Dairy cows have been at the center of Rachel Rynda’s life since before she could walk. It is fitting that she now represents Minnesota’s dairy industry as the 69th Princess Kay of the Milky Way. Many of Rynda’s childhood memories revolve around black and white cattle, family, and county fairs. “I remember playing in the barn alley while my parents milked,” says Rynda.
Her parents, Francis and Theresa, took over the conventional dairy farm her grandfather started in Montgomery, Minnesota, during the 1970s. The Ryndas have a traditional tie-stall set up milking around 50 cows and also grow and harvest their own feed: corn, soybeans, alfalfa, and wheat. They retain and raise their replacements and finish their steers, along with additional steers they purchase. These steers are marketed with the assistance of Dennis Bertrand of the National Farmers Organization.
Barn Adventures and Childhood Memories
“I grew up bottle feeding the calves and helping with daily chores,” Rynda said. The barn was a place of adventure surrounded by family and cattle. “My brothers and I always looked forward to chore time. When we were little, we had pedal tractors and would race down the alley and jump on hay bales.”
One particular memory stands out in Rynda’s mind. She had spent many mornings milking beside her mom through the years, but on this day, she stepped up and handled things herself. As we all know, chores don’t stop when life gets in the way.
“The day my younger brother was born, my parents left a family friend in charge. I told him he could watch and I would take care of the milking,” Rynda recalls. At the young age of 10, she milked solo for the first time.
“I am thankful my parents raised me to understand the hard work and effort that goes into life on a dairy farm and equally thankful that they trusted me with the responsibility of caring for the animals.”
With a father who has served on their county American Dairy Association Board for years, Rynda grew up immersed in all aspects of the dairy industry. The family often attended dairy banquets. “At the banquets and fairs, I would see the dairy princesses. We had a common background being from dairy farms, and I looked up to them,” Rynda said. In 5th grade, she was a Scott/LeSueur County dairy milkmaid and later was active in the dairy ambassador program. Once she turned 18, she decided she would pursue the dairy princess title.
“The princess program is a way for young women to become active in the dairy community, learn leadership skills, and advocate for the industry,” says Jenna Davis, Farmer Relationship Manager for Midwest Dairy and who oversees the Minnesota Princess Kay. Midwest Dairy’s mission is to promote the dairy industry by building demand and trust in dairy among consumers while representing dairy farmers within 10 states of the Midwest (MN, IA, MO, KS, SD, ND, NE, AK, IL, and eastern OK).
Crowned princesses at the county level, these young women attend leadership events where they participate in multiple educational programs that hone their communication and public speaking skills and educate them on the nutrient benefits of dairy products, helping them become the best possible advocate for the dairy industry. The candidate list is narrowed down to the top 10 individuals who compete for the title of Princess Kay of the Milky Way by delivering a speech and participating in personal and mock media interviews.
This strategic plan to build future dairy leaders culminates at the state fair, with all 10 finalists participating in a wide range of events and having the unique privilege of their likeness carved in butter.
The time-honored tradition of being carved in butter requires the princesses to sit in a cooler for 6 to 8 hours. Gerry Kulzer, an art teacher and clay sculptor, transformed the 90 lbs. of butter into the likeness of the princesses. One might think the hours sitting in a 40-degree cooler would be a boring start to the reign of Princess Kay, but that wasn’t the case. “We talked a bunch about faith, family, and farming. Gerry is a great guy and made it very enjoyable,” Rynda notes.
Spoken like a true dairy princess, Rynda says, “It was a dream come true to sit for the carving.”
“Princess Kay’s role helps bring dairy to life by engaging consumers across the state,” Davis notes. Each Princess Kay has a schedule full of media events and public appearances throughout the year. Asked to participate in everything from elementary school programs and virtual events to Minnesota Vikings football games, the title has come with 60 different appearances and 8,000 miles of travel in past reigns.
Fitting in media interviews and appearances between college classes at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls, where Rynda is studying agriculture business and dairy science, she is looking forward to sharing her love for dairy with everyone she meets.
With the crown, Princess Kay of the Milky Way, Rachel Rynda, has more in common with the girls she admired. She, too, is a role model for the next generation. Representing the dairy community and advocating for dairy, Rynda is stepping into her new role with great enthusiasm and looking forward to a year of adventures touring the great state of Minnesota and sharing her story about growing up on a dairy farm.