Bridging the gap between city, country

Heinzel selected as 77th Alice in Dairyland

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OCONOMOWOC, Wis. — The newest Alice in Dairyland started college with the ambition of becoming a veterinarian, but an encounter with the reigning Alice at the Wisconsin State Fair a couple of years ago sent her on a different career path.

“I loved the way Alice could connect with consumers of all ages,” Halei Heinzel said.

On May 4, Heinzel was selected as Wisconsin’s 77th Alice in Dairyland at Stone Harbor Resort and Conference Center in Sturgeon Bay. She was one of six top candidates that also included Cierra Essock, Katrina Hoesly, Michaela King, Kiley Pagel and Lauren Siemers.

Alice in Dairyland is a one-year, full-time communications professional with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Heinzel will begin her term as Alice in Dairyland July 8.

“I am excited and honored to represent our state’s agriculture industry as Alice in Dairyland, and I’m looking forward to serving our state’s dairy farmers,” Heinzel said. “Sharing the message of the dairy industry is so important.”

Heinzel is the daughter of Sean and Kiersten Heinzel of Oconomowoc. Heinzel did not grow up on a farm, but she developed an unquenchable love for dairy while working her way into the industry.

Heinzel loves animals and knew from a young age that she wanted to be a zookeeper, a farmer or a veterinarian. Her love for horses led her to join FFA as a junior in high school. It was through FFA that she met her first dairy farmer and milked a cow for the first time in 2018.

“That is when I fell in love with the dairy industry,” Heinzel said. “I love cows. They’re great animals, and I love the people who work with cows. Dairy farmers are some of the most passionate people on the planet.”

Throughout her time in the agricultural industry, Heinzel said dairy farmers have been a helping hand, ensuring she got the opportunities she needed to keep moving forward in the industry.

“I’m lucky to have met so many people through the dairy world and agriculture in general who wanted me to succeed,” Heinzel said. “I could give you a list a mile long of all the people who have helped me be the person I am today, and I am so grateful for all of them.”

Heinzel studied dairy science at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls for 1.5 years. When the coronavirus pandemic began, Heinzel was sent home. The time away from school forced her to reevaluate her priorities.

“I was able to start milking cows more consistently, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back to college,” Heinzel said. “I wasn’t ready to give up on school, but I didn’t know what my next steps were.”

That was when she decided to enroll in the Farm and Industry Short Course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“That was phenomenal for my education,” Heinzel said. “I loved seeing all the research happening firsthand and getting to work with the cows. One of my favorite things was having a lecture on the top floor of the dairy cattle building and then going downstairs to work cowside in the lab. It was great.”

Heinzel graduated from the short course in 2022 with certificates in agribusiness management and dairy farm management. She then reapplied to UW-Madison to pursue a bachelor’s degree with the belief that she was going to be a veterinarian. But that summer, while working at the state fair, she met a young lady whose job fascinated Heinzel. Meeting Alice in Dairyland for the first time was life-changing for this city girl.

“I was doing a milking demonstration and Taylor Schaefer, the 75th Alice in Dairyland, was out front talking with consumers and sharing information about the state’s $45.6 billion dairy industry,” Heinzel said. “Later that week, I got to milk cows on the news with Taylor. It was an incredibly impactful experience for me.”

That winter, Heinzel changed her major to life science communications.

“Everything I’ve done for the past two years has been with the thought of running for Alice,” Heinzel said.

Heinzel has held internships with the Farm and Industry Short Course and Professional Dairy Producers and worked with the Wisconsin State Fair Dairy Promotion Board.

She graduated from UW-Madison in May.

“As someone who didn’t grow up on a farm, I needed somebody like Alice when I was little,” Heinzel said. “It does feel like there can be a lot of obstacles to getting into the dairy industry when you don’t grow up in it.”

Heinzel is passionate about getting youth involved in 4-H and FFA.

“That’s an important experience,” she said. “Finding that connection to agriculture and to the land in our local communities is why I wanted to be Alice.”

Traveling the state to learn more not only about the dairy industry but the diversity in agriculture and sharing that with consumers is what Heinzel is most looking forward to in her role as Alice.

“Wisconsin has a booming snap bean industry, maple syrup and countless other specialty crops ranking top 10 in the nation that most people don’t even realize we grow here,” Heinzel said.

She also looks forward to promoting opportunities in the dairy industry.

“The opportunities in this industry are endless,” Heinzel said. “From farmers and vets to nutritionists and geneticists, we need all kinds. Having farm kids come back to the farm or industry is great, but also having people from the city and urban areas getting involved in our industry is so important.”

Heinzel is filled with excitement as she prepares to take over as the next Alice in Dairyland.

“Alice reaches people across the state, beyond state borders and even internationally, and I want to be a part of that connection for people,” Heinzel said. “I want to inspire others.”

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