At the turn of the 20th century, Wisconsin was considered the leading dairy state in the nation, producing more butter and cheese than any other state. Today, as we progress further into the 21st century, Wisconsin dairy farms are rapidly becoming an endangered species. Agritourism is one way that dairy farmers are making ends meet.
Let’s Go Learn Things about Wisconsin dairy farms…
Man and Cow
I have never met a lazy farmer. Stubborn maybe, dedicated definitely, but never lazy. You see, farming is a labor of love. This is never more true than with dairy farmers.
Dairy farmers are intimately involved in every stage of a cow’s life. The farmer and the cow work, can I say ,”hoof in hand” to bring the world milk and butter and cheese. Not to mention ice cream!
Unlike beef cattle that are sold every year, a dairy farmer will keep a “good milker” for the span of her life. He was present for her birth, nurtured her through the first year, assisted her into motherhood and gently milked and talked with her every morning and evening. All along the way, mixing and monitoring the perfect feed for her, keeping her safe and disease-free. In return, she dutifully provides literally tons of milk. She helps the farmer continue her sturdy gene pool. Producing calves that will be “good milkers” themselves (heifers) or will help reproduce “good milkers” (bulls).
As with most agricultural communities, dairy farms are a family business passed down through generations. The dairy farm family prays for sons or son-in-laws that share the love of cows, the attachment to the land and a passion to feed the world. Remember that Man- Cow relationship above? The farmer’s great grandfather and the cow’s great grandmother had the same relationship years ago. And, the farmer expects that his son and the cow’s offspring will continue that relationship into the future.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t always play out the way we hope and plan. Maybe there are no children, maybe the children leave for the city. But most often the family business cannot keep its head above water.
Dairy Farms Diversify
The dairy industry has been dangerously compromised in recent years. Overproduction drives prices ridiculously low and rock-bottom prices drive the small guy out. Tom Oberhaus of Cozy Nook Farm in Waukesha, WI tells me
“…in order to survive, you either have to specialize and move into mass production, which most small farms can’t do. Or you have to diversify into some other seasonal income stream. We couldn’t keep up if it weren’t for selling our ‘punkins’.Tom Oberhaus
Yes, the dear man called them “punkins”!
Agritourism can be defined as an agriculturally based operation or activity that brings visitors to a farm or ranch. This broad concept has a wide variety of manifestations across the globe. This form of tourism ranges from farm b&bs or shopping at a farm stand to picking your own fruit or helping muck out barns.
Wisconsin dairy farms embrace Agritourism
This is the diversity that Farmer Oberhaus was referring to. In Wisconsin, especially during harvest time, agritourism is booming. There are pumpkin patches, apple picking, corn mazes, hayrides and haunted barns. Many venues include petting farms and agricultural education. Farmers Markets are brimming with colorful produce.
Every weekend in September has found us visiting some of these agritourism opportunities.
Saving Wisconsin dairy farms
After my visit and tour of Cozy Nook Farm, I realized that I want to support the farmers like Tom Oberhaus. The farmers across the country who live a passion for feeding the world.
The massive cogs of the dairy industry grind on. It seems impossible to forestall the demise of these small family farms. However, there is power in knowledge. Research and seek out your local farms that have diversified into “punkin’s” or Christmas trees, petting farms or hayrides. Support farmers at the local markets and learn about their products and processes. Visit and learn and help support their fragile economy.