To inspire those interested in the agriculture and dairy industry, Matt and Natalie Berning of Berning Acres have opened their doors to their community and taken the farm-to-table experience to a whole new level in their small Illinois town. The dairy farm began in 1973 when Matt’s parents started Berning Acres in East Dubuque, Illinois, with 120 acres of land and 30 dairy cows. Today, the farm makes up around 800 acres, and the milking herd has grown to 400 cows.
On top of maintaining high standards for cow comfort and sustainability, community outreach has become a priority in Matt and Natalie’s lives. Berning Acres has implemented farm tours, farm camps, and nights at the farm to engage and educate younger generations about farm life. Natalie views these new programs at Berning Acres as an effort to destigmatize the life of a farmer by allowing attendees to gain hands-on experience with cows and different aspects of the farm. This gives participants a chance to physically be on a farm to see the care Berning Acres gives to their cows, allowing for wholesome products to be produced and consumed.
The Berning Acres Farm Camp allows campers to experience everyday chores on the farm and interact with farm animals such as cows, calves, chickens, ponies, and more. Campers also get to participate in organized activities such as making ice cream or butter from scratch, a scavenger hunt, and outdoor games and races.
The Berning Acres Farm Tours lead visitors through the inner workings of a 21st-century dairy farm. Visitors get to milk a cow, feed a calf, and learn about the innovative technologies used on their farm. Ultimately this experience allows participants to experience life on the farm as well as enjoy locally sourced cheeses, meats, and beverages.
Matt and Natalie emphasize the importance of offering positive experiences to those in and out of their community, having reached kids from Wisconsin, Iowa, and Florida. Natalie also recognizes the importance of learning from others and encourages visiting different farms and seeing both the similarities and differences in how they operate. She also suggests finding internships that allow you to gain hands-on experience is the best way to lean into your passion and find what you love.