Two annual events that have annually drawn large crowds to the Rusk County Fairgrounds in early June are not on the schedule of events this year.
The Rusk County Dairy Breakfast and Northwoods Bluegrass Festival will not take place this year. Both had been part of a busy first weekend every June at the fairgrounds that also included Log Cabin Day hosted by the Rusk County Historical Society, which is still scheduled for this coming Saturday.
This year’s dairy breakfast had to be canceled due to lack of involvement and loss of state funding, according to Judy Srp, who helped organize the event. She said the event had been held for about the last 20 years.
Rusk County Dairy Promoters is a group that was established to promote the dairy industry in Rusk County. It was made up of dairy farmers, retired dairy farmers and a few business people. Over time, with busy schedules of farmers and aging out, the board has dwindled down to just one remaining person — Srp.
All dairy promotion committees are overseen by Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, formerly called the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. This group is overseen by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The bylaws established by the Rusk County Dairy Promoters required it to have a board consisting of a chairperson, vice chairperson and secretary/treasurer. These bylaws are submitted to Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin.
Early each year Rusk County Dairy Promoters applied for grant monies to help promote the dairy industry in the county. The applications typically show what events have been held in the past, what is planned for the coming year, who has volunteered and more. Part of this money is used to put on the Rusk County Dairy Breakfast each year. There are also several other requirements that must be met to obtain this grant.
Being the board no longer has anyone holding these officer positions with exception of Srp, the county group no longer qualified for this year’s grant money from the state.
“The board is one of the requirements,” Srp said. “Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin are in the process of helping establish a board again, and we will be working on this in September 2019.”
About $4,750 in state grants are allotted per county, according to Srp. She said declining participation at the board level resulted in the loss of the county’s grant eligibility, especially following the death of her father, Wally Stanger, a prominent long-time dairy promoter for Rusk County.
“We lost funding because we have to have an official board,” Srp said. “The charter states we have to have a board.”
Rusk County Dairy Promoters does many things to promote dairy besides just the dairy breakfast itself. It also provides funds for two field trips for Ladysmith and Flambeau fourth grade classes to Marieke Gouda Cheese factory and farm for tours. This is also part of the agriculture in the classroom program throughout the state. The group also held a farm tour during Leaf it to Rusk in 2017. It also donates dairy items for many events throughout Rusk County during the year such as butter for the food baskets done by Shop with a Cop and cheese trays for the Flambeau Cancer Benefit, Green and White Days and Honor the Fallen Motorcycle Ride. Milk is provided for Glen Flora Days and Glen Flora Lutheran Bible School for the lunches they serve. Last year soft serve ice cream was served at the Rusk County Farm Show, Sheldon Fair, Bruce Blue Hills Festival, Rusk County Dairy Breakfast, Sawyer County Dairy Breakfast, Women With Courage banquet, Flambeau Cancer Benefit, Mardi Gras and several school related events.
“With the depletion of the board none of these donations and events will happen unless we can establish a dairy promotion board again,” Srp said. “This will take farmers, retired farmers and public to be involved to make it happen. It does not take a big group or a lot of time but just a good group and some volunteers.”
The dairy breakfast is a minimal part of supporting the local dairy farmers, according to Srp.
“In fact most of the dairy breakfast is put on by volunteers from the non-farm community as most farmers are already busy doing chores and field work on those nice days. Our community should be supporting our local dairy farmers everyday not just the day of the dairy breakfast,” Srp said.
Srp is still trying to schedule other events to help promote the county’s dairy industry. These events include donations of milk and ice cream at area festivals, butter and cheese for Shop With a Cop and farm field trips for Ladysmith and Flambeau schools.
“Just because there isn’t a dairy breakfast doesn’t mean you should not support farming every day of the year,” Srp said.
Srp said it takes almost $3,500 to hold the dairy breakfast, which is offset by the cost of the meals that are prepared and served mostly by volunteers. Proceeds from this meal help fund other events throughout the year that promote dairy farming.
“It is going to start with getting people to step up, knowing they don’t get the money,” Srp said. “The money goes back into the community throughout the year.”
“I really want to work with some people so we can keep this alive and bring the breakfast back,” Srp said.
Greater Ladysmith Area Chamber of Commerce staff cited declining attendance and difficulty finding volunteers as reasons for the bluegrass festival not being scheduled this year. Another reason is a deficit attributed to the musical performance.
The music festival, which has been held for 11 straight years, drew hundreds of people to the fairgrounds on the first weekend of June. It, the dairy breakfast and Log Cabin Days combined for a busy weekend at the fairgrounds.