By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Christine Reitsma, 59th Princess Kay of the Milky Way and the first princess from Stearns County, has reached the halfway point in her one-year reign. Her time is filled with classroom visits as Princess Kay, as well as her own classes at the University of Minnesota.
Reitsma attends class four days a week, working toward her major of applied economics.
“My major is based in agriculture — essentially ‘agriculture business,’” Reitsma said. “I am hoping to give back to farmers, maybe work as a dairy accountant.”
On her day off from her own classes, Reitsma travels around Minnesota as a dairy ambassador, teaching students about dairy farming.
Reitsma grew up on her family’s farm southwest of Sauk Centre, the third of six children. The family currently milks about 110 cows and raises their calves on-site.
“I grew up reading Princess Kay articles and had the opportunity to meet a few princesses,” said Reitsma. “I have always looked at Princess Kay as a role model. I didn’t just want to be a princess — I wanted to be the dairy princess.”
Reitsma wanted to be in the Princess Kay program because of the good messages and influence Princess Kay has in the life of consumers, “especially in the life of those who might never be able to visit a farm,” she said.
She was chosen to be one of six Stearns County dairy princesses in March 2012. In May, she was picked to be one of 12 Princess Kay finalists.
Being crowned Princess Kay was something Reitsma had worked for her entire life. “It was a good shock,” she said. “I couldn’t believe I had the honor of doing this.”
She has been a guest speaker at numerous banquets and award presentations for producer/farmer-oriented groups.
“It’s a growing issue that there are fewer dairy farms and fewer people who have connections to farms,” said Reitsma. “Many people are three or four generations removed from farms, with no grandparents’ farms to visit.”
It’s due to these types of changes that Breakfast on the Farm has become such a big dairy event. Many counties across Minnesota hold this event, with a different farm hosting the event each summer.
“People can take a tour of the farm and watch a cow being milked,” Reitsma said. “They can see every aspect of life on a farm. Many people come back year after year.”
During schoolroom visits, Reitsma teaches about farming. “Some students have never seen a cow,” she said, “so I teach about the process of milking.”
It’s a challenge to relate to students who have never been on a farm, but very satisfying to correct people’s impressions of farming, she said.
“Many students have an image in their heads about farms and farmers. They can’t believe I’m a dairy farmer,” Reitsma said.
One of the most memorable questions Reitsma has been asked was, “How I could love working with animals that stink,” she said. “The little girl was amazed that even though I wore a crown, I worked on a farm.”
Reitsma works with Minnesota Vikings players in a partnership called “Fuel Up to Play 60.” This program was founded by the National Dairy Council and the National Football League (NFL), in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“The goal is to promote wellness in students’ lives by being physically active 60 minutes every day and by eating the right foods,” Reitsma said. “It’s a student-led organization with student ambassadors. Ideas come from the students, helped by teachers and administrators.”
Students keep track of their exercise and diet, and can earn rewards and prizes.
More than one person, both young and old, has asked Reitsma if she still milks cows by hand.
“It’s life-changing to see what people think, and to be able to explain to them what today’s dairy looks like — how different it is than 60 years ago,” said Reitsma. “Dairy farms continue to grow and change. As an industry, we always have new technology to use
Reitsma is enjoying everything about being with the Princess Kay program.
“It’s most satisfying to see people excited about the dairy industry,” she said, “to be able to give people a new look at farming and for them to understand the importance of visiting a farm and working with dairy farmers.”