By: Laura Grimm
Gina Holdvogt has a head in her freezer.
A butter head, that is. This past summer, the MSUM sophomore was selected as a finalist for Princess Kay of the Milky Way, the representative for Minnesota’s dairy farmers. Each day of the Minnesota State Fair, one of the 12 finalists has her likeness carved in a 90-pound block of butter.
Photo submitted by: Gina Holdvogt
Princess Kay finalist Gina Holdvogt before her likeness was carved out of 90 pounds of butter on Sept. 4 at the Minnesota State Fair. Holdvogt plans to use her butter head at a community sweet corn feed and donate the rest to a local food shelf.
Holdvogt’s journey to butter-dom began last March when she was crowned a Stearns County dairy princess. Stearns County is in the heart of dairy country in Minnesota, with the most cows and farms according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
“I just really saw the dairy community as being part of my overall rural community that I belonged to,” Holdvogt said.
Holdvogt’s farm has been in her family since 1914, but her dairy roots can be traced back to farmers in Germany. These farming roots still remain strong in Holdvogt’s family, as her five older sisters were all dairy princesses.
“I felt that by being a dairy princess, I would really be able to give back to these men and women for all they continue to do for us each day,” Holdvogt said.
Holdvogt then decided to compete at May Event. There, the twelve Princess Kay finalists are selected based on a speech, mock media interview and personal interview. The leadership weekend also included educational panels for county dairy princesses from around the state to attend. While Holdvogt was there, she listened to last year’s finalists tell their stories and hoped she would share their experiences. Now her dream has come true, and she’ll be a mentor for the candidates at May Event next year.
Holdvogt was “pleasantly surprised” when her name was announced as a finalist, but she was excited at the opportunity it presented.
“I’m an education major, so I really value education,” Holdvogt said. “I see how being able to share our stories as dairy farmers is really beneficial to the public, who wants to know more about where their food is coming from and the nutritional value that it has for them.”
In addition to gaining new opportunities, she also made new friends.
“These girls are absolutely wonderful. We got to be super close, and it was so great to share our common passion for dairy together,” Holdvogt said. “Going into this summer, I couldn’t help but think, ‘Wow, I just gained 11 new friends,’ and that is exactly what happened.”
Holdvogt’s summer was full of interviews, parades and dairy promotion events. In addition to her duties as a county dairy princess, Holdvogt also had to prepare for finalist judging in August. She sought advice from her parents, siblings and other finalists.
“I truly felt that the best way for me to represent the dairy community was to have the voices of the dairy community in mind at all times,” Holdvogt said. “I really thought about my story as a dairy farmer’s daughter. My parents work day in and day out to raise healthy animals and sustainably work with our land while making high-quality food. It was very important to my preparation that I would be able to properly communicate those goals that guide my family’s daily life.”
Holdvogt may not have been crowned Princess Kay, but that did not stop her from representing farm families at the state fair. For Holdvogt, her three days at the fair included media interviews, crafting with children and answering fairgoers’ questions about farming and the dairy princess program. On the last day of the fair, Holdvogt sat in a 40-degree rotating cooler for six hours while her likeness was carved in butter.
“I thought it was really cool getting to sit in the cooler and have all these butter sculptures of the girls sitting around me,” Holdvogt said. “It was really exciting when you’d go out of the cooler and have your snowpants on, and these people, they realize that you’re the one in the cooler and they have so many questions. It was really fun getting to answer those questions.”
Holdvogt’s butter head has now joined two of her sisters’ in the freezer at home. The heads take up an entire freezer, but they won’t for long. After a photoshoot with the three sisters and their butter heads, the Holdvogts plan on hosting a sweet corn feed for her hometown community. The remaining butter will be donated to a local food shelf.
Through this experience, Holdvogt feels she strengthened her public speaking and interpersonal skills. More importantly, she also learned to be proud of her roots.
“I definitely experienced overall a lot of growth, and I really learned how to express my pride for the dairy community,” Holdvogt said. “Growing up, I was always told to be proud of where you came from, and I definitely was able to do that to the best of my ability after this summer.”
Holdvogt’s pride for cows extends to dragons, too. She feels MSUM’s values of grit, humility and heart align with the values she learned on her family’s dairy farm.
“Growing up on a farm, you definitely have to be a hard worker, and you have to be committed to your animals and the land that you work with,” Holdvogt said. “Dairy farmers are some of the most humble people you will meet, and they’re so kind-hearted and loving. Dairy farmers have so much passion for what they are doing, and I think those three traits align well with what I experienced on my farm. I’m really glad that I get to find that here at MSUM as well.”