Jolley: Breakfast on the Uphaus Farm

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As a rule, I hate made up words, especially if they're created for marketing purposes.  I'll give 'ag-vocating' a pass, though, because it's an easy and obvious concoction that does a good job of self-describing what is means.  There are a lot of people practicing the craft; some do it consciously, they will tell you that agvocating is what they do.  Others do it subconsciously. They're involved in agriculture and they love to talk about it. 

Both groups try to engage the urban 98% in discussions about the art and science of farming the land and raising flocks, herds and pens.  They write letters, email notes, hang out in social media chat groups.  They Facebook, Twitter, Link, 'Pin', Tumble and Flickr. 

So let's thank groups like the AgChat Foundation and other agvocate trainers and encouragers.  Let's thank practitioners like Michele Payn-Knoper, Carrie Mess (AKA Dairy Carrie), Daren Williams (AKA The BEEFMAN), Celeste Settrini (AKA The Couture Cowgirl), Carrie Oliver of the Oliver Ranch and The Artisan Beef Institute, Sarah Schultz (, Brandi Buzzard Frobose (Buzzardsbeat) and Wisconsin's Agvocates of the year, Laura Daniels and Karyn Schauf.  If I missed you or your favorite, that's what the comments section is for at the bottom of this column.  Please use it to recognize the agvocates you follow.

Recently, USFRA took agvocating a step ahead and turned the social concept into a movie.  Farmland is an attempt to agvocate on the big screen and, with luck, reach millions of people who know nothing about where food comes from, other than their local supermarket. 

If a weakness to all this work exists, though, it's there is entirely too much Friday afternoon Church time involved.  Preaching to the choir does not make for many new converts.  Billy Graham ventured out into the great unwashed to preach to the unconverted.  Willie Sutton robbed banks "because that's where the money is."  When it's time to harvest the wheat, you don't head for the corn fields.  You have to seek out a target rich environment - urban dwellers whose nearest brush with farming is a potted tomato plant sitting on the deck.

When it's time to talk with all those city folk about what you're doing down on the farm, you have to go to the city.  An agvocate spending time talking with people decked out in cowboy hats and boots needs to re-aim.   A suggestion: Borrow Michigan State University's "Breakfast on the Farm" program. 

It might have been suggested to MSU's Ag Extension, the group behind these Breakfasts, by a similar long-standing Wisconsin event promoted by the Dane County Dairy Promotion Committee. The 36th Annual Dane County Breakfast on the Farm is scheduled for Saturday, June 14, 2014 from 7:30 am – 12:00 pm at Zander’s Dairy Farm in Mt. Horeb, about 20 miles west of Madison.

Since 2009, more than 53,000 people have attended Michigan's Breakfast on the Farm events to learn about where their food comes from. Guests arrive in time for breakfast and spend the rest of the morning learning how cows are milked, petting a calf, taking wagon rides, and seeing tractors and other farm implements.  Questions about farming and food production are encouraged.  For about 80% of the people who have attended, it was their first or only visit to a farm in at least 20 years.

First lesson they learned: Milk doesn't come from a carton in the dairy case.  Second lesson: Farming is hard work.    

The farms are scattered throughout the state so people from Detroit to Grand Rapids and Battle Creek to Sault St. Marie can make an easy day trip out of it. One of the three farms featured this summer belongs to the Uphaus family near Manchester, about 20 miles southwest of Ann Arbor and a short, one hour drive from Detroit. 

The farm is owned by Lyndon Uphaus and his family. They own a beef feedlot and they grow soybeans and wheat.  I spent a few minutes on the phone with him. I was in my office; he was on his tractor.

Q. Breakfast on the Farm is a lot of work.  Why did you decide to get involved?

A. I think it's important that people understand where their food comes from and all the work we do to make sure it's safe. Most of them are two or three generations away from the farm and all they know about their food is it's on shelves at the supermarket.  We have to show them where it all starts and help them to understand how it gets to their table.

Q. You're very near some large urban centers - Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Toledo is just over an hour away.  How many people are you expecting?

A.  Most of the people will come from southeastern Michigan.  We should get 2,500 to 3,000 for breakfast.  We'll give them a guided tour.  There will be booths, too, manned by agricultural businesses.  We'll start serving breakfast at 9:00 and we should wrap up by 1:00.  By the way, it's scheduled for September 6. Tickets are free and they'll be available after August 6.

Q. What will people will see when they visit your farm?

A. They'll see our soybeans, wheat and dairy operation. We'll have some heavy equipment, too.  Some of the local dealers will bring in their tractors and combines.  We'll be only the second cattle feeder on the tour which started in 2009.  We feed about 950 yearlings, bringing them in from as far away as (Michigan's) upper peninsula and southern Ohio. 

Q. It sounds complicated.  How long does it take to plan an event like this?

A. We work with Michigan State's Cooperative Extension Service, meeting once a month to start and then more often as we get closer to the date.  They'll help handle the visitors.  My wife, three sisters, and our daughters, Sarah and Katy, will help, too.    

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John F. Oncken    
Madison  |  July, 08, 2014 at 06:32 PM

Note - The JUNE DAIRY BREAKFAST ON THE FARM program has nothing to do with started on a Jefferson county Wisconsin dairy farm in 1970 as a 4-H club project. The Ft. Atkinson C of C invited a few people, with 155 attending the breakfast at the Craig Beene farm. The event was held again at the farm the next year with the American Dairy Association of Wisconsin (ADA) sending out invitations and was an even bigger success. The idea then went statewide as the ADA and Dept., of Agricultuure became involved. This year there were some 60 such events held across the state all organized, promoted and manned by farmer and ag business volunteers. The biggest crowd I've seen is 8,000 at DePere qnd Rosendale with crowds of 3,000 to 6,000 common. June Dairy Breakfasts on the Farm began in Wisconsin and no other state offers the numbers or success of that of Wisconsin. Dane county's first such breakfast was held in 1979 at the Cooper farm at Windsor. The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board carries a full schedule on its website I'd be happy too provide more info...John PS...The breakfasts are mostly held on working dairy farms because that's where the farmers and cows are.

Melanie Fritsche    
New Ulm, MN  |  July, 09, 2014 at 08:36 AM

Many groups over the decades (and in a lot of states) have done "breakfasts on the farm" and similar conceptes so I don't want to quibble about the start of them, or who has the biggest and best, because all contact is needed. I do want to tell you about a group that has been going for over 40 years now in New Ulom, the New Ulm Farm-City Hub Club. Just as its name implies it is a group made up of farmers and city people that get together to learn about each other and how important agriculture is to New Ulm, Brown County, and the state of Minnesota..etc. They have member social events, several public pancake breakfasts, and an annual March Farmshow to list a few of their activities through the year. The goal has always been to keep the doors of communication open and to facilitate a dialog between members and the general public about Agriculture. New Ulm Farm-City Hub Club doesn't need fancy made up terms to do their mission they just do the work they have been doing for over 40 years - Promoting and educating about agriculture and rural America.

Brenda Hastings    
Ohio  |  July, 19, 2014 at 09:38 PM

As a dairy producer, I enjoy having conversations with people about what we do on our farm. In fact, we open our dairy to tour groups of all ages so they can experience dairy farms first-hand and have an opportunity to ask questions. I also have a blog called "The Dairy Mom" at The dairy checkoff provides some good resources to help navigate issues, answer difficult questions and provides training to dairy farmers interested in connecting with consumers via social media. If you’re talking to consumers via social media, the checkoff provides periodic updates via the myDairy social media program, and posts our stories on I believe it’s important to engage consumers to share the true story of my dairy farm family.


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