Breakfast at Golden Oaks farm gives glimpse into 'rural America'
If you're visiting the last dairy farm in Lake County, you really should wear a pair of green John Deere suspenders.
Darrell Cooper obviously knows the fashion etiquette. You could even call him a farm tourist.
He didn't like Fair Oaks in Indiana. Too modern.
At Golden Oaks (sense a theme, here?) near Wauconda Saturday, Cooper was … well … cowstruck.
His wife wasn't too jealous of the Holsteins.
"It's probably sentimental," Barbara Cooper explained.
Then her husband elaborated: "We like cows."
The Huntley man in those green suspenders grabbed the first seat behind a tractor pulling a wagon of families through the grounds of Golden Oaks dairy farm west of Rand Road. He listened intently to the tour guide and studied the milking parlor, where an automated system of machines and their human helpers milk cows almost around the clock -- 21 hours a day. Roughly 5,000 pounds of milk (farmers don't sell in gallons) load directly into a tank truck bound for a Wisconsin company that makes mozzarella cheese.
Cooper still prefers the manual system. He started milking at 5 or 6 years old at his family's grain and stock farm in Iowa.
"It was hand jive," he says, gesturing with his hands.
The behind-the-scenes tour was part of the Lake County Farm Bureau's inaugural Lake County Dairy Breakfast Saturday morning.
The bureau usually sponsors an ice cream tasting in June, National Dairy Month, but wanted to go bigger. So Greg Koeppen, the executive director, decided to recreate a breakfast done in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, where he used to volunteer. It draws some 3,000 people.
"It's the 'Who's Who' of the area," Koeppen said laughing. "You want to be seen there, I think."
While their version wasn't exactly the social event of the season, Koeppen was encouraged by the early interest: about 300 people preregistered.
"For them, I think it's the novelty of what does the farm look like? They're three, four generations removed from the farm," Koeppen said. "So for the folks that are here today, I think it's important for them to see where their food comes from."
The breakfast food of choice Saturday was pizza with mozzarella from Grande Cheese Co., which taps the milk from Golden Oaks cows.
"Who doesn't like pizza for breakfast?" Koeppen said.
As Rural America shrinks, Golden Oaks has been able to survive because of its embrace of technology and support from its owners, the billionaire Crown family, said Tom Patterson who runs the farm as general manager with about 20 employees.
Many of them have college degrees, and students from Germany and Brazil have interned there, getting experience with a big operation. The herd's size changes daily, but usually tops 1,000.
"We're fortunate to be able to have a little piece of rural America in middle of the suburbs," Patterson said.