Don Weiss admitted to feeling just a bit nervous ahead of the Pepin County Town and Country Dairy Breakfast on June 12.
But a couple hours into the event, he said he was feeling good as well as grateful for the nice weather as hundreds of visitors milled about the farm he owns with his wife, Colette, and sons Noah and Nathan just northwest of Durand.
Noah Weiss pulled double duty this year, as part of the host family and as chair of the Pepin County breakfast.
It’s not the first time that Weiss Family Farms has welcomed a crowd for a dairy breakfast — they hosted in 2004 as well. After no on-farm breakfast last summer, this year’s event was perhaps extra welcome.
Weiss Family Farms was scheduled as host for the dairy breakfast in 2020, but when the coronavirus pandemic shut down on-farm events, the family offered to remain as hosts in 2021 while the Pepin County Dairy Promotion Committee organized a drive-thru breakfast last June.
And while the drive-thru turned out to be wildly successful, “it really was great to get back on the farm this year,” Randy Koller, chair of the Pepin County Dairy Promotion Committee, said.
Questions about whether COVID-19 would abate enough to have an on-farm breakfast this year lingered in the early months of the planning process, but Koller said that while they didn’t know what would ultimately happen, they did know that early planning was still essential to even have a chance to be on the farm.
Noah Weiss said that when COVID-19 vaccinations on the farm started in March, holding the dairy breakfast on the farm really seemed like it would happen this time. It appeared apparent that anyone who wanted to have a vaccine for their protection would be able to by the time the Pepin County dairy breakfast came around.
All the hopes and planning did finally come together for the well-attended event. The breakfast attracted about 2,000 to the farm — two seating areas were set up and the line for breakfast, which featured pancakes, sausage, cheese curds, milk and more, stretched toward the road midway through the event.
“I’d say the day went really well,” Noah Weiss said.
Those enjoying breakfast were also encouraged to talk a stroll around the farm to learn more about the dairy industry and how Weiss Family Farms operates.
Weiss Family Farms has a herd of around 1,100, including dry cows, Noah said. Their cows are milked three times a day in a rotary parlor. The farm has control of about 3,000 acres, the large majority of which are owned.
The walking tour of the farm was a COVID-related adjustment, instead of gathering people together on wagon rides. On the farm side, Noah said it was more difficult to have the walking tour, as they had to make sure everything was safe for walkers, as opposed to just knowing everyone was out of any potential harm’s way when they were on the wagon.
But the walking tour did have advantages too. People could take their time to walk around at a more “leisurely pace” and stop where they wanted for as long as they wanted, Koller said.
Farm industry professionals, such as veterinarians, were on hand to answer questions from attendees, and the farm’s barns, sand reclaiming system and 50-cow DeLaval rotary parlor with a teat spray robot were also featured elements of the tour.
Everything on the farm is done with cow comfort and health in mind, Noah Weiss said, including the decisions to invest in the rotary parlor with TSR.
“We’re here to keep our cows healthy,” he said, noting that healthy, comfortable cows are also going to be the most profitable cows
Getting people to try dairy products, showing them how the animals are cared for and letting them know how healthy dairy products are is what having a dairy breakfast is all about, Don Weiss said.
Last year’s drive-thru breakfast delivered on getting products in people’s hands, Noah said, but couldn’t provide the same educational experience of actually being on the farm.
Video links to a virtual tour of Weiss Family Farms and Eau Galle Cheese were included in last year’s breakfast, Koller said, but videos don’t provide the interaction that comes from being physically present on the farm.
While Koller said he was glad that they did the drive-thru event last year, having people out to a farm really provides a place for urban and rural populations to connect.
Noah Weiss said that having a breakfast on the farm also allows people who may have grown up on a farm but have since moved away a chance to come back to a farm for a day.
Koller said he heard indirectly that some retired farmers had, after seeing the farm’s rotary parlor set-up, joked about wondering what the tractors looked like now. By having the dairy breakfast, those retired farmers, as well as the many other visitors, had a chance to see how farm technology has continued to evolve.
Noah said the highlight of the comments he heard was being told that people had to take their kids around the farm twice because being on the farm brought so much joy to the kids.
Of course, that love of the farm can frequently be found in the kids growing up on the farm, too. If the next generation of Weiss Family Farms — the farm’s seventh generation — had to choose now, they’d probably say they’d like to stay, Noah Weiss said, although even the oldest of those kids is still well too young to be making any such decisions.
For his part, Don Weiss said it’s exciting to be able to have his family on the farm, poised to continue through six generation with his sons and perhaps someday through that seventh generation comprised of his grandkids.
For now, though, Noah Weiss said that they just hope to provide what his parents provided for him and his brother: a good position to bring the next generation on board if that’s what any of the kids choose for their future.