County princesses and the public’s disconnect with dairy

CWM-MR-3-County princesses 2by Steve Wagner
Sometimes writing up the Dairy Princess Coronation, which is a kind of milky nightcap to the All American Dairy Show that closes a week before, is like penning a theatrical review. There is much theater with princess contestants donning costumes and regaling speeches about the virtues of their chosen interest. There is pageantry with formal entrances and fewer formal exits. A keyboardist plays subtle milk cocktail segue music to ease the audience from one segment into another. The event closes with the inauguration of a state dairy princess and two alternates, a trio who will spend much of the remainder of this year and most of the next promoting dairy farming around the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And of course, there are a plethora of awards and recognitions for contributions above and beyond the call of duty.
Jan Harding Ruslvage, who directed the pageant for 30 years, was recognized. This grassroots woman accepted several citations, resolutions and other recognitions from the governor, state legislators and federal legislators.
When the ceremonial glitz had taken us all to a peak of excitement and curiosity, the winners were announced. Brooke George of Mercer County was chosen as the second alternate. Danielle Varner is the new first alternate dairy princess. And taking the title as Pennsylvania’s Dairy Princess was Lu-Anne Antisdel of Bradford County.
Looking over Lu-Anne’s resume, we see that at age 18 she is a high school graduate, works part time at Sam’s restaurant and has already served as a Dairy Maid and a Dairy Ambassador. ‘She is a member of several clubs and organizations,’ the program notes tell us, ‘including the Student Government Association, Students Against Destructive Decisions, Etiquette Club, Yearbook Club, Friends of Rachel Club, 4-H, Troy Fair Queen Program, and Junior Troy Fair Board. She is also in the Bradford County FFA, where she is the vice president. Lu-Anne is a member of the volleyball team, the summer volleyball league, and the basketball cheerleading squad, and is also the boys’ baseball team manager. In her free time Lu-Anne enjoys public speaking, showing her cows, performing community service and doing farm field work.’
A Common Sentiment
During the competition, contestants are asked challenging questions regarding the dairy industry. While each contestant answers, the others are in another room, out of hearing range. Typically this offers a variety of perspectives and answers, but one question at this year’s show revealed a general concensus among contestants.
“Which two critical issues would you identify, and why?” asked emcee Kirk Sattazahn.
Centre County’s Halee Wasson said, “People really need to understand that dairy farmers care not only for their cows but for their environment.”
Montgomery County’s Erin Wismer opined that “most people are two generations removed from the farm and don’t know much about what happens on a dairy farm, why milk is important, or what dairy farmers do on a regular basis to produce quality milk.”
Danielle Varner of Huntingdon County noted a public “lack of knowledge and thinking that (dairy is) a bad industry…I would love to be out there with them and give them all the information they want, and so much more.”
Kayla Hartung from Franklin County felt that public perception was one that indicated “farmers don’t treat their cows with good care. I want people to know that they do! They have nutritious diets and excellent bedding and all the conditions that we would like to live in. I would also like people to know that milk doesn’t come from the shelf at the store. It comes from those cows that farmers take excellent care of.”
Brooke George, who hails from Mercer County, also zeroed in on the issue of animal treatment. “There are a lot of wrong ideas that animals are treated very badly when really they are treated very well.”
Mikayla Gates of Bedford County cited “the disconnection between the dairy industry and the general public. A lot of people don’t understand what is going on in our dairy farms.”
Bradford County’s Lu-Anne Anisdel, who was later coronated as Dairy Princess, said she would like to “find out how to better get out to consumers who don’t quite understand just how hard the farmer works.”
All finalists were on the same page about the public disconnect and saw much of general misinformation to be regarding animal treatment.

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