The three events held across Alberta every year educate the public about the milk industry and those who work in it
FORT MACLEOD, Alta. — Breakfast on a Dairy Farm, as promoted by Alberta Milk, became Breakfast in a Dairy Barn at Airport Dairy Aug. 11 when a tent didn’t co-operate after collapsing in a gust of wind before the event began.
About 1,100 people didn’t seem to mind eating their breakfast instead within arm’s length of dairy cows that were having breakfast of their own.
Airport Dairy is owned and operated by Harvey and Bernita Van Hierden and two of their sons, Doug and Brendan. It sits on the former site of the Royal Canadian Air Force Aerodrome Pearce, where Commonwealth pilots trained during the Second World War.
History wasn’t on the minds of those who visited the 120-cow dairy on a warm Saturday morning, however. They came for a free breakfast and to see cows, calves, barns and the milking parlour.
Days after the event, Harvey admitted response was a bit overwhelming in terms of attendance and the preparation required to host an on-farm breakfast, farm tours and other activities.
“It didn’t seem to bother the cows at all,” he said, noting their regular milking times of 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. fit conveniently before and after the breakfast and its cleanup.
The southern Alberta event was the second of three organized this year through Alberta Milk. The first was held June 23 at the van der Gun dairy near Innisfail and the third will be held Aug. 25 at Glen Park Holsteins near Leduc.
“This year has been such an exceptional year for our Breakfast on the Dairy Farm,” said Alberta Milk communications specialist Karlee Conway.
“In the two that have already occurred they’ve had record breaking numbers.”
The first breakfast was held in 2013 in central Alberta. The concept took hold and expanded to the current three per year: north, central and south.
“I think one of the best things about the Breakfast on the Dairy Farm is that it’s grassroots,” said Conway.
“Alberta Milk supports the event, but it’s really driven from farmers. They do all the work. They do the planning, the organizing. They’re the ones cooking the breakfast.
“Alberta Milk is just a supporter. So it’s really great to see that farmers are taking the initiative and the lead on trying to teach people a little bit more about what they do. And I think consumers are responding.”
Local dairy farmer Jane Van Asch has helped organize several of the southern Alberta events. This year she was surprised at how many young families participated.
Though about 40 percent of attendees were from the Fort Macleod area, almost 25 percent came from Lethbridge and the rest from further afield.
Harvey said he was surprised to meet some Australian dairy farmers at the event. They learned about it through social media while visiting Banff and decided to include the breakfast in their itinerary.
“This event just continues to surprise us,” Conway added.