When Being the Dairy Princess Becomes a Chore Finding a young woman who wants to be a "dairy princess" isn't always easy in the fading days of family farms. The winner spends a year touting dairy products. Gregory Warner of North Country Public Radio followed a recent pageant in upstate New York.
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When Being the Dairy Princess Becomes a Chore

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When Being the Dairy Princess Becomes a Chore

When Being the Dairy Princess Becomes a Chore

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It's DAY TO DAY, oh, you parochial ill informed city slickers. You, who's urbanized existence is absent the summer pleasures of the Dairy Princess pageant. This is a summertime tradition in a dozen states where people produce things like milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter, and like every opportunity to talk about them. But even here, the Dairy Princess is developing a certain lactose intolerance.

Here's Gregory Warner of North Country Public Radio.


The hors d'oeuvres say it all: ice cream punch and ten pounds of cheese curd. Soda is forbidden. Tonight's princess will represent the dairy industry. She'll pass out free cheese at fairs, lecture school kids about calcium. One hundred or more events, the schedule can be grueling.

Ms. ALICIA JACKSON (Dairy Princess Alternate): A lot of people are just, like, why do you guys come out here on your free time?

WARNER: Alicia Jackson is 16, a Dairy Princess alternate last year for St. Lawrence County. Tonight, she's running for the crown.

Mr. JACKSON: And it's kind of weird when you're explaining it to people, because a lot of people are like, wow, you guys have cows?

WARNER: Like every candidate Alicia's a farm girl. Her family milks about 60 cows. It's a disappearing lifestyle.

Ms. JACKSON: Because, as you know, milk prices aren't the best. People like us are trying to get dairy industry back up because of what our families do for a living.

WARNER: These are tough times for dairy farmers and for princesses. The pageant used to be in a large banquet hall with lots of local sponsors and more than free cheese curd. Now it's in a church basement with only three contestants. A crowd of about 80 relatives and former princesses are here to watch.

Forest Jackson is Alicia's grandfather.

Mr. HORACE JACKSON: We got support them, they help us. We got to support them. We got to keep these kids on the farm if it's at all possible.

WARNER: But Alicia probably won't take on the family farm. She'd rather be a forensic scientist, and Horace can't blame her. The farm made less money last year than in the '70s, and the future looks bleak.

So how did you feel when Alicia first said she wanted to be a Dairy Princess?

Mr. JACKSON: Well, I said good. We're glad to hear it. It gets her out to see people and meet people. And they're doing something when they're out with this group, you know where they are. You know what they're doing.

WARNER: Is she selling more milk?

Mr. JACKSON: Well, she says she is, I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: Our young ladies willing to make a commitment this year for a lot of hard word and dedication to promoting the dairy industry include Amy Baker...

WARNER: The contestants and their fathers promenade down a makeshift aisle. First up is Amy, a 17-year-old blonde in red crinoline with an infectious laugh. Alicia's dad has to remind her to smile. She moves awkwardly in her blue gown.

Unidentified Man: You all look so beautiful.

WARNER: The contest begins with a private interview. Three judges ask the girls how many chores they do on the farm, and why they want to promote milk. And then it's time for Alicia's speech.

Ms. JACKSON: What goes through a person's mind when they're thinking about getting a drink from the refrigerator? Most likely not what they should be thinking. Most people go through and get what tastes good for them.

WARNER: Amy Baker strikes a more regal tone.

Ms. AMY BAKER (Dairy Princess Contestant): My family's tradition of providing milk to the (unintelligible) families has turned thousands of little babies into the people that we see today. I am proud of being part of that heritage, and proud to carry that message on to the next generation. Thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

WARNER: But the judges choose the girl they say knows the most about milk.

Unidentified Man: Our 2006-2007 Dairy Princess is Alicia Jackson.

(Soundbite of applause, cheers)

WARNER: There are hugs, a few tears. Alicia's parents seem happy, but tired.

Unidentified Woman: It's going to be a busy summer, I think.

WARNER: There goes your farm labor.

Mr. JACKSON: There goes farm labor, that's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WARNER: Alicia gathers her spoils: a half dozen roses, some Got Milk bumper stickers, and the tiara she'll wear tomorrow to her high school prom.

For NPR News, I'm Gregory Warner in Canton, New York.

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