While this June Dairy Month looked different from any other, Pepin County still turned out to show support for the industry.
About 1,100 cars went through two locations set up to distribute pre-packaged breakfast ingredients June 20, as the annual Pepin County Town and Country Dairy Breakfast moved off the farm and switched to a drive-thru version due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Turnout was way beyond what we even possibly envisioned,” said Pepin County Dairy Promotion Committee Chairman Randy Koller. “We were absolutely flabbergasted.”
The Pepin County Dairy Promotion Committee was prepared to feed about 2,400 diners. Committee members had prepared 600 bags of food, each packed to feed a family of four, and divided the bags between two drive-thru locations set up at Eau Galle Cheese northwest of Durand on Highway 25 and Komro Sales & Service east of Durand on Highway 85.
The packaged breakfasts included butter, milk, cheese, sausage and pancake mix and allowed guests to take the ingredients home to make breakfast.
The Pepin County Town and Country Dairy Breakfast usually draws about 1,600 to 1,800 diners to the farms.
The free drive-thru breakfast was scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m., but committee members started handing out bags at 7 because there were 26 cars already in line at 6:55, Koller said.
The bags were gone by 8:30 a.m., with each location running out nearly simultaneously, he said.
Committee members worked quickly to pass out bags of food. Koller said they averaged 3.3 cars served per minute for the 90 minutes before running out of bags.
Michelle Larson and her family picked up a breakfast bag from the Komro location. Larson said she waited in line for about 15 minutes and then returned home to make breakfast.
“Everything was delicious, and we went through the cheese curds immediately,” Larson said. “It’s amazing how many people donated and turned out to support farmers.”
Larson said she and her family have attended several other dairy breakfasts but this was her first experience with the Pepin County breakfast.
“I grew up on a dairy farm, so it’s important for me to stay involved and give back to the community,” she said. “We were a little disappointed the breakfast couldn’t be on a farm so my daughter could see the animals and a little of the hard work that goes into farming and what I grew up with, but we had a great experience.”
After bags with breakfast ingredients ran out, Committee members handed out bags of cheese curds, blocks of cheese and coupons from Eau Galle Cheese to cars remaining lined up at the distribution locations.
Committee members had prepared for a big crowd based on what they were hearing around town earlier in the week and bought an extra 200 bags of cheese curds. When those ran out, Eau Galle Cheese employees began cutting 1-pound blocks of cheese to get the committee through to the end of the breakfast.
“Even though we are the smallest county in Wisconsin and very rural we know how important it is to educate and sometimes even just to remind every person we can how nutritious and great tasting dairy products are,” said Noah Weiss, a member of the Pepin County Dairy Promotion Council whose family’s farm had originally planned to host this year’s breakfast. “This year with the COVID-19 still ongoing through our country, we didn’t know if people would be afraid or if it was worth the risk to come out for our Pepin County Drive-Thru Breakfast. We couldn’t have asked for a better turnout.”
Koller said several factors likely contributed to the turnout, with people wanting to show their support for dairy farmers and people wanting to get out of the house after months of limited interaction with others due to COVID-19 concerns.
The Pepin County Dairy Promotion Council has also been involved with keeping dairy products available to area food pantries, and Koller said need could have contributed to this year’s high turnout.
“We never envisioned these numbers,” Koller said. “We were seeing people come through who I didn’t see come to the dairy breakfasts on the farms. To draw people who usually wouldn’t go to a dairy breakfast is kind of unique.”
The 32nd annual Pepin County Town and Country Dairy Breakfast was originally scheduled to have been held at Weiss Family Farms in Durand, and Weiss Family Farms has agreed to host next year’s dairy breakfast, assuming the breakfast is able to return to the farm. But Koller said the committee will be prepared in the event a return to the farm is not possible.
“Are we going to be able to get together on the farm next year?” Koller said. “This was such a success, it has to be our plan that we will do something again, even if we aren’t able to all eat together.”