The Furrow

A John Deere Publication
man creating butter sculpture

Sculptor Gerry Kulzer carves Brenna Connelly’s butter likeness in the cooler in the Minnesota State Fair Dairy Building.

Rural Living   December 01, 2020


Minnesota dairy princess tradition.

Many little girls pretend to be princesses. But little girls who grow up on dairy farms in Minnesota? They dream of actually being crowned as a princess and getting a 90-pound butter head to show for it. Yes, a butter head. Some states have cows carved out of butter at their state fairs, but Midwest Dairy has commissioned carvings of the Princess Kay of the Milky Way finalists at the Minnesota State Fair for the past 56 years. Princess Kay of the Milky Way is a goodwill ambassador program for the Minnesota dairy industry. Traditionally, young ladies compete and attend leadership training in the first part of the year, and Princess Kay is ceremoniously crowned at the start of the fair. Then, each of the 10 finalists has her likeness carved during one or two days of the fair. They spend the time interacting with the public, sharing their farm story and dairy knowledge. Being so bizarre at face value, the butter heads are a big draw for most fairgoers, and subsequently serve as an effective PR platform for the state’s dairy farmers.

No Fair. Piling on top of the unfairness that 2020 dealt, there was no Minnesota State Fair.“When COVID-19 hit in the spring, our Princess Kay committee decided to move forward with crowning the 67th Princess Kay of the Milky Way with or without the State Fair,” explains Theresa Reps, agricultural affairs manager for Midwest Dairy. They opted for virtual judging and were hoping life might return to normal come fair time. But when it didn’t, they also re-imagined the coronation, butter carvings, and consumer interaction.

crowning princess

Margaret Johnson, a former Butter Head and current Princess Kay committee member, dairy farms with her family near Fountain, Minn.

They turned heavily to social media. The coronation was a private—yet still fancy—event broadcast live through Facebook so fans could still partake in the pageantry. And each finalist still got her day in the cooler, again broadcast online. “When the State Fair was canceled, we didn’t lose a single girl,” remarks Margaret Johnson, a committee member and past Butter Head herself. “It goes to show these girls are not just in it for the butter sculpture. It was really exciting for me as a dairy farmer to see that the ladies running really have their hearts in the industry.”

More Than A Figurehead. The State Fair is just the first of many public engagements Princess Kay and the other finalists make through the year. In a normal year, they visit classrooms, do grocery store demos, present at meetings and events—even appear at NFL football games.

Butter Princess at football game

Amy Kyllo’s appearances was at a Minnesota Vikings football game.

The 67th Princess Kay, Brenna Connelly, will do a lot more online outreach than previous ladies due to COVID-19 restrictions. Johnson attributes the strength of the nearly seven decade long program to the passion and dedication of Minnesota dairy farmers. “They’re the ones inspiring the younger generations to be advocates and be proud of who they are and what they do for their land and animals.” She adds, “In Minnesota, we have just taken that and harnessed it into a wonderful public figure that oftentimes is a doorway to other audiences that we as dairy farmers would not be able to communicate with.” But most importantly, what do you do with 90 pounds of butter that looks like you?

Some freeze and keep it for posterity, and some host a pancake breakfast and donate the rest.

butter princess

The 67th Princess Kay coronation was done with COVID-19 precautions.

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