SDSU student places In Minnesota State Fair


Sydney Mitchell, Reporter

A South Dakota State University dairy production major won a chance to advocate for the dairy industry and got a rare bonus out of the deal – a 90-pound carving of her head made out of butter.

Kelsey Erf of Oakdale, Minnesota, was a finalist in the Princess Kay of the Milky Way competition at the Minnesota State Fair. The winner was crowned late last month, and while she didn’t win, Erf was one of three finalists to win a scholarship and the opportunity to tell people about the dairy industry during the fair.

Princess Kay of the Milky Way is the state of Minnesota’s dairy princess. The goal of the Princess Kay program is to serve as a goodwill ambassador for Minnesota’s dairy farmers. The 68th Princess Kay was crowned Aug. 25 in St. Paul before the start of the Minnesota State Fair. 

The competition is supported by Midwest Dairy, an organization that represents 5,800 dairy farms in the region. Erf, who was one of the top-10 finalists, has long wanted to be named Princess Kay, but she never thought that she would get the chance until a rule changed in 2019, allowing her to apply. 

Erf’s family raises dairy heifers for a larger dairy. In previous years, girls whose families raised dairy animals that contribute to Minnesota dairy production could not apply to the competition. Now they can.

 “I was not expecting to win a scholarship,” Erf said. “It means a lot to know that the judges and Midwest Dairy believe in my future in the dairy industry.”

Erf is a fifth-generation dairy farmer. She grew up raising and showing Brown Swiss cattle, participating in 4-H, FFA, dairy judging and quiz bowls. She is heavily involved in SDSU activities, serving as the vice president of the Dairy Club, a mentor for first-year dairy and food science students and more.

 Part of the Princess Kay competition that garners a lot of interest from outsiders, is that each finalist gets their head sculpted out of butter. Erf admits that it’s a little surreal seeing a model of her head made from butter.

 “You always look at those girls who get sculpted out of butter at the fair every year and you always want to be one of them,” Erf said. “Now that can be my fun fact, that I have a butterhead.”

Erf will be given the 90-pound butter sculpture and any scraps from the carving. She plans to give away the scraps to family and friends and use the rest of the sculpture to host a meal to give back to those who have supported her. 

During the fair, Erf took part in media interviews, talked with fair visitors at the butter booth, helped at the dairy judging ceremony, participated in the parade, went to the 4-H Dairy Showcase, attended the Milk Run and the retirement ceremony for Linda Christensen, the butter sculptor for the past 50 years. Christensen sculpted this year’s Princess Kay finalist and will be replaced as the creator of the iconic sculptures by Gerry Kulzer, who sculpted the rest of the finalists this year.

Erf’s favorite part of the fair was connecting with others.

 “We could be talking about the most random topic and there would be something that is connected to dairy in some way, shape, or form,” Erf said. “It was like bridging the gap to show how they are connected to the dairy princesses.” 

To compete and become Princess Kay, applicants must first be a county dairy princess. From there, eligible applicants compete at something called the May event for a chance to be a top-10 finalist. At this event, competitors participate in a prepared speech, an interview, mock media interviews and submit an application. 

Jenna Davis, the manager of farm relations at Midwest Dairy and the Princess Kay competition coordinator, said that when judges are selecting finalists, “they are really looking for someone who is going to uphold the reputation and ideals of the dairy industry.” 

The top 10 finalists spend time getting to know each other and learning more about the dairy industry. They go through another round of competition before Princess Kay is crowned the night before the fair starts.

Emily Annexstad, the marketing communications manager for Holstein Association USA, was the winner of the 2017-2018 Princess Kay crown.

“Princess Kay’s year kicks off with 12 days of fun at the Minnesota State Fair,” Annexstad said. “During this time, she gets her head sculpted in butter, completes many media interviews and does other events throughout the fair.”

After doing well in the competition, Erf is hopeful for her future.

“I really want to go back to the dairy industry once I graduate and continue to be an advocate,” she said. “Whether as Princess Kay or not, I’m still going to be an advocate for the dairy industry.”