and a new date would be selected. She added that with the generous support of businesses, they could move the event to another date instead of canceling altogether.
Ironically, this year’s theme for Dairyfest is “Dairy Strong,” something Bauer and event organizers had no way of knowing would be the perfect theme during uncertain times.
“It’s so appropriate,” she said. “We’re truly dairy strong and need to remind people. I think this will unite our community if we can pull it off.”