Princess, court promote dairy awareness

Posted: Thursday, May 29, 2014 12:30 am
By Tessa Edick
For Columbia-Greene Media


Love cows. Honor your farmer. And pledge your loyalty to the ag royalty of milk life.


Buying freshly bottled milk from your local dairy farmer makes a big difference to a farming family’s bottom line — and your health. Pledge to visit family farms this summer like the 13- to 16-year-old Dairy Ambassadors of Columbia County and show your love by spending money on farm fresh quality food.


Where would we be without good old-fashioned farm fresh milk in our coffee, cereal or ice cream? Premium quality local milk is more nutritious, tastes great and reinvigorates a respect for farming beyond organic and the shopping cart with your daily conscious decision to meet your farmer and eat local.


The farming community used to take part in this dairy celebration by attending the annual coronation inspiring everyone to visit local farms for summer events that promote the farmers hard work to feed us well and educate the public that you are what you (and they) eat.


Over the last 20 years participation dwindled but it’s time for the next generation to FarmOn! with the Columbia County Dairy Ambassadors. Erin Hallenbeck joined the group because, “I like milk and just thought it would be fun.” Other members — Alexys Delaney, Michelle Dufficy, Natalie Rothvoss and Hannah Robinson — are eager to get involved! And these girls are clearly having fun!


A Dairy Ambassador has a hectic social calendar all summer long that requires farm visits, public speaking and appearances that prepare them well for life. Before high school is out they are submitting articles and recipes published in local newspapers and their “Got Milk?” spirit drives demand. They learn early that promotion and sales go hand in hand and mutually benefit agriculture regionally.


Courtney Dearnley told me, “15 cents of every 100 wt that farmers sell of milk the ADA uses to promote milk sales.”


Dairy Ambassadors actively attend many events including ice cream socials (tonight at Taconic Hills), hospital visits, Flag Day with floats (June 14 in Hudson), 5k races, Friends of the Farmer Festival (Sept. 27 in Copake), showing cows at the fairgrounds, whipping up milkshakes to sell and hopefully fulfilling dreams of becoming a New York State Dairy Princess one day, like Kristen Davenport, who beat out 33 contenders to become a spokesperson actively committed to promoting the dairy industry, healthy diets and bringing a wider understanding to responsible and honest dairy farming statewide — a practice her parents Jim and Karen Davenport implement daily at Tollgate Farm, a 60-cow, 600-acre tie-stall dairy farm with 130 total head of purebred Holsteins and Ayrshires in Ancramdale.


Dearnley will continue the tradition of promoting local quality milk after her coronation as the 2014-2015 Columbia County Dairy Princess, among the 17 Dairy Ambassadors in her court, just in time for “Dairy Month” in June.


After serving three years as a Dairy Ambassador and “answering lots of weird questions from people about cows” — at just 16 years of age, Dearnley will remind us all about the good values that come from life at the farm and that good grades and extra curricular activities make a difference.


Your local milk money goes a long way, making dairy the talk of the town from just joining the Columbia County Dairy Promotion affiliated with the American Dairy Council where you live.


Dearnley is a role model for teenagers to reconnect with a farm as a food source, be health conscientious and support the community passing out milk, cheese, ice cream and explaining the virtues of farm life at events in our rural community all year long.


Speaking of long — it’s been a long road back to celebrating the family farm and the future of farming in dairy. Carolyn Stark was a founder of the Columbia County Dairy Princess program and president for a dozen or so years. Beth Chittenden and Judy Ooms followed her tenure. Today, her daughter Ann Hanson, who was also a proud “Dairy Maid” and used to milk cows, gathers the girls at meetings with encouragement, creative ideas and reminders of their civic duty to be connected to the community that feeds them.


The Dairy Princess honors Columbia County dairy farmers by promoting their products so the tradition isn’t lost to the big business of agriculture.


Carolyn Stark reminisced to me about her working dairy farm, “that eventually was forced to sell the cows in 1984 and used the fields for cropping until we started leasing out the land for outside ag production to keep the land. There were six dairy farms on my road in Mellenville, up to Route 66, now all of them are all gone and ours was the last sold. Today a family of Mennonites grow and sell feed, vegetables and raise beefers. Wonderful things are happening there again — so pleased we sold to a farming family.”


Raised in the city of Hudson, she became a dairy farmer’s wife as her mother shook her head. She and her late husband John Stark had five children — four boys and a girl (Ann Hanson) and her son John still raises “beefers” locally while his brother Jim helps out.


The Stark farm the children were raised on in Ghent connected them all to the dairy life in agriculture. In Columbia County, Stark tries to remember how the group got started in dairy promotion.


“Columbia County Dairy Princess started with a group of farm wives getting together in 1972 and I became the president for well over 10 years,” she said. “I was told the ADA celebrated 50 years last year — so my guess is that it started back then too. We needed ADA for a dairy princess program to get sanctioned. Of course back then when I started to become a Dairy Princess you had to be the daughter of a farmer.”


Dairy princesses as younger girls were Dairy Maids. As years went by recruiting got tougher and tougher and as our agrarian society separated from its farming roots — the ADA changed the policy which allowed for a farmer to sponsor a Dairy Ambassador to become a contestant for coronation.


This weekend, come out and honor your Columbia County Dairy Princess at Kozel’s in Ghent on May 31. She will be crowned and commit to making our dairy dreams come true promoting fresh local milk, a connection to the family farm, good health, community and commerce, too! FarmOn!


To contact the author, email tessa@ or log on to Twitter @farmonfarmon.


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