By Lura Roti
World Dairy Expo 1985 opened Mike Frey's mind up to the dairy industry beyond South Dakota's borders. A 14-year-old member of the state 4-H Dairy Judging Team, Mike returned to his family's Claremont dairy farm with a clear vision for his future career.
"That experience really propelled me. I knew I wanted to return to our dairy farm," explains Mike, who together with his parents, Kenneth and Janet, and his wife, Sara, milks 200-head of cows and raises corn, soybeans and alfalfa.
Expanding youth's knowledge of the world around them is just one reason Mike remained actively involved in 4-H. Even before he and Sara became parents, 26 years ago Mike signed up to lead the Friendly Fellows/ Daisies 4-H Club - the club he grew up in.
"I just love volunteering. It makes me feel good when I can see kids benefiting from some of the same experiences I took part in as a kid. And, knowing that as a leader I have a small part in helping them - not just my own kids, but other peoples' kids too," Mike says. "Young people are our future. I feel it's important to do my part to lead them in the right direction."
His wife, Sara agrees. "4-H is really something that helps kids become more well-rounded adults," she says.
Sara is also a 4-H alumnus. In fact, the couple met showing 4-H dairy cattle together at the State Fair. They reconnected in college.
"I joke that my pick up line was, 'don't I know you from showing cattle at the State Fair,'" Mike shares.
Today, in addition to showing and judging dairy cattle like their parents, Mike and Sara's high school-age sons, Dylan and Colin also compete in 4-H public speaking, static exhibits and have served as club officers.
"I've gained a lot of responsibility," explains Dylan, a senior in high school. "Getting an animal ready for the fair takes a lot of time and work. It's fun when I take exhibits or animals to the fair and get ribbons - to see my hard work pay off. And, keeping records has taught me to be organized."
The 18-year-old adds that he values the friendships he has made through 4-H. "I've built friendships with people from all over the state and country," explains Dylan, who was among a group of South Dakota 4-H teens selected to travel to D.C. to attend the National 4-H Citizen Washington Focus trip. "It was interesting to see firsthand how our government is run and learn how bills are written. I realized our lawmakers are doing a lot more than I thought they did."
As a 4-H member, his dad, attended the same conference. "It was fun to compare notes," explains Mike, who attributes the leadership and service experience he gained through 4-H with motivating him to advocate for the dairy industry.
"Through 4-H I did a lot of public speaking, gained leadership skills when I served as state 4-H council president. Those experiences made me feel comfortable speaking in public," Mike says.
Today, Mike leads annual farm tours for area schools and participates in the Midwest Dairy SpeakOut Program sharing his family's farm story and providing information on the dairy industry with community groups. He is also a graduate of South Dakota Ag & Rural Leadership.
"Not many people live on dairy farms anymore. Even if they grew up on one, a lot of things have changed in the last 30 to 40 years, which is why I like to let people know about today's dairy operations," Mike explains.
In 2016, Mike had the opportunity to return to the World Dairy Expo, this time as a chaperone and coach, when his son, Dylan earned a place on the state 4-H dairy judging team.
"It was interesting to return 30 years later and it made me feel good to see our son benefiting from the same experiences I had as a 4-H member," Mike said.
In October 2018, Mike will return to the World Dairy Expo for a third time with his youngest son, Colin, who earned a position on the state 4-H Dairy Judging Team.