After a year in which dairy breakfasts were far and few between in America's Dairyland, many of the community-centered events are making a return this year.

As the coronavirus pandemic appears to ebb, traditional on-farm, dairy-centric meals are popping up on community calendars as June Dairy Month approaches. But not everyone is back yet. Some events are still choosing to hold off a bit longer, while yet others are proceeding with caution in a non-traditional drive-thru format that grew popular in the past year.

Back on the farm

The Rock County Dairy Breakfast, Buffalo County Dairy Breakfast and Shawano County Brunch on the Farm are among many dairy events making an in-person return this June.

All three events were canceled entirely last year, and this year all will feature the host farms that had been initially scheduled for 2020.

In Rock County, the event will be at Wilnore Holsteins, operated by the Jeff and Tonia McNally family, who are hosting for the first time. And, as long as the weather is nice, the dairy breakfast is expected to welcome a big crowd to the farm, said Julie Funk, Rock County Dairy Promotion Committee president and chairperson of the dairy breakfast.

Strong turnout at a local farmers market and that the Rock County Dairy Breakfast will be one of the first large outdoor events in the county have encouraged Funk's belief that people will be ready and excited to attend the June 5 event.

Jeff McNally likewise thought that many would welcome the chance to go to the event: "A lot of people are just excited to get out."

Funk said they have enough groceries to feed 4,000 visitors. Three airy dining areas, allowing several hundred to be seated at once, on the 500-acre farm will be available.

The Shawano County Dairy Brunch, sponsored by the Shawano County Farm Bureau, is also expecting a crowd of around 4,000 to 4,500 for its June 27 event, said Christa Hoffman, the event chairperson.

Back 40 Acres in Pulaski, run by the Nischke family, is ready to welcome visitors, and is actively in the midst of the planning process, Hoffman said. The chance to showcase their farms is a really exciting prospect for host families, she said.

In Buffalo County, Bob Sendelbach, owner of Sendelbach Dairy, will welcome visitors to his farm on June 26. It will be the first time he hosts a dairy breakfast. Sendelbach is the 160-year-old farm's fifth generation, milking around 100 cows in a double-eight parlor.

Sendelbach is also hopeful for a good turnout. Previous breakfasts typically have drawn crowds of around 1,500 people, he said, but the number has been up to 1,700.

While the pandemic continues to a factor in decisions about events like dairy breakfasts, those behind these three June Dairy Month events each felt confident enough with the trajectory of the pandemic to move forward with traditional on-farm events. 

For the Rock County Dairy Breakfast, conversations with the local health department yielded a decision that they would go forward with the event unless progress combatting the pandemic reversed course, Funk said.

The health department did ask that a plan be created to make the breakfast be as safe as possible. In addition to multiple dining areas, the breakfast will feature individually packaged items as possible and sanitation stations, Funk said.

"We feel we've taken a very close look at keeping people safe," Funk said.

Sendelbach said that he felt that the pandemic has ebbed enough to safely hold the event in Buffalo County, with the number of people who have been vaccinated or have acquired some level of natural immunity after recovering from COVID-19 helping everything get back to normal.

While the Shawano County event will work to reduce close contact where possible, such as by eliminating the bounce house, they're also hoping to proceed largely as normal, Hoffman said. People are welcome to social distance as they feel appropriate, and the ability to walk through the farm provides an alternative for people not quite comfortable exploring the farm on a wagon.

"We're just really excited to bring people back," Hoffman said.

Funk said everyone is happy to be able to move forward with the dairy breakfast this year and provide the opportunity to get people out to the farm. Tonia McNally said that the most exciting part of the event for her was just having everybody out to the farm to see how the farm runs and how they take care of their animals.

"We're glad it's finally here," Jeff McNally said.

Sendelbach said, "(I) just look forward to seeing everybody here."

Wait a while

Those anticipating the return of the Dane County Breakfast on the Farm will get their wish this summer, but they'll have to be patient.

After monitoring various health guidelines, the Dane County Dairy Promotion Committee decided in March to postpone their breakfast until later this summer, said Kristin Olson, Dane County Breakfast on the Farm coordinator.

They wanted to make sure that they would be able have an event that was as normal as possible, Olson said, noting that having the full experience is the "most impactful and enjoyable" option. Moving the breakfast to August was their way of making sure that option was possible this year.

Hinchley's Dairy Farm, originally scheduled for 2020, will serve as host, and the event will continue to serve as bridge for those who have lost touch with agriculture but are still "hungry" to know more about where their food comes from, Olson said.

While the Dane County Dairy Promotion Committee will continue to promote dairy in June through social media, they're also looking forward to celebrating Dairy Month a bit later and extending the focus on dairy well into the summer, Olson said.

Attendees will still get the dairy breakfast experience they've come to expect. This year, Breakfast on the Farm will also be joining forces with another committee event: Cows on the Concourse. Cows on the Concourse usually occurs in conjunction with the Dane County Farmers' Market on the Capitol Square, but since that farmers market has yet to return, the dairy impact will now be doubled on Aug. 21.

"This our chance to really make lemonade out of lemons," Olson said.

Drive-thru dairy

If any event style has thrived due to and during the coronavirus pandemic, it's been the drive-thru.

After canceling entirely last year due to the pandemic, the success of other drive-thru events since then has convinced the Iowa County Dairy Promotion Committee that a grab-and-go event is the way to proceed this year.

The June 5 off-farm drive-thru at the Iowa County Fairgrounds seemed like the safest bet, said Mike Brokish, president of the Iowa County Dairy Promotion Committee.

Although the scheduled 2020 host farm was willing to host this year (and has expressed willingness to host in the future), the host farm understood the committee's decision to forego the on-farm aspect this time, Brokish said.

"You want to get it on the farm," Brokish said, especially since for many, the breakfast might be their only chance to be on a farm that year. But this year, there were just "too many unknowns" for the committee to be able to count on holding an on-farm event safely.

Brokish said he hoped people would be patient with them this year as they use the drive-thru format. Even though the event won't be on a farm, attendees will still get a good breakfast and a chance to show support for the hardworking dairy farming community, he said.

And next year, Brokish said, they're hopeful they'll finally be able to get back to "so-called normal."

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