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Wisconsin group hosts annual ‘Milk and Cookies with Santa’

Rachel Coyne for Progressive Dairy Published on 27 November 2019
The 2018 event volunteers

Each December, families make their way to the mall or town hall to visit Santa Claus. Wisconsin dairy producer and advocate Kelly Oudenhoven thought up a new way for kids to see Santa during the holidays.

“The Outagamie County Dairy Promotion Board was looking for new ideas for events that we could host. We have a motto that if we can run an event, and no harm will come from it, we should do it,” Oudenhoven said. “I thought up this idea to host Santa Claus on a dairy farm. The public always sees dairy farms in the summer during dairy breakfasts or picnics but rarely in the winter, and I thought this would be a great opportunity.”

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In November of 2014, Oudenhoven came up with the idea and, in December, the first “Milk and Cookies with Santa” event was held. The Outagamie County Dairy Promotion Board and Outagamie County Farm Bureau teamed up to host. The host committee predicted 100 people would attend the first year but, much to their delight, over 300 people attended. In the second year, over 500 people attended, and the event grew into one that had everyone excited.

“The first two years, the event was held at Milk Source in Freedom, Wisconsin. That was great because people had the chance to visit with Santa and then walk around and see the cows. We put up a tree and decorated the barn to have a real magical feel. We tell the kids Santa flew into Wisconsin just for this,” Oudenhoven said. “Once people walked around to see the cows, they would visit with Santa and then get a glass of milk and a cookie.”

Faye Wichman, current president of the Outagamie County Promotion Board and dairy producer, sees the event as a great way to expose the public to dairy products. “We only have two beverages at the event: chocolate and white milk. This way, we can promote dairy products while hosting a fun event for children and families,” Wichman said.

In 2016, the event moved to a new venue, Tryba’s Simply Country Barn in Freedom, Wisconsin.

“The new venue allowed for heaters on cold days and indoor restrooms, which was a huge benefit,” Wichman said. “The venue is free of charge to us, and the staff at Tryba’s decorates the venue to draw out the holiday spirit in everyone.”

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Heading into the fifth year, the event runs very similar to how it ran when it was started. Children line up to see Santa, get a glass of milk and a cookie, then are given a bag of goodies to take home.

“The Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Farm Bureau donate coloring books, small toys and promotional items for the kids to take home with them after they have seen Santa,” Oudenhoven said. “This is another way for dairy producers to promote dairy products but, instead of the promotion at the event, kids can take it home with them.”

The event is put on with almost no advertising and very little money spent. “We do not do any paid advertising. We hand out flyers in schools, at church and hang them around town, as well as make posts on Facebook,” Oudenhoven said. “We plan the event around school concerts or sporting events so that kids can come see Santa close to home.”

“People love it,” Oudenhoven continued. “As a parent, I enjoy ‘Milk and Cookies with Santa’ because we are able to bring our kids somewhere other than the mall to see Santa, and we hold the event close to home. When we held it on the farm originally, people loved to come see the cows. Today, people continue to come because it is a magical event for kids. Everyone gets to sit on Santa’s lap. We take everyone’s picture and post them online for download, and it is all free to the attendees.”

In 2016, Kelly received a state-wide Wisconsin Farm Bureau County Activities of Excellence Award for creating “Milk and Cookies with Santa,” but she did not stop there. The American Farm Bureau then awarded Kelly with the American Farm Bureau County Activities of Excellence Award. As a national award winner, Kelly received the opportunity to have a booth at the American Farm Bureau Tradeshow in Nashville, Tennessee, to showcase the event.

“Going to Nashville was so much fun, and everyone loved the idea,” Oudenhoven said. “I was also able to share the concept with others who weren’t from a dairy farm. What makes ‘Milk and Cookies with Santa’ unique is that anyone across the country could do it. If someone has a peach farm, they could host ‘Peaches with Santa’ and allow the public to see where their peaches come from. The opportunities are endless.”

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Wichman is excited about the future of the event.

“The public loves ‘Milk and Cookies with Santa’ as it is today,” she said. “We have only ever heard positive feedback. I do see the chance for this to grow into something bigger. Weather permitting, we may be able to have sleigh rides along with meeting Santa and add more to the event. Each year, we get FFA students to dress up as Santa’s elves, and with more volunteers like these, anything could be possible.”

Oudenhoven and Wichman are both dairy producers in Outagamie County and serve on the Outagamie County Dairy Promotions Board. Kelly is also on the Outagamie Farm Bureau Board. While Kelly thought of the idea in 2014, she knows it would not be possible without everyone on both the Dairy Promotion Board and Farm Bureau boards. “We are all incredibly dedicated to advocating for the dairy industry. All board members are dairy producers, and the value of holding events such as ‘Milk and Cookies with Santa’ is not lost on any of us,” Oudenhoven said.  end mark

Rachel Coyne is a freelance writer and a student at University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.

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