On its 40th anniversary, Columbia County’s annual dairy brunch comes with a twist.

Instead of taking place at a local farm, the Moo Day Brunch will be hosted at the Arlington Agricultural Research Station, N695 Hopkins Road in Arlington, on June 17 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

The 2,000-acre facility conducts research studies, typically in conjunction with professors in the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Mike Bertram, the research station’s superintendent, said he is eager to open the station to the public.

“We’re proud of the work that we do,” he said.

The facility holds 12 units that focus on areas including agronomy, beef-cattle nutrition and grazing, sheep research, entomology and horticulture.

And in the heart of the station is the Emmons Blaine Dairy Research Center, which has nearly 675 dairy cows and calves, almost 500 of which are milked each day.

Guests to this year’s Moo Day Brunch will get to see the animals firsthand.

“We’ll take them through the barns and they’ll see the cows and how the research is set up a little bit,” Bertram said. “Some of the professors will be here from Madison explaining what they do.”

If attendees arrive before roughly 10:30 a.m., they may also get to observe the tail end of large-scale morning milking.

And after seeing how milk is made, attendees can take a tractor ride back to the food building, where they’ll encounter an abundance of dairy-laden food. The classics are all there: grilled cheese, Pizza Hut pizza, yogurt, cheese and Sassy Cow milk and ice cream sundaes.

Along with the educational displays, there’s a lineup of entertainment including antique tractors, children’s game and a balloon artist, door prizes and drawings, cloggers and visits from Alice in Dairyland and Bucky Badger.

40 years of a dairy-filled brunch

The Columbia County Dairy Promotion Committee began hosting the annual Moo Day Brunch 40 years ago as a smaller-scale event held in restaurants, said Moo Day Brunch co-chair Debi Stiemke.

It morphed into a “breakfast on the farm” in 1978, with local farmers and businesses donating dairy products. And in 1989, they began charging a small fee as the events grew.

Today it is the committee’s main event, drawing 1,500-2,000 people each year. To celebrate Dairy Month, the committee also does outreach such as reimbursing larger daycares that spend over $50 on dairy products. Throughout the year, their work includes running the ice cream stand at the Columbia County Fair and donating butter to Columbia County food pantries.

Steimke said she and her husband got the idea to reach out the Arlington Research Station after they attended a Sauk County dairy breakfast at a UW farm. The Steimkes started chatting with organizers.

“They said, ‘have you ever approached your county UW?’” Steimke remembers. “And my husband I just looked at each other.”

Once the seed was planted, they reached out to the Arlington Research Station, which was happy to host. And in the future, Steimke said they will continue to hold the Moo Day Brunch on local farms.

“It’s a nice way to clean up your farm for the public,” she said. “And it is our perfect way to educate non-farming families on where their food comes from.”

Steimke said she sees this disconnect often. Once, a kindergartener insisted to her that milk didn’t come from cows, but from the grocery store. And even with adults, Steimke said many adults don’t understand fundamental aspects of farming.

Each year, she looks forward to the “awe” on kids’ faces as they watch the animals.

“We try to be festive and entertaining and educational,” Steimke said, “all at the same time.”

Admission to the Moo Day Brunch is free for those 3 and under, $4 for ages 4-10 and $7 for ages 11 and up. Receive $1 off by bringing a non-perishable food item (limit one per person).

For more information, search for “Columbia County Moo Day Brunch” on Facebook.

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