A milk beam from princess' mom
FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. - Most Minnesota State Fair visitors smile, but Laura Olson beamed.
Olson stood outside a glass-enclosed, refrigerated booth containing one of her three daughters and a sculptor. It was a first-day-of-the-fair tradition Thursday, sculpting in a 90-pound butter block the likeness of Princess Kay of the Milky Way.
For the Olsons, the fair itself is a tradition. It was 33 years ago Thursday that Laura Olson, a south-side-of-Chicago native at her first Minnesota fair, met "a bachelor farmer from Hutchinson." The two married and Loren and Laura Olson raised three daughters and a son, all deeply involved in the dairy business.
Elizabeth Olson, 18, became the second Olson girl to win the Princess Kay contest - becoming the Minnesota dairy industry's top ambassador - and the third daughter to have her likeness carved in butter as a princess finalist. No other family has produced two Princess Kays in the event's 56-year history.
The new princess, who will travel promoting the dairy industry, sat in the only heavy coat to be found on the fairgrounds and said that Thursday was a dream come true. "I have been preparing for this, whether or not I knew I was, since I showed my first calf."
She and her family have deep roots in dairy and fairs. Many in the family will be at the fair all 12 days.
Sarah Olson won the princess contest in 2002 and Lana Olson was a 2005 finalist.
"Uniquely for our family, Princess Kay is such a celebration at the State Fair," Lana Olson said.
The new princess so much loves fairs that her goal is to attend 100 county fairs around the country by the time she is 100.
Princess Kay, like other finalists, takes every opportunity to promote the dairy industry, even in the 40-degree cooler.
"For me, it is what my family has done for over 100 years," she said. "And I am anxious to show that. I know dairy farmers cannot have media interviews 10 times a day. Or they can't visit with school children three or four times a week."
The State Fair tradition happens each of the 12 days of the event when Linda Christensen carves the likeness of the 12 princess finalists in blocks of butter, which the contestants get to keep. That means Laura Olson needs to make room for another "butter head" when the 2009 fair ends on Labor Day.
Not a problem, she said, watching Christensen chip away the first pieces of butter to begin to form Elizabeth's sculpture.
"I just hope I remember every minute," she said.
Emily Scheuler and Bethany Urban form a Kandiyohi County one-two punch in defending and promoting the dairy industry.
For Scheuler, one of the things she sees as her job as a dairy ambassador is making sure people understand that "cows are well cared for."
Urban may end up in some form of scientific dairy research. "It has been my life so far, so I might as well keep it up."
The two Princess Kay of the Milky Way finalists "are like sisters," Urban said, both coming from Kandiyohi County. Scheuler lives near Raymond, urban near New London.
Scheuler hopes to be an agriculture teacher or work in dairy sales.
Urban, also 20, said the Princess Kay program grew on her.
"At first, it wasn't all that important to me," she said. "I didn't really understand the process all that much. ... As time went on, I grew more into the dairy industry and it became a passion. It became something I really want to do."
Chelsey Fast is not just ambassador for the dairy industry, she is ambassador for her family farm.
Her father, Chuck, and brother, Chris, said they are busy in the fields and barns and do not have time for promotion.
The family, of Cottonwood County's Bigham Lake, gathered Thursday in the State Fair's Dairy Building, circling Chelsey Fast.
"Everybody likes to look at a pretty face," Chuck Fast said. "It is advertising, that is what it is."
"Princess Kay gets a lot of publicity," Chelsey Fast added.
The Princess Kay of the Milky Way finalist was ready to promote farmers Thursday.
"Today's farmers do a wonderful job," she said.
The 19-year-old proclaimed optimism about the future of dairy farmers, despite a current economic bump for the industry. "Promotion is the key" for better times, she said.
Renae Schaefer represents dairy farmers in a tough climate, a university campus.
As a Bemidji State University junior, the Frazee resident discovered fellow students are not always comfortable drinking milk or eating dairy products. She set out to change that. Some fear its safety after debates about hormones, antibiotics and other things some people fear in milk.
"A lot of college students do not understand or know the whole story of how that milk product gets to their refrigerator," Schaefer said.
But once she talks to them, many come around.
"I have seen a little difference with the fellow employees who work with me," she said. "I have seen more of them bringing in milk to put in the refrigerator."
The 20-year-old Princess Kay of the Milky Way finalist plans to be a teacher, and hopes to use dairy farm examples to teach. "I am going to put that in every single lesson."
She said that she plans to use what she learned in the princess contest to preach the benefits of dairy products.
"I plan to share with everyone else," she said. "It doesn't matter who I meet."
And what she plans to share about dairy is simple: "It is 100 percent safe."
Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.