Every story has a beginning. Mine began at a very young age at Crestbrooke Holsteins. Growing up together with my family to care for our small show herd, I learned the importance of hard work, dedication and perseverance. Whether keeping our animals safe from the elements on the coldest of winter nights, or exhibiting cattle during the hottest of days at the Wisconsin State Fair to help share the story of dairy farmers with fairgoers, there were always endless lessons to learn. As I grew older, so did my passion for agriculture, and I soon knew that this was a lifestyle I wanted to continue to live and promote for the rest of my life.
Flash forward to May 10, 2013, and a new chapter in my story began when I was selected as Wisconsin's 66th Alice in Dairyland in Calumet County. Even reflecting back on that moment today, words cannot express the excitement and emotion that I was feeling, and to be selected so close to home, surrounded by a multitude of family and friends.
Just a few weeks later, I hit the ground running, setting out to help share the story of Wisconsin agriculture to create a better understanding between producers and consumers. Along the way, I had endless opportunities and I even discovered a few hidden talents, like winning a celebrity milk drinking contest. This year has been filled with learning about Wisconsin's agriculture in very unique ways and sharing that knowledge with the people I've met in my journey, from the young, to the young at heart.
Even though I grew up as fifth generation dairy girl, I soon learned there were many parts of Wisconsin agriculture I knew little about. Over one short, incredible year, my eyes were opened up to just how diverse our $59 billion agriculture community truly is, from our 600 varieties, types and styles of cheeses to cranberries, carrots and Christmas trees. It has been a joy telling this story no matter where my travels led and sharing the many ways that our daily lives are impacted by Wisconsin agriculture, from the food on our kitchen tables to the fuel in our vehicles and clothes in our closets.
My first memory of 'Alice' dates back to when the 50th Alice, Courtney Ott, visited my fourth grade class at Eden Elementary. Never could I have imagined that memory would come full circle this year as I visited with fourth graders at schools from Superior to Kenosha, and even Eden, where it all began. I enjoyed sharing the story of Wisconsin agriculture through the "Growing A Healthy Wisconsin" presentation, which showcased the many healthy foods that our state's farmers grow. This year, I explained that I don't have a Cheshire cow, why corn can be a grain and a vegetable, and helped to clear up any confusion when asked how many soy cows live in Wisconsin. My classroom visits didn't stop at fourth grade. Whether visiting with Kindergartners to discuss the rainbow of colors found on Wisconsin farms, or challenging middle and high school students to 'Rethink their Drink' and include at least three glasses of nutrient-rich milk in their diets, I was able to share many exciting aspects of agriculture with just under 10,000 students.
No story can be written without the support from its many characters, and I have so many people to thank for helping to make this year possible.
Thank you so much to each of the Wisconsin producers I met in my travels for opening up your operations and sharing your stories with me to help keep our agriculture moving forward.
To the outstanding Alice program partners - the Kettle Moraine Mink Breeders, the Wisconsin Corn Promotion Board, the Wisconsin Jeweler's Association, the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers and the dairy farm families of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board - thank you so much for providing me with the daily tools I needed to share my message wherever I went.
To the hundreds of members of the media - TV, radio and print - thank you to each of you and your teams for the interviews conducted and articles printed to help spread my message to millions.
Thank you to Clark County for helping me to discover the endless treasures that lie in the heart of America's Dairyland. Your wonderful hospitality and welcoming smiles truly made me feel like Clark County was my home away from home.
To my wonderful colleagues at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, thank you so much for helping me to grow personally and professionally with your continued knowledge and guidance during the course of the year. It was humbling to work with such a talented group of ag-enthusiasts.
Last, and certainly not least, thank you so much to my husband, parents, family and friends for your endless support and encouragement. I feel truly blessed to have had each of you with me throughout my journey.
I will always treasure the unforgettable memories I've made during this incredible whirlwind of a year. Whether it was walking a Junior exhibitor's Grand Champion barrow in front of hundreds at a record attendance breaking Wisconsin State Fair or helping with cranberry harvest in Warrens and tasting our state's official fruit fresh from the bog. The unique opportunities I've had, fascinating people I've met and breathtaking landscape I've seen will be cherished forever, and I will always feel truly blessed and honored to have served as Wisconsin's 66th Alice in Dairyland. No matter where the next chapter in my story will take me, I look forward to staying deeply rooted in our state's amazing agriculture community and sharing its story for many years to come.
Because, remember, Wisconsin agriculture is yours, and it's mine. Today. Tomorrow. Always.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much, Wisconsin.