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Minnesota’s Green Waves Farm inspires dairy royalty dreams

Brittany Olson for Progressive Dairyman Published on 24 May 2018
Ali Spiers

It is routine for Mark Berning to ask all of his teenage employees to consider running for a dairy ambassador or dairy princess title.

Berning milks 445 cows with eight robots along with his wife, Julie; brother, Paul; and son, David, at Green Waves Farm near St. Michael, Minnesota. He estimates approximately seven or eight of those girls have gone on to become dairy royalty.

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“I think it is a great opportunity for them. It looks [good] on a resume and helps them improve their communication skills,” Mark Berning says. “One of us attends the coronation for support and go to some of the events to give encouragement. I think everyone has enjoyed the experience that they never knew anything about before being asked.”

Gaining dairy exposure

One thing that makes some of these young women stand out is the fact that they don’t all come from a farm, particularly in the cases of Maggie Socha, Ali Spiers and Grace Volden.

Maggie Socha with Julie Berning and Mark Berning

Volden, who is a high school senior and was just crowned as a Wright County dairy princess, always had a dog and a few other animals growing up in town, but admitted she didn’t know a lot about farming in general until she started working at Green Waves Farm.

She was thinking about going into the medical field after high school, but working for the Bernings has her contemplating a career working with animals instead.

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“On the farm, I do a variety of jobs, like collecting cows to go into [robots], cleaning the robots and their rooms, feeding calves, scraping and helping with random little chores to keep the farm clean and running,” Volden says. “I had never really seen a cow up close before, so knowledge was extremely limited. I am still learning, but by having the experience of working on the farm, it has taught me a lot to prepare me for dairy advocacy.”

Berning informed her she was eligible for the county dairy princess position and shared the experiences other girls had with it. “It sounded like a good opportunity to learn more and meet new people, so I thought I’d give it a shot,” Volden added.

Like Volden, Spiers was not involved in agriculture before going to work for the Bernings, whom she met through her church.

“I had learned that Mark owned a dairy, and I had always been fascinated with animals, so we talked about me working on the dairy,” Spiers says. She stepped foot on a dairy for the first time at 15 years old, and she quickly found a passion for the industry and the encouragement to share it with others. “Mark is the one that started me with the princesses,” she recalls.

Spiers went on to serve as Wright County’s dairy ambassador from 2012 to 2014, and dairy princess from 2014 to 2016; she is currently a junior in college as a nursing major, and says that being a dairy princess taught her how to teach and communicate with others

Always supportive

Socha’s parents both hailed from dairy farms, so she was familiar with the industry to a degree. With her older brothers working for the Bernings in the past, it was only fitting that she follow in their bootprints when she started working at the dairy in high school.

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Her journey in dairy royalty began as a dairy ambassador and ended last summer at the Minnesota State Fair, where she was one of 12 finalists and selected as runner-up for the state’s top dairy royalty position, Princess Kay of the Milky Way.

“During the four years I have worked for the Bernings, I have learned a tremendous amount about all of the hard work and dedication it takes to run a dairy farm. It is also this job that sparked my love for the dairy community and is the reason I am pursuing a degree in dairy science [at South Dakota State University],” Socha says.

The Bernings have shown their support for Socha throughout her royalty journey, not only as inspirations, but also as cheerleaders along the way. “They were all in the stands cheering me on the night of the Princess Kay coronation and even came backstage afterward to congratulate me and take pictures. Mark and Julie also visited me at the Minnesota State Fair during one of the days I was there as a finalist.”

Bernings’ mentorship of their employees doesn’t end with their time on the dairy, either.

“I am always looking for opportunities for all my employees, past and present,” Berning says, whether it be suggesting scholarships to apply for or offering wisdom on choosing career paths. Some may pursue agriculture as their livelihood and others may not, but at the end of the day, Berning couldn’t be more proud to prepare his farm’s young workforce for a bright future, and maybe even a shiny tiara too.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Ali Spiers worked for the Bernings, who encouraged her to run for dairy ambassador and dairy princess representing Wright County, Minnesota. Spiers served as ambassador from 2012 to 2014, and princess from 2014 to 2016. Photo provided by Ali Spiers.

PHOTO 2: Julie Berning, left, and Mark Berning, right, cheered on Maggie Socha, center, as she was named runner-up during the 2017 Princess Kay of the Milky Way competition at the Minnesota State Fair. Socha is now a freshman at South Dakota State University studying dairy science. Photo provided by Maggie Socha.

Brittany Olson is a freelance writer and dairy farmer in Chetek, Wisconsin.

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