Dairy Crawl Creates Conversations Between Farmers and Consumers

Participating Farmers

  • Doug Ode
  • Rodney Elliott
  • Marv & Joy Post
  • Annelies Seffrood
  • Allen & Kristi Merrill

The first-ever Sioux Falls Dairy Crawl was held October 28, 2019, at three downtown restaurants. Five dairy farm families, along with dietitians and other ag professionals served as hosts to approximately 40 consumers.

The event brought together consumers and farmers to converse over three dairy-delicious dishes inspired by chefs at the participating restaurants.

“It gives us the opportunity to sit down and visit with people about what happens on our farm day to day,” says host Allen Merrill, who farms near Parker, S.D., and chairs the Midwest Dairy board.

Consumers and farmers learning from each other

Consumers and farmers alike enjoyed the dairy-based foods at each stop. They also enjoyed the chance to visit with one another.

“I engaged in great conversations with attendees asking about how we treat our cows, the birthing process, maternity health and cow comfort,” Merrill says. “It’s something that we need to do more often.”

Guests asked questions about how cattle are raised and housed. Merrill says he explained that all milking cows are kept in a climate-controlled environment to keep them comfortable year-round.

“Another example is that all of our young stock are housed outside because they are better at adapting to the weather. We ensure that the calves are kept warm and dry with extra bedding as needed.”

“To a dairy farmer, raising cattle is the future of our herd. We want them to grow in a comfortable setting and be well taken care of,” Merrill adds.

But it’s not only consumers that were learning at the Dairy Crawl; farmers had questions, as well. “We’re also engaging in conversations about what consumers like and what they’d like to see us offer as dairy products,” says Merrill.

Rodney Elliott, a dairy farmer in Hamlin County with 5,000 cows, visited with guests about the size of his operation—a question that often comes up.

South Dakota Dairy Facts

  • 95% of South Dakota dairy farms are family-owned and operated
  • In 2018, dairy’s economic impact in South Dakota totaled $3 billion
  • The U.S. dairy industry has decreased its water use by more than 65%

He shared that there are some benefits to having a larger operation, such as efficiencies of scale and the ability to attract employees—both of which help farmers stay in business. Elliott says, “I have people who are trained in specific tasks for our farm. For instance, they specialize in herd health, ultrasound/maternity, cow nutrition and more.”

Jackie Wentworth of Sioux Falls attended the event. “I think opportunities like this where we get to actually sit with a farmer face-to-face and have them explain their processes and how they actually grow this product, that has been very, very interesting.”

“Consumers want to know the truth,” says Wentworth. “They want to know how their food is grown, whether it be plant-based or animal-based, and they want to know what has gone into that process.”

The nutrition solution

Also attending the Dairy Crawl were registered dietitians who visited with guests about the health benefits of dairy.

“Dairy products play a pretty crucial role in our world,” says Teresa Beach, director of nutrition services at Sanford.

“Because dairy products, especially milk, have carbohydrates, proteins, essential vitamins and minerals, it’s a good option for people to drink with their meals, or to supplement their meals, or as a way to get more calories and vitamins and minerals without having to use any other products,” Beach says.

Chris Beach, the child nutrition director for the Harrisburg School District, says, “Dairy is important, because we’re feeding young kids. We need them to grow healthy bones. So the calcium and Vitamin D in milk is a huge building block for our kids.”

“Also, some families may not be able to afford to give kids milk at home,” he says. “School is probably one of the few places they do have access to milk.”

Dairy drives cooking and customers

Daniel Myers, chef, owner and operator of Myers Deli and Elite Catering, which was the first stop on the crawl, depends heavily on dairy. “Who doesn’t like cream sauces and cheese? There are so many different dairy products. It’s probably the most versatile ingredient you can find.”

At Josiah’s Coffeehouse, owner Steve Hildebrand described how he makes the cheesecake that the crowd enjoyed and professed his devotion to dairy.

“I love dairy. When I drink a glass of whole milk it brings me great joy,” Hildebrand says.

Hildebrand uses locally sourced dairy products. “It’s as creamy and wonderful as you can get. All of our lattes are made with that local, fresh milk. It really makes a difference.”

“And I think we have a huge repeat business because we serve a lot of locally-produced food. I think it makes a difference to people,” he says.

To learn more about dairy and how it gets from farm to table, visit www.dairygood.org. For updates on dairy farm tours and open houses in South Dakota, visit www.agunited.org.