For the past 38 years, the Rock County Farm Bureau has put on the Rock County Dairy Breakfast to celebrate and promote Wisconsin’s famous dairy industry.
This year, the breakfast will be held from 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., Saturday, June 14, at the Dennis and Clarice Green farm, 1502 N. Footville Road, west of Janesville. The cost is $6 for adults and $2 for children 10 and under.
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The annual breakfast provides an increasingly rare chance to experience the workings of a family farm, as well as its hearty meals.
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In addition to all-you-can-eat pancakes, ham patties, applesauce, cheese and ice cream, guests get to enjoy music, a wooden cow decorating contest and guided farm tours.
Yet as much as the event is about connecting and expanding communities, it also shines a light on the host family. This year, that light shines on the Greens, who run a farm that includes 100 beef and dairy cows.
For the Greens, hosting the breakfast was now or never.
They had volunteered at breakfasts in the past, and Dennis had wanted to host the event for years.
In January, they finally got their chance when the Rock County Dairy Promotion Council approached them because farms had been picked for the next two years, but not for this summer.
Since then, the Greens have been promoting the breakfast, including posters, radio appearances and commercials, as well as getting sponsorships from various companies.
Clarice says that the preparations have been significantly different from her normal routing. Her typical tasks revolve around caring for the cows -- milking, feeding and making sure they have clean bedding -- as well as any other maintenance or housekeeping that comes up throughout the day. That could include anything from hauling manure to handling the massive amounts of machinery.
"Every day, something breaks somewhere, so there’s always something to fix," Clarice said.
Recently though, she has been busy with more aesthetic details around the farm such as repainting the farm buildings
"Not all our buildings are new, but you gotta make them look nice," she said.
There are other landscaping projects to be completed before the 5,000 guests arrive.
Not surprisingly, Clarice says that although the breakfast offers guests the chance to tour a real working farm and get their questions answered by experts, it only offers a glimpse into actual farming life.
"They’re not seeing equipment being run ... they’re not watching cattle being milked," she said.
That might be the best, however, given the high stress of operating a farm where mechanical and biological errors can occur at any moment.
"It’s something you just don’t get into or just walk away from," Clarice said.
By her estimate, it would be nearly impossible for a young person to independently start a farm today because of the high costs and the lack of available land.
Despite the challenges, Clarice and Dennis enjoy the freedom of working for themselves from home and having been able to raise a family in the same tradition. To this day, she says that her grown daughters are both hard workers as a result of their experiences growing up on the farm.
The complexities of modern agricultural life aren’t lost on Sandy Larson, past president of the Rock County Dairy Promotion Council and current breakfast chairperson.
Having grown up on a farm, Larson always has been concerned with promoting rural activities.
She has coordinated the breakfast for five years, but has been volunteering for many years before that.
Over time, she has noticed some shifts in the people who come to the breakfast.
"Lately we haven’t seen people coming to breakfasts as early," Larson said. "I think people are just getting busier."
Like Clarice Green, Larson praises the breakfast for allowing guests -- many of whom live in urban areas -- to see the hard work of agricultural life and to "appreciate that they (the farmers) take good care of their cows and take good care of the environment."
At the same time, Larson says, the breakfast is still very much a local affair; roughly 100 farmers assist with the process of constructing and tearing down the structures for the event, as well as helping to run things on the actual morning of the breakfast.
These include the cow-decorating contest, now in its second year. It is this event that Larson is looking forward to the most because of how fun the results can be to view.
Unsurprisingly, Clarice’s anticipated favorite part of the breakfast is the aftermath.
"I hope I can relax that day and just enjoy it and the people," she said.
For a modern full-time farmer, such an opportunity is rare and well deserved.