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Day on the dairy: Using community relations to benefit the farm

Callie Curley for Progressive Dairyman Published on 09 June 2017
Greff Ode Answers questions

Ten years ago, when Gregg and Doug Ode of Brandon, South Dakota, chose to relocate their 30-year-old Royalwood Farms dairy operation back to the farm they’d grown up on, something was different.

Mere miles outside South Dakota’s largest city, Sioux Falls, encroaching urbanization and existing housing developments threatened the very existence of the business that had become their life’s work. What the brothers realized, however, was all of the roadblocks came down to one relatively common issue: misconceptions.



“People in the developments were afraid of what a working farm would do to their community,” Gregg Ode says. “They were worried about flies, about odor, about the nuisance they thought we would be. One day, we came together and realized that this wasn’t just going to happen; we had to do something. We’d have to respond to this in some way.”

And do something they did. Nine months after beginning operation in their new location, the Odes hosted their first open house, sending out postcards to those in the community and inviting them to spend a day on the dairy, see what was being done and ask questions or voice concerns.

“We had a good response in that those who came enjoyed themselves and benefitted from it, but really very few people came out compared to what we had hoped for,” Ode says.

After the initial event, which took place in the fall, the brothers realized an appropriate response to the community’s concerns couldn’t be a “one and done” affair. The following June, they held another open house, this time celebrating June Dairy Month and beginning what has become an annual tradition of community engagement.

A major partner in this annual event is Ag United for South Dakota, a coalition of farm organizations founded by the South Dakota Cattleman’s Association, South Dakota Corn Growers Association, South Dakota Farm Bureau, South Dakota Pork Producers Council and the South Dakota Soybean Association, and now supported by both the South Dakota Dairy Producers and South Dakota Poultry Industries Association as well.


“Ag United has played a huge role in the success of our event,” Ode says. “They’ve helped us make connections with vendors and donors, and coordinate things that have changed the open house in a big way.”

Rebecca Christman, outreach director for Ag United, has been a key player in the partnership between Ag United and Royalwood. In addition to the on-farm event, she has helped Gregg and Doug coordinate school visits and other tours throughout the year to engage the community.

“Events like the open house at Royalwood are important to modern farmers everywhere,” Christman says. “In a society where people are further removed than ever from the farm but also more invested than ever in being sure their food is raised and grown in a safe, responsible way, making those personal connections is absolutely crucial.”

Equally important to industry partners has been the involvement of family, friends and volunteer groups. While Gregg and Doug work full time on the farm, their wives, Jane and Amy, and parents, Bob and Marilyn, are involved in the months of planning and preparation that lead up to a single day’s event in June.

Gregg’s son, Alex, who works in the Bel Brand cheese plant in Brookings and spends his free time lending a hand on the farm, also plays a role.

“We truly could not pull off an event like this without the full support of our family and the other people who help us out,” Ode says. “They’re always willing to volunteer and share their experiences living and working on the farm.”


Since that first event, and with the help of both industry groups and family, the Odes have opened the farm and hosted either a breakfast or noon lunch. Visitors will also find family members and other volunteers throughout the freestall, milking parlor, in the milk room and in other key locations across the farm to answer questions and engage in conversation.

A tour of facilities for the day on the dairy

These volunteers serve an important purpose in safety, as well. The Odes made the decision not to “rope off” any areas of the farm in hopes of giving an authentic experience of what goes on at the farm.

“By showing people anything and everything they want to see, we hope they’ll walk away saying, ‘Oh, OK, this isn’t like the horror stories on TV,’” Ode says. “We work hard, not just for the sake of showing off but to actually create an environment where healthy, happy cows can be content and produce a lot of milk.”

Each year, new developments bring improvements to the event, and the community has taken note. Those low numbers of the first events are a thing of the past; in recent years, the family has welcomed nearly 1,500 visitors in a single day’s event, requiring a neighbor to open a parking lot at his storage unit and busing people to and from the farm.

“Everybody we talk to says it is working,” Ode says. “So, as long as that’s the case, we are going to keep it up and continue trying to find new ways to talk about what we do.”  end mark

PHOTO 1: Gregg Ode answers questions in the freestall barn on the farm, which houses 330 milking cows. The freestall is one of multiple areas where visitors can look around and ask questions about the animals and practices on the farm.

PHOTO 2: In an effort to showcase all aspects of life on the dairy, Gregg and Doug Ode provide tours of the facilities, including the milking parlor, shown here. A number of family members and community volunteers stationed throughout the farm streamline this process and allow for personal interactions with visitors. Courtesy photos.

Callie Curley is a communications student at Penn State University.

Tips for hosting community members on the farm:

  1. Plan ahead.
  2. Have help.
  3. Keep it tidy.
  4. Be positive.
  5. Build connections.