Ranking first in the nation in cheese production and second in milk production, Wisconsin can rightly lay claim to being America's Dairyland.
However, the state's vast and vital agriculture industry goes far beyond milking cows and making cheese.
Wisconsin also ranks among the top states in cranberry production; aquaculture; Christmas tree production; potatoes and vegetables; maples syrup; honey; and mint, as well as hay, corn and a variety of other grains and products.
The person most responsible for promoting the vast array of Wisconsin's diverse agricultural products is also one of the most recognizable people in the state. She often wears a tiara and sash, and whatever her real name might be, she's known to millions as Alice in Dairyland.
Each year, a new young public relations professional is hired for the position by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. She travels throughout the state and beyond to promote Wisconsin products to audiences of all ages.
Kristin Olson is serving as the 66th Alice in Dairyland. She strives to educate audiences across Wisconsin about the economic impact and importance of the state's diverse agriculture industry in our daily lives.
A native of Fond du Lac, Olson grew up showing dairy cattle with her family's small show herd, Crestbrooke Holsteins and Jerseys. She was the 2007 Fond du Lac County Fairest of the Fair and the 2009 Wisconsin Outstanding Holstein Girl.
Throughout college, she held leadership roles in the Association of Women in Agriculture, Badger Dairy Club and the National Agri-Marketing Association.
Prior to being selected as the 66th Alice in Dairyland, Olson worked as the dairy advertising coordinator at Accelerated Genetics.
As Wisconsin's agricultural ambassador, Olson helps to educate urban and rural citizens alike about Wisconsin's vital agricultural heritage and how it will affect our future.
Entering the final months of her year as Alice in Dairyland, Olson is on pace to log more than 40,000 miles, visit 100 schools and make nearly 300 appearances for Wisconsin agriculture.
From presenting awards at the State Fair and several county fairs to Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, numerous media appearances, speaking to dozens of organizations and cutting a Balsam fir in Clark County to promote Wisconsin's Christmas tree industry, Olson continues to travel throughout the state on behalf of Wisconsin agriculture.
On March 15, Olson and DATCP Secretary Ben Brancel helped to kick off maple syrup season in Wisconsin with the ceremonial first tree tapping, held at Bear Paw Scout Camp in Mountain where she tapped a black maple tree.
After touring the camp and observing its maple syrup operation, Olson shared some recollections from the past nine months.
"I enjoyed traveling throughout the state meeting so many different people, whether it was helping to empower friends in agriculture or teaching some of our urban friends about where their food comes from," she said. "One thing I really enjoyed was learning just how diverse Wisconsin agriculture is, and then taking the things I learned and sharing them with others."
An important part of Olson's job is answering questions people have about Wisconsin agriculture. "It doesn't matter if it's a fourth-grade student or an adult, there are people throughout the state who want to know more about agriculture, and it's great to be able to answer their questions and help create a better understanding of how their food gets to the kitchen table," she said.
Helping students in some urban school districts learn about agriculture is especially satisfying for Olson. "Showing them how their milk comes from cows and how some their other food is produced is important because, without our strong agriculture industry, we wouldn't have the food and fiber we need," she said.
As she closes out her year as Alice, Olson will continue to maintain her busy schedule.
"I have many school visits left, so I have many students to meet and teach," she said. "Beginning March 31 and continuing through the first week in April, I'll be visiting schools in Waupaca County, and I'm looking forward to that."
On March 28, the finalists for the 67th Alice in Dairyland will be announced at Grassland Dairy near Greenwood in Clark County.
"I'm looking forward to that, helping to showcase what Clark County has to offer being the number one dairy county in Wisconsin and among the top 20 in the nation," Olson said. "Clark County leads the state in the number of milk cows and number of dairy farms. It's been great meeting people from throughout the county."
The Alice in Dairyland finals will be held May 15-17. The three days include interviews, agribusiness tours, an impromptu question-and-answer session and the selection finale program. On the last evening, the 67th Alice in Dairyland will be selected from the group of finalists in Curtiss.
Although her successor will be chosen May 17, Olson will continue with her duties as Alice in Dairyland through June 1.
Beyond that date, she has no definite career plans. "Wherever that path may lead, I want to stay rooted in Wisconsin agriculture and continue to share the good news about what our farmers are doing," she said. "My year as Alice has brought wonderful opportunities to me. I will especially cherish the many wonderful people I've met and the things I've learned throughout the year."
The end of her year as Alice also will be a bittersweet time filled with mixed emotions. "I'm going to miss many of the great activities and events I've experienced over the last year, but it's also exciting to see a new Alice take over and share many of those experiences."