June dairy opportunities cultivate career interest

Maria Woldt, program manager

Happy June Dairy Month! Across the state, Wisconsinites are celebrating the start of summer by enjoying a little more ice cream, cheese, milk, and other delicious dairy foods. I’ve been attending dairy breakfasts every weekend this month, and it’s great to see such strong community support.

My husband Nick and I operate a small dairy farm in Dane County. Cows are not a novelty to our two young girls, but they still show such enthusiasm when we attend a breakfast.

I’m always impressed by the diversity of farms hosting breakfasts. Local dairy promotion groups along with Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin work to highlight different farm sizes and management philosophies; even university research farms take a turn hosting their local dairy breakfast! For the first time ever, the Mann Valley farm at UW–River Falls will host the Pierce County dairy breakfast on Saturday, June 18.

University dairy farms at UW–Madison, UW–Platteville and UW–River Falls welcome countless tours each year. Elementary schools, community groups, citizens, international guests etc. schedule visits or simply stop by.

Holstein cattle eat feed at the UW Dairy Cattle Center (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

I recently had the chance to help with a tour when a group of 130 third graders from Evansville, Wis. came to the Dairy Cattle Center at UW–Madison. The organizers needed an additional tour guide at the last minute, and a friendly “so…what are you doing over your lunch hour?” turned into four, 15-minute presentations to the kids about dairy facts, as they rotated through multiple stations.

To prepare, I made a few quick notes, grabbed some brochures and was ready to go. It has been a few years since I volunteered for educational opportunities like the Wisconsin State Fair, World Dairy Expo, and others, but like riding a bike, the necessary skills came back quickly.

I was giving these kids my best dairy material — “how many gallons of water does a cow drink?”, “how many pounds of feed does a cow eat?”. But they knew the answers and wanted harder questions! We talked about nutrition, welfare, and genetics — discoveries made possible by the UW System — and they didn’t skip a beat. I was impressed by their knowledge, and excitement. Most importantly, I was impressed by the respect they showed each other and the farm.

The workday is usually full — meetings and to-do lists dominate, but I’m glad I said ‘yes’ to this opportunity. In the dairy space, we have a unique opportunity (and responsibility) to engage with the public about dairy farming and processing. It’s also good for my soul to get out and be with young people who are eager to learn and experience.

A Holstein dairy calf at the UW Emmons Blaine Dairy Cattle Research Center in Arlington, Wis. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

I can relate to the excitement they feel. My husband and I did not grow up on farms. Farming was a career that started with that same interest experienced by the third graders and became a reality through our respective UW System educational opportunities. A simple elementary field trip can spark a career interest, leading to new talent for the dairy community.

Maria Woldt serves as the program manager for the Dairy Innovation Hub. In this role, she assists in the management of the Hub budget, develops, and disseminates communications, and organizes events. Maria and her husband Nick own and operate a small dairy farm in Dane County. They have two girls, Lexington (5) and Giovanna (1.5).

ABOUT THE DAIRY INNOVATION HUB

The Hub represents a $7.8 million per year investment by the State of Wisconsin to keep our dairy community at the global forefront in producing nutritious dairy products in an economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable manner.

It doesn’t have to be June to celebrate the good things happening in dairy! The team behind the Dairy Innovation Hub strives to maintain open and transparent communication about our efforts, funded by the State of Wisconsin. For our latest news and to join our mailing list, visit dairyinnovationhub.wisc.edu

We have created some public-facing communications to help explain the Hub concept to the general public. Please use these resources in your travels to promote this unique collaboration.