Educating the Public on Agriculture

The Kuehnerts are spreading the word about modern dairy agriculture through a new fall festival on their Indiana farm.

By Deborah R. Huso | Photos By William Jordan

This festival is all in the family. Members of the Kuehnert clan at their inaugural Kuehnert Dairy Farm Fall Festival.

This festival is all in the family. Members of the Kuehnert clan at their inaugural Kuehnert Dairy Farm Fall Festival.

Initial impressions can be deceiving. Take, for instance, the seeming quiet of the Kuehnert Dairy Farm on a Friday or Saturday evening in October.

At first, things look pretty quiet at the dairy, located a few miles northwest of Fort Wayne, Ind. As the sun dips down below the flat western horizon, brown cornstalks rattle in the chilly breeze and a long, white freestall barn comes into view.

The only activity, it seems, is dozens of healthy-looking Holsteins with full udders munching feed that consists in part of past-due produce, including pumpkins and veggies, from a local Walmart. Drive a little farther, though, and a long line of parked cars comes into view, as do scores of parents holding the hands of excited children walking past the barns into an open area surrounded by cattle and cornfields, where the Kuehnert family is hosting its newly initiated fall festival.

For more than 100 years, the Kuehnerts have been farming on this land, where they grow corn, soybeans and hay on 1,100 acres. Their bread and butter, however, is the farm’s 300 mature Holsteins, which produce 7 million pounds of milk a year. Ask fourth-generation producer and family patriarch Al why he added yet another element of work to his day (and night) in the form of a family-oriented festival, and he’ll tell you, “It’s amazing how many people think milk comes from the grocery store.”

Al sees the festival, which his family started in 2013, as a way to educate the general public about agriculture and, more specifically, dairy. “We think milk is Mother Nature’s most perfect food,” says Al. The family also uses the festival as a means to promote the dairy products marketed through the 700-member Prairie Farms Dairy cooperative, of which the Kuehnerts are a part. Then, there’s the benefit of introducing the public to Kuehnert Dairy Farm, which supports Al and his brother Stan as full-time farmers, as well as partially supporting the families of Al’s two sons, Nathan and Andrew. All together, there are currently four generations of Kuehnerts working in some capacity on this dairy farm.

As parents and children wander the activity area—which consists of a “mountain” of straw bales swarming with little ones, corn hole games, firepits for roasting marshmallows, and pumpkin and face painting—carefully placed signs educate visitors about the life cycle of dairy cows and how the Kuehnerts care for them. Families enjoy making their way through the 5-acre corn maze, and they can also snack on dairy-themed goodies like milkshakes and grilled cheese sandwiches created by Andrew. (The Mouse Trap, which is oozing with melted cheddar, Colby and Havarti cheese, is highly recommended.)

Al has 300 mature milking Holsteins.

Al has 300 mature milking Holsteins.

Interacting with the public isn’t new to the family, who has been giving farm tours to school groups for 15 years. “We enjoy having people out to the farm, and we knew of other successful dairy farmers pursuing agritourism,” Al explains. He mentions another dairy even closer to Fort Wayne that holds a fall festival, as well as one near Indianapolis and another near Goshen. “Our first motive is education,” Al adds. “The second is family fun. We want to give people from the city an opportunity to experience farm life while creating family memories.”

Al says the biggest attraction at the festival is the hayride, which offers the Kuehnerts the chance to tell visitors about farm life. “It’s a 20-minute hayride where we tell people the story of the life cycle of a dairy cow and the hard work that goes into caring for them. We want to show people how well we care for these animals,” he says. “We are businessmen too, and we don’t make money unless we take good care of our animals.”

As Al gives a hayride tour of the farm, he finds himself bombarded with a variety of questions from visitors. He describes how an average dairy cow carries 5 to 6 gallons of milk in her udder and how most produce milk for four or five years.

“Modern dairy cows are one of God’s hardest working creatures,” he tells a group of children, who are enthralled by the fact that the average cow eats 100 pounds of feed a day, which, in addition to dry hay, corn silage, hay silage and soybean meal, includes fruit and vegetables from local grocery stores considered too old for human consumption. “It’s another way,” Al points out, “that we try to reuse and not waste food products.”

A festival visitor climbs atop a mountain of straw bales.

A festival visitor climbs atop a mountain of straw bales.

Al’s wife, Cindy, says most of the festival visitors are couples with young children. “We just see such a huge need for education about agriculture,” she notes. “We live so close to the city, and agritourism is very popular.”

Al’s daughter-in-law Sarah, who works off the farm as a dietitian, handles the marketing side of the month-long event. Raised on a dairy farm herself, she says, “We wanted to do the festival because we feel fortunate to have four generations here working together. We’re passionate about educating people on how food gets from the farm to your table.”

Sarah admits it’s no easy task managing work on and off the farm for herself, her husband, Nathan, and brother-in-law Andrew. However, the response to the first year of the fall festival has been worth it to them. “We’ve had families spend hours here,” she says, “and many came back more than once.”

Last year, the festival drew 3,500 visitors—no small feat in Al’s opinion. “We had a really good turnout, especially given the bad weather we had every weekend,” he says, and adds that it accomplished job No. 1. “Our main thing with doing the festival is to educate the consumer about dairy and show people where their milk comes from.”

For more about the Kuehnert Dairy Farm Fall Festival, including dates and times for the 2014 event, see myFarmLife.com/fallfestival.