Billed as the National Football League’s “theme park,” the Super Bowl Experience is an impressive array of activities and sights highlighting the sport. Held Saturday, January 27 through Saturday, February 3 at the Minneapolis Convention Center, the eight-day event was expected to draw more than 150,000 people.
Fifteen football-related challenges gave attendees their chance to jump, dash, and kick their way through the sport, while an additional 25 offered a deeper look through exhibits ranging from trophies and halls of the famous to NFL locker room setups, network stages, and virtual reality. Fuel Up to Play 60, one of the dominating stops in the experience, is the nation’s largest in-school wellness program and it’s here that Preston dairy farmers Michael and Margaret Johnson, along with their son Sawyer, volunteered their time to promote healthy living and the dairy industry along with 50 other Minnesota farmers.
A coordinated effort by the National Football League and the National Dairy Council, which was founded by American dairy farmers in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Fuel Up to Play 60 is now in its seventh year and is aimed at inspiring and challenging youth to think consciously about their health choices, making life-long positive changes. Currently in an estimated 73,000 schools nationwide, the program has contributed to helping more than 14 million students make healthy food choices and getting nearly 16 million physically active on a regular basis.
This healthy living message goes hand in hand with the message the Johnsons’ farm, Trailside Holsteins, and the Midwest Dairy Association promote. The organization boasts a 100-plus year commitment by dairy farmers to the health and wellness of Americans and encouraging the choice of nutrient-rich foods, like dairy.
“We take pride in the milk we produce and any time we can be open and present to talk with people about it, it’s something we value,” says Michael Johnson. Trailside Holsteins is a second generation dairy started in 1978 by Jon Johnson, Michael’s father, who grew up on a diversified farm near Rushford. In 2009, Michael came back to the Fountain farm after finishing college. He and his new wife, Margaret, soon became partners in the family business. six hundred head of Holsteins reside on the farm and the Johnsons are passionate about educating and helping the public become interested in what happens on a modern dairy farm.
The Johnsons have done their fair amount of promotion for their farm and for the industry statewide through Fillmore County American Dairy Association and with Margaret as a board member for the Minnesota Division of the Midwest Dairy Association. This past summer, they teamed up with Fuel Up to Play 60 for the national summit and were grateful to be selected to serve as ambassadors for the Super Bowl Experience the day before the big game.
“We were really excited,” says Margaret. The family was selected in January after having completed an application process including screening and background checks to get proper event credentials. “We really felt we had to go and communicate with community members and answer questions about eating healthy or dairy farming.”
Most metro areas have an established base with the Fuel Up to Play 60 Program, so the family found only positive responses to dairy farming from both the youth and adults they talked with. “The biggest message we want to get out there is being transparent about what we do as responsible stewards of the land and animals, making healthy, safe milk for people to consume,” says Michael. “People want to know where their food is coming from. It’s becoming more and more prevalent that there is a gap between people who grew up on a farm and people today who know less and less about agriculture. We want to do a better job of communication.”
“Being concerned about the health of our community is accentuated when you are a parent,” adds Margaret. “All dairy farmers lead a very active life, enjoying nature and the animals on a daily basis. We enjoy it so much and it’s important to share that with others.”
As part of the booth, a virtual reality game let participants get a real-life look at dairy farming today. With the simulation gear on, they were able to virtually lift the roofs off farm building to take a closer look at the many components of a dairy farm. “As people got to partake and dissect the farm, I was explaining the purpose of each area,” says Michael. “They’re looking at it like reality and I’m the voice in their head, relating it back to the industry and my own farm.”
“Many people want to know more about where their food comes from because they really don’t know,” Michael continues. “I was talking with an NFL player and some other people at the booth and they knew nothing about agriculture. They thought if we grew anything in our fields it was for people to eat; and these were educated people. “It’s a chance to talk about agriculture.”
Of course, as busy farmers, finding that time is tough, but it’s key. “It’s important to find common ground to connect; time to establish a relationship,” stresses Michael. “People were really receptive and understanding. We might have just 30 seconds to talk to them, but we can give them a little information and then show them another way to connect to get further information.”
“People are eager to make that connection,” adds Margaret, whose highlight came while talking with a group of school kids before they took the field for flag football. “They were so enthusiastic and I was able to share our story about what we do.”
“One of the goals of Midwest Dairy is to have conversations with people about where their food comes from and how dairy can be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle. We love doing that by bringing dairy farmers to unexpected places,” said Lucas Lentsch, CEO of Midwest Dairy. “The Super Bowl Experience is an excellent opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with thousands of people who may have never been to a dairy farm so we’re excited to share the Undeniably Dairy story.”
While there is no Fuel Up to Play 60 Program in Fillmore County, the Johnsons encourage the community to support similar health and wellness programs. For more information about Trailside Holsteins or to see photos from the Super Bowl Experience, visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/trailsideholsteins.