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Talk of the Town: Where does chocolate milk come from?

It’s always easy to spot a city slicker on the farm. They are the ones with the clean shoes.

Clean shoes aside, visitors on the farm might feel a bit out of place on any given day, but not this coming Saturday. For 25 years, Country Breakfast on the Farm has been part of Rochesterfest, as area dairy farmers take turns hosting hundreds of families who eat pancakes, pet baby calves and learn about milk production.

As a kid who grew up on the farm, I’m a bit jaded about teaching city-folk where their food comes from. How is it possible that folks are so detached from agriculture that they don’t know how we get our milk and cheese?

Last week I took a field trip to the site of this year’s event, the Gar-Lin Dairy just south of Eyota and north of Interstate 90. As I soon found out, events like Breakfast on the Farm are worth all the blood, sweat and tears the Gary and Linda Allen family put into it. As Dana Allen-Tully escorted me, my kids and two nieces on our own tour of their dairy farm, she asked the question that has confused school kids for years; where does chocolate milk come from?

Clearly this former farm girl hasn’t taught her children well, as my youngest child answered "The brown cows!" There are some brown cows at Gar-Lin, but mostly you will find lots of what another kid in the group called "cartoon cows." That would be the black-and-white Holsteins.


Getting a farm ready for visitors is an added challenge in itself. I had to smile when on our way to the birthing barn (two calves were born while we were there!) I noticed one of the helping hands washing the barn walls. Every farm kid reading this will know barn-washing is something that just doesn’t happen on a usual day at the farm; unless he or she was late for curfew one too many times.

Over the years, dairy farmers have embraced technology to an extent that should be impressive to all, but was astounding to me. Dana is the third generation of the Allen family to devote their lives to feeding the rest of us. When her folks took over the farm from her grandparents, they milked 40 cows, but today are able to milk 1,650 head using what my kids called "a cow merry-go-round."

As we stood and watched the 50 stall carousel milking parlor in motion, I asked Dana "what would your grandfather say to this technology?" "He wouldn’t believe it" she said. "My dad still can’t."

It’s important to dairy farmers like the Allens — and former Dairy Princesses like Dana — to show others how they care for their animals. From a cross ventilation cooling barn to prevent heat stress, to sand beds and sprinkler systems; dairy farmers of today know better how to make sure there cows are comfortable and happy.

And how can you tell if a dairy cow is happy? It’s the big smile they give when they see all the visitors with the clean shoes, of course!

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