Alice in Dairyland candidates have heart for agriculture
NEW GLARUS – Although she's traveled thousands and thousands of miles in the past 10 months, Kaitlyn Riley can't believe her reign as Alice in Dairyland is winding down.
"It feels as though I just started," said Riley, who hails from a small Jersey dairy farm in Crawford County, nestled along the Mississippi River in southwest Wisconsin. "But for me, it's been the opportunity of a lifetime."
Riley introduced the five top candidates who will be seeking to fill her shoes in becoming the state's 72nd official agricultural ambassador—Alice in Dairyland.
The candidates were announced during a press conference held at the New Glarus Hotel in New Glarus on May 15. Following an extensive interview process, the next Alice in Dairyland will be selected at the conclusion of the Alice in Dairyland Finals Program, scheduled May 9-11 at various locations in Green County.
Those aspiring to be the next voice for Wisconsin agriculture are: Sarah Achenbach, Eastman; Cassandra Krull, Lake Mills; Abigail Martin, Milton; Mariah Martin, Brooklyn; and Tess Zettle, Juda.
Riley thanked committee members from Green County who are hosting this year's event.
"It's been an honor to visit Green County and learn about the wonderful cheese heritage you have here. Cheesemakers in Green County create so many specialty cheeses and that's what continues to put our dairy farmers on the map," Riley said. "You are helping to keep our dairy farmers going and helping us to establish our economy, culture and future. Not only do I speak on behalf of my family's dairy farm, but all the dairy farmers in Wisconsin."
Riley, who experienced the rigors of the extensive interview process twice in her quest to become Alice in Dairyland, cautioned candidates that the journey would be exacting but equally rewarding both personally and professionally.
“The various components of the extensive interview process allows each candidate to showcase communications and public relations skills required for being Wisconsin's agricultural ambassador," Riley said. "The personal growth you will experience from this process will carry far into your future careers."
Growing up in a family of eight children, Auchenbach says she spent her childhood helping her parents raise crops and livestock on their diversified farming operation. The Crawford County woman was able to share her passion for her rural roots while serving as the 2010 and 2011 Senior Fairest of the Fair, and the 2014 Crawford County Fairest of the Fair.
"Those roles helped me to see how the community and agriculture are integrated with one another and ultimately inspired me to want to tell the story of agriculture for those who aren't as knowledgeable about where their food comes from," she said.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse with a degree in therapeutic recreation with an emphasis in communication, Auchenbach hopes to connect individuals with disabilities to life on the farm.
"While doing in internship out in Colorado, I was able to see firsthand the joy and happiness these people felt at being able to accomplish simple tasks while volunteering and helping out on the farm," she said. "This really inspired me so much that I'd like to try this here in Wisconsin."
Krull's Wisconsin heritage is deeply rooted in the soil of Jefferson County where she grew up on her family's dairy farm. Growing up around generations of proud agriculturalists has motivated her to share her knowledge and passion for Wisconsin agriculture with consumers and producers from across the state.
"I want to be a positive voice for agriculture, Krull said. "As Alice you have the opportunity to travel to the many different industries around the state, and are able to connect them by being that overall voice for agriculture, which is a really big deal and something that Alice in Dairyland does well."
Striving to be the fourth-generation farmer at Krull Farms, Krull completed her degree in animal science with a dairy emphasis from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. In her free time, she gives back to the organizations that helped mold her into the individual she is today, including working with Jefferson County Dairy Youth.
"As Alice in Dairyland, it's really important to connect with younger consumers and help them understand where their food, fuel and fiber comes from and where it's produced in Wisconsin," Krull said.
Abigail Martin has a passion for all things Wisconsin: good cheese, the Wisconsin Badgers, and her Wisconsin farm family. She is the fourth generation on her family's registered Holstein farm. Her interest in agriculture led her to pursue a degree in dairy science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Although she is far from the farm nowadays, Martin is eager to share her ag roots wherever she goes.
"I try not to take for granted that I grew up on a dairy farm, so I'm continually learning about the ag industry so I have a wealth of knowledge to share with consumers when I'm out and about," Martin said.
As Alice, Martin says her chief goal would be to help connect consumers to the producers of Wisconsin producers.
"Many consumers don't realize that the people who grow and raise food for their table are right in their backyard," she said. "As Alice, I would like to be able to help consumers make the connection to the dedicated producers behind those goods in the grocery store."
Martin is the seventh generation in her family to be involved in the agriculture industry. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a bachelor's degree in life sciences communication and a certificate in agricultural business management, Martin isn't far from her agricultural roots as she continues her ag journey.
"The role of Alice in Dairyland is really that of being a storyteller and cheerleader for Wisconsin ag," Martin said. "Ag today is so diverse—whether you're a farmer or a consumer you're touching agriculture. And Alice is the one that can bridge that gap and show what we have in common and help to forge that connection."
A born storyteller, Martin promises if she's selected, she will use her gift of gab and passion for sharing farmers' stories to deliver the value and economic impact to diverse audiences throughout Wisconsin.
"I love telling the story of ag and I want to continue telling the story of Wisconsin agriculture and all of the diverse opportunities it provides, not only for our farmers but for our consumers as well," she said.
Milking cows on her family's dairy farm in Juda, Zettle learned about the agriculture industry firsthand. Her insight continued to grow as she immersed herself in FFA and the Wisconsin Junior Holstein Association, and served as her community's Dairy Queen, Green County Fairest of the Fair, and most recently the 2018 Cheese Days Ambassador.
"Ag is what really makes me tick; it's what I live and breathe and want to continue doing the rest of my life," said the UW-Platteville graduate. "Growing up on my family's dairy farm has motivated me to share the story of who we are as an agricultural community and to serve as an advocate and proud promoter of all things ag."
Zettle says she has a heart for agriculture that fits well with the mission of Alice in Dairyland.
"It's important for someone in this role to have a genuine heart that understands where our farmers are coming from and understands how to share that story with our consumers around the state," she said.
Alice in Dairyland program sponsor Tony Zgraggen and his wife, Esther, both natives of Switzerland, say they're proud to be supporters of a program that works to showcase the state's signature industry. Zgraggen owns Alp and Dell Cheese Store in Monroe.
"Alice in Dairyland is a wonderful spokesperson for agriculture, not just for cheese," he said. "And I'm very proud to help them along."
Alice in Dairyland is a one-year, full-time public relations position with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The newly crowned 72nd Alice will begin her duties on June 3, 2019.
To spread the message as the state's top agriculture ambassador, she will travel across the state - putting on over 40,000 miles - promoting agriculture via over 400 public appearances, 220 TV interviews, 300-plus radio interviews, over 100 classroom visits and racking up over 1000 social media posts.