Mackenzie Craig, daughter of David and Wendy Craig, from Alexandria is a finalist in this year’s Princess Kay of the Milky Way competition.

In order to enter, participants must have some personal connection to a dairy farm, such as their family farm or workplace. Dairy princesses are selected at the county level, and those individuals have the opportunity to become the next Princess Kay.

Craig, 19, grew up on a dairy farm and competed in Future Farmers of America and 4-H. She’s worked for multiple other dairy farmers and recently graduated from Ridgewater College with a degree in dairy management.

“In that moment, I felt blessed, honored and filled with joy because that was one of my most proudest moments,” Craig said in a Facebook preview video of the finalists.

She said she looks forward to developing friendships with the other finalists and learning more about their passion for dairy and agriculture.

“No matter who gets the crown, we’re still going to continue being advocates for dairy,” Craig said.

Princess Kay finalist Mackenzie Craig feeds a newborn calf. (Contributed)
Princess Kay finalist Mackenzie Craig feeds a newborn calf. (Contributed)

The princess process

Agricultural Affairs Manager Theresa Reps runs Midwest Dairy’s leadership development and coordinates the Princess Kay program, which “started from a desire to have an advocate for Minnesota dairy farmers,” she said.

Midwest Dairy hosts a leadership event and competition where 10 finalists are chosen. The judged events include a personal interview, speech and mock media interview. In August, a similar competition is held for the 10 before the next Princess Kay is chosen.

Even though the State Fair was cancelled, Midwest Dairy has found a way to continue their 67-year tradition of crowning a Princess Kay.

“As anyone can imagine, very challenging conversations needed to be had about how to move the program forward despite all the uncertainty,” Reps said.

Midwest Dairy knew they wanted to go through with the Princess Kay events whether the State Fair happened or not, so they made the decision before the first round of judging so finalists knew of these changes before accepting their spots.

Within a 12-day period, the new dairy princess is crowned and her face is sculpted in butter. In the following days, other finalists have sculptures made in their honor, too.

The 10 finalists for the 67th Princess Kay of the Milky Way stand together. This year's competition has continued as planned with COVID-19 guidelines in place. The coronation and butter sculpting events will be streamed live on Facebook. Photo courtesy of Midwest Dairy
The 10 finalists for the 67th Princess Kay of the Milky Way stand together. This year's competition has continued as planned with COVID-19 guidelines in place. The coronation and butter sculpting events will be streamed live on Facebook. Photo courtesy of Midwest Dairy

A year of transition

Current Princess Kay Amy Kyllo started her year as Princess Kay speaking at many different events to inform people of her involvement in dairy farming and represent dairy farmers around the state. Some of these locations included schools, children’s museums and Vikings games.

Since the COVID-19 lockdown, she shifted to more virtual options. Kyllo joined Zoom calls with a University of Minnesota Crookston science class, a senior center and a 4-H group.

Once socially distant events became possible, Kyllo helped at two drive-through dairy farm events where families received dairy snacks and drove through the farm to see what it looked like.

“I’m always wanting and looking for opportunities to share about how much dairy farmers care, and obviously those opportunities had to start looking a little bit different,” she said.

In spite of all the changes, Kyllo said it’s the small moments that stick out to her from her year as Princess Kay. Like when one child told her that ice cream was made of frosting. Or when young girls asked to take photos with the princess.

“We want to bless the people in our lives and in our communities,” Kyllo said. “I really want to be someone who makes a connection and a bridge with everyone.”

This year’s coronation will be held virtually Aug. 12 at 7:45 p.m. Butter sculpting will start on Aug. 13 and run through Aug. 22. All events will be streamed live on the Princess Kay Facebook page.

“It’s not just about wearing that crown,” Craig said. “It’s about making that positive direction in the community.”