Deb Reinhart takes her role as a mentor seriously.
Long before Reinhart earned the coveted distinction of the 2007 World Dairy Expo Woman of the Year or executive direcor of the Professional Dairy Producer Foundation and most recently the 2016 Wisconsin Ag Women's Summit AgVocate of the Year, she was being inspired by an earlier generation of mentors in her life.
"I had wonderful mentors while growing up — not many of them women simply because of the times back then. But they gave to me, they grew me and helped me become the person that I am today," said Reinhart. "Back then it was very much a man's world."
Standing before an audience of more than 300 women gathered for the Wisconsin Ag Women's Summit in Middleton on March 4, Reinhart told the group that she was "very humbled" to receive the AgVocate of the Year award.
"A lot of times we have a passion for something and we do it because we feel it's the right thing to do. But to be recognized by this group is humbling," Reinhart said.
Reinhart and her husband, David, began farming in 1975 on a 183-acre tract of land near New Holstein and a handful of milking cows. Forty years later they're milking over 300 cows and manage over 1,000 acres on Gold Star Farm with their two farm partners.
But while growing their farm and raising three sons, Reinhart managed to find time to slip out to Farm Bureau or dairy promotion meetings to keep abreast of the trends in the ag industry.
"Not only was that my time to get out and relax, it was my learning ground," Reinhart said.
As she has become more deeply involved in ag organizations over the years, Reinhart has taken to heart the importance of mentoring the next generation of leaders.
"I was raised in a family that believes in giving back and for some reason I have attracted over the years, many young people — men and women — who seem to value my opinion and ask for guidance in the lives, careers and families," Reinhart said. "I feel that is the highest form of praise when someone comes up to you and asks what you think."
Now that she is older and no longer raising children, Reinhart says she has tried to make herself available to others that may need guidance and encouragement.
"It's important to stay in the moment and slow down and take time. That's not always easy to do with this generation. But take the time to email, call or text them because you never know where that future leadership is going to come from and where it's going to lead," Reinhart said. "Who knows what kind of seeds you've planted."
After 40 years of working on the farm, Reinhart says she is "living the dream" in her new career as Executive Director of the Professional Dairy Producer Foundation that raises money that funds programs that grow the next generation of dairy producers.
"In this industry we have to be proactive and be prepared. And it's important to get it right about nutrient management, animal well-being, food and milk quality," Reinhart said. "I believe that as dairy producers we have to tell our story and I'm in the driver's seat of being able to do that and to fund programs so that we can address those kinds of issues and grow people."
Although Reinhart has collected many accolades over the years, she has never forgotten the people who helped mold her into the leader she is today.
"I want to be like them: believing in me, and coaching and guiding me to becoming an effective person," Reinhart said. "I guess that's the old hippie in me, but I do believe you can change the world one person at a time."