Agricultural economics have not been kind to small dairy farms in recent years.
Low milk prices have forced hundreds of dairies to close across the state. Businesses that milk thousands of cows have the scale to better withstand the ongoing downturn, even if the bleak financial reality affects everyone.
But this year’s host for the 42nd annual Rock County Dairy Breakfast perseveres despite its relatively tiny size.
The Kersten family has about 150 cows total and milks only a third of them on a farm west of Janesville. They grow corn and alfalfa, but all of their crops are used for animal feed and are not sold as a commodity.
“If we don’t have the money, we don’t spend it. We’ve always been very conscious of where we spend our money and how we spend it,” Barb Kersten said. “We have good years and bad years. To be able to thrive through that gives us a lot of pride.”
The Kerstens will open their farm, located at 4522 W. Mineral Point Road outside Janesville, to the public from 6:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday for the dairy breakfast. The event rotates around the county every year, and this is the first time the family has hosted, Kersten said.
The all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast also includes ham, cheese, yogurt, applesauce and ice cream. Tickets are $6 for adults and $2 for kids ages 10 and younger, according to the event’s Facebook page.
Classic rock band Rainbow Bridge and the Rock County 4-H Heat Wave ensemble will perform. The annual crafty cow contest returns, and craft booths and kids games also will be available.
Sandy Larson, a dairy farmer who serves on the Rock County Dairy Promotion Council board, said about 100 volunteers will keep the event running smoothly. She’s expecting up to 5,000 people to attend.
Saturday will be a chance for people who are generations removed from agriculture to visit an operational farm, Larson said.
Kersten, who also works in the Janesville School District, said many of her co-workers are excited to come to the breakfast and see what a farm is like. Sometimes farmers can get a negative and false reputation from people who are agricultural outsiders, she said.
This year’s breakfast is an opportunity to dispel a few myths, she said.
“It feels good they have a little part of something they normally have never experienced,” Kersten said. “They’re going to be able to pet our calves and see our animals up close and see how well we take care of our animals.”