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FOND DU LAC

Farm women across Wisconsin are eager to share the story about agriculture in America's Dairyland.

This was especially true this week as producers, agricultural associations, corporations, universities and schools, government agencies and communities across the country joined together to recognize the contributions of agriculture on National Ag Day, March 15.

While a delegation of Wisconsin Women for Agriculture (WWA) members headed to Madison to speak with legislators on issues impacting the ag industry, Brownsville dairy farmer and mother of three, Jenifer Oechsner represented the local WWA chapter by visiting St. Agnes Hospital with wagon full of Wisconsin's bounty to welcome the facility's latest newborn and family.

The National Ag Day tradition began four years ago following a brainstorming session.

"As moms, we felt what a better way than to help start a family off on the right track in respect to healthy eating and educating them about agriculture as well as where our food comes from," Oechsner said. "So we decided to present a wagonfull of products and food to the family of the first baby born on National Ag Day.

According to Agnesian Public Relations Director Shelly Haberman, St. Agnes Hospital did not record a birth Tuesday on National Ag Day. In that case, Oechsner said the names of babies born the day before or day after will be put into a hat and one name drawn.

Lending a helping hand

New families often wonder about caring for and raising their newborn in a healthy environment, Oechsner said.

"Just about everything we eat, wear and use comes from American agriculture: cotton in our clothing, baby powder using corn starch, Cheerios from oats, fruits and vegetables — many of the commodities made throughout Wisconsin," Oechsner said.

The iconic red Radio Flyer wagon was filled to overflowing with as assortment of products and gifts (valued over $500)donated by local sponsors — toys, diapers, blankets clothing, farming-themed books, gift cards, personal care products, juices, cereals and fruit.

This year's sponsors include Forward Energy LLC and Grande Cheese, Brownsville; Kettle Lakes Cooperative, Random Lake; Ballweg Implement, Waupun; Schraufnagel Implement, Lomira; Knowles Produce & Trading, Knowles; Badgerland Financial, Fond du Lac; and Wisconsin Woman for Agriculture.

"I think this is a wonderful gesture and a nice surprise for our newborn's mom and dad," said Maggie Barr, director of the St. Agnes Hospital Women & Infants Unit. "Last year's recipients were so thrilled and appreciative to know there's a community group out there willing to think of such a neat idea for a new family."

Deeper understanding

Oechsner said its the group's hope that the educational materials included in the welcome gift will provide a deeper understanding of the farm to fork process.

"Often when you ask someone where their food comes from they answer by saying the grocery store. Of course, that's not true but in reality, far too many people are unaware of the role of American agriculture in their daily lives, or what it takes to have food on their dinner table," Oechsner said.

American farmers are working harder than ever to deliver healthy products to consumer. Today each farmer feeds more than 144 people.

"The need for food produced in the U.S. is dramatic. Agriculture is the nation's No. 1 export and vitally important in sustaining a healthy economy," Oechsner said. "Frankly, it's easy to take agriculture for granted in America — our food is readily accessible and safe. For this, we're unbelievably fortunate, but that doesn't mean we don't have an obligation to recognize how it's made possible."

Barr said the gift-filled wagon is a tangible teaching tool.

"This is really a nice educational way of expanding their horizons as far as (their knowledge) about agriculture," Barr said.

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