When she was a little girl, Kristin Olson attended Eden Elementary School where she was thrilled to have a visit from Alice in Dairyland – Courtney Ott.
This past year, the tables were turned and Olson was the Alice visiting her old elementary school classroom.
The visit to her old classroom was part of a “whirlwind year” that Olson said she will never forget.
That classroom visit was only one of hundreds; during the past year she reached over 10,000 fourth-grade students in the year they learn about agriculture.
In an interview, she said she’s been to all corners of the state -- from Superior and Bayfield to Kenosha County, from Platteville and La Crosse to her home area in northeast Wisconsin.
In the process she put on about 40,000 miles as the high-profile ambassador for Wisconsin agriculture. She’s also the only employee at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) who gets to wear a jeweled tiara to work.
“I always looked up to Alice and to be in that position has been wonderful.”
Olson grew up showing dairy cows at her family’s Fond du Lac County farm, Crestbrooke Holsteins and Jerseys. For her, serving as the state’s 66th Alice in Dairyland has been an experience in sharing the message of agriculture.
It was also eye-opening for her to find how many urban residents have no idea about where their food comes from and the impact that agriculture has on the state of Wisconsin.
“The average person is five generations away from agriculture and I’ve found that it is so very true that so many people don’t know where their food comes from.
“When I ask in classrooms, even in rural areas, how many of the kids are from farms it has alarmed me how few hands go up,” she told Wisconsin State Farmer.
Having had that first-hand experience, she says it is more important than ever for farmers to tell their stories. “Farmers are busy, as we all are, but they need to find ways to tell their stories.”
That outreach can take the form of hosting a breakfast on the farm or posting things about their farm online, she said, but it can also be as simple as inviting a friend or neighbor with no agricultural knowledge out to the farm to learn more about what farmers do.
After a year of traveling around the state, Olson said it is difficult to put down just one memory as her favorite, rather it’s an accumulation of the people she met and the conversations she had about agriculture throughout the year. “Some of the people I’ve met will really stand out.”
The Wisconsin State Fair is one of those experiences that Olson found extremely gratifying. She had the chance for 11 days to “connect our urban residents with their friends in agriculture.”
Other experiences that came to mind were the Warrens Cranberry Festival and Farm Technology Days.
Olson graduated in 2010 with a life sciences communications degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prior to her selection as Alice, she worked for several agribusinesses, including Accelerated Genetics.
In her appearances across the state as Alice, Olson projected the diversity of Wisconsin agriculture and as perhaps DATCP’s most visible employee she talked often about the $59 billion in annual economic impact to the state from agriculture.
Another message she took to the non-farm public was that buying products grown and produced in Wisconsin supports local farmers, processors, communities and economies.
Her year began with promotion of ice cream as part of “July is Ice Cream Month” and featured locally produced Wisconsin ice cream. There are 11 ice cream plants in the state and she talked with consumers about those products and their producers’ contribution to the state economy.
Another media campaign coincided with the holiday shopping season and featured the “Something Special from Wisconsin” products. A record 44 companies participated in that campaign.
This was the third year of a campaign with the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) to provide information to consumers on the healthy aspects of potatoes as well as how the potato industry contributes to Wisconsin’s economy.
The Alice in Dairyland program began in 1948 and the position has continued to expand during the decades since then. Today, Alice is a full-time public relations professional promoting Wisconsin’s food, fuel and fiber, as well as dairy.
Her role remains to support the state’s agricultural business community by educating the general public about the vital role agriculture plays in the economic life of the state.
As for the day when she will give up her tiara and banner and hand over the role to the 67th Alice in Dairyland, Olson said it will be a moment of sadness mixed with happiness.
“It has been such a fun year and I will miss being in the role of Alice, but I’m excited to pass the torch on to a new Alice. I’m sure it will be bittersweet.”
The selection of the 67th Alice in Dairyland will be in Clark County,.
Partners in the Alice in Dairyland program include the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, which sponsors the program called “Growing a Healthy Wisconsin” and educates students about 16 healthy foods grown in Wisconsin.
She used a trivia game format, developed with WMMB, to help the fourth graders have fun while learning the facts.
To encourage the use of ethanol, the Wisconsin Corn Promotion Board partners with the Alice program to provide a Chevy Tahoe that runs on E-85 fuel.
Another partner, the Kettle Moraine Mink Breeders provided the mink coat that was custom-made for Olson and is hers after her term ends. Wisconsin is known for having some of the highest quality mink pelts in the world and ranks number one in production and sales of mink pelts.
The Wisconsin Jewelers Association partners with the program by providing Alice with the specially designed tiara and brooch. The tiara, made of 14 karat gold and platinum, has three scallops lined in diamonds and features the amethyst and citrine stones which are indigenous to Wisconsin.
The Alice program began in 1948 and has continued to evolve in the intervening decades. Rather than just a figure promoting the dairy industry, Alice is now a full-time public relations specialist with DATCP, and promotes all aspects of Wisconsin agriculture.