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Top six candidates vie for 73rd Alice in Dairyland title

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer

DELAVAN – Six young women waited nervously, with hearts racing, in the hall at Lake Lawn Resort, excited to have their names announced and introduce themselves as the top six candidates for the 73rd Alice in Dairyland on March 14. As their names were called they moved one step closer to the selection of the next Alice.  

Ahead of them lays an extensive interview process over the next eight weeks before the 73rd Alice in Dairyland will be selected from among the top candidates at the conclusion of the Alice in Dairyland Finals, scheduled for May 14-16 in Lake Geneva.

Alice in Dairyland is a full-time communications professional serving as Wisconsin’s agricultural ambassador. Each Alice is employed by DATCP for one year and travels thousands of miles across the state, presenting to students, completing media interviews and attending community events to promote the state’s agriculture industry. The 73rd Alice in Dairyland will begin serving June 1, 2020. 

Abigail Martin poses with the top six candidates for the 73rd Alice in Dairyland on March 14 at Lake Lawn Resort. Pictured, from left, are Rachel Gerbitz, Erica Helmer, Stephanie Hoff, Martin, Kaitlin Konder, Julia Nunes and Grace Schroeder.

“The Alice in Dairyland selection process is unique in that it takes your communications and interpersonal skills to the next level and allows each candidate to showcase the public relations skills required for being Wisconsin’s agricultural ambassador,” said 72nd Alice in Dairyland Abigail Martin. “The personal growth the top candidates will experience just by being a part of the process will carry far into their future careers.”

The six top candidates are: Rachel Gerbitz of Milton, Erica Helmer of Plymouth, Stephanie Hoff of Thorp, Kaitlin Konder of Glenwood City, Julia Nunes of Chippewa Falls and Grace Schroeder of Cashton.

Rachel Gerbitz

As the farm kid raised off the farm, Gerbitz had a lot of experience throughout her youth and college that led her to the point of being a top candidate for the role of Alice. Although she left her family's dairy farm when she was four, she still remembers pasture walks with her dad and feeding cows ice off the windows.  

She became involved in 4-H and the Wisconsin Junior Holstein Association, which led her to pursue a degree in Dairy Science and Life Sciences Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. On campus, she was involved in Badger Dairy Club, Collegiate Farm Bureau, and the Association of Women in Agriculture. She has held various marketing roles with AgrAbility of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Dairy Youth Program, and Collegiate Farm Bureau.

Rachel Gerbitz, of Milton, talks about her agriculture background at Lake Lawn Resort in Delevan on March 14.

"I wasn’t in the barn every morning at 5 a.m. but I was still pushing myself in those Quiz Bowl activities," said Gerbitz. "I think all of that was very integral in developing my passion for agriculture."

Upon graduation in 2019, she began working for Pioneer as a Dairy Promoter in Northeast Wisconsin. In her free time, Gerbitz raises registered jersey heifers and spends time with her niece and nephews.

Gerbitz feels she could be a great connection for consumers who are removed from agriculture "because I’ve been on the outside looking in for most of my life," Gerbitz said. “As Alice, I will use my unique perspective to connect with various audiences to share the diversity of Wisconsin agriculture.”

Erica Helmer

"I think my deep roots and heritage in agriculture make me a unique candidate as I am the seventh generation on my family’s dairy far," Helmer explained.  "Maybe I don’t have the marketing background but I am very passionate about not only the dairy industry but agriculture as a whole."

Erica Helmer, of Plymouth, talks about her passion for all things agriculture at Lake Lawn Resort in Delevan on March 14.

Her involvement in 4-H and FFA added to her passion for agriculture and provided many opportunities, including being honored as the 2016 National FFA Dairy Production Placement Proficiency Winner.

Helmer attended the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where she graduated in May 2019 with a degree in dairy science, with a science option. On campus, she was involved in Dairy Club, Collegiate Farm Bureau, Alpha Zeta and Block and Bridle. In addition, she led her dairy judging team to top honors at the Intercollegiate Dairy Judging Contest during World Dairy Expo in 2018.

After graduation, she accepted a position with Genetic Visions-ST, where she works in customer care. Helmer enjoys returning home to coach the Sheboygan County 4-H dairy judging team and assist with the Plymouth Youth Athletic Association softball program. 

“Serving as the voice of Wisconsin agriculture would be an honor,” said Helmer. “As Alice, I will focus on educating all audiences about Wisconsin’s diverse agriculture industry while highlighting the impact it has on local communities and our state’s economy.”

Stephanie Hoff

A Wisconsin girl through and through, Hoff loves everything Wisconsin has to offer, including cheese of every type and flavor, a bitter cold winter, and the state’s sports teams.

Stephanie Hoff, of Thorp, talks about her love of everything Wisconsin at Lake Lawn Resort in Delevan on March 14.

Hoff found her passion in agriculture by being involved in her FFA chapter, showing pigs at the Clark County Fair, and eating at countless dairy breakfasts. Wanting to give back to agriculture, she continued her involvement into college by becoming involved with the Association of Women in Agriculture. She’s interned with the Wisconsin Farms Oral History Project, the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant. She also had her own radio show where she featured women in STEM fields, including several agricultural segments. 

After graduating from UW-Madison with a degree in life sciences communication in December of 2019, she took a reporting position with WisBusiness and WisPolitics.com. 

“My job as Alice will be to use my skills in journalism, broadcasting and marketing to promote Wisconsin’s vastly diverse agriculture industry and educate the public about Wisconsin agriculture," Hoff said. 

Kaitlin Konder

Agriculture has been a big part of Konder's life from a young age as the fifth generation to be raised on the family dairy farm where they milk 45 Holsteins.

Growing up, Konder was heavily involved in 4-H and FFA, where she showed dairy at both the county and state fair.

Kaitlin Konder, of Glenwood City, talks about her agriculture background at Lake Lawn Resort in Delevan on March 14.

After graduating from high school, Konder served as a Wisconsin State FFA Vice President, where she traveled the state promoting agriculture and FFA to thousands of students. Two years later, she was selected as the St. Croix County Fairest of the Fair, where she served as a public relations professional for both the fair and agriculture industry.

Konder recently graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Business with a Finance emphasis. Konder plans to utilize her degree by becoming an agricultural loan officer to help farmers grow and succeed financially.

“It  has been a goal of mine to become Alice in Dairyland since I was in my teens,” said Konder, “I just want to spread my excitement and knowledge about the agriculture industry with Wisconsin.”

Julia Nunes

Nunes grew up on her family’s registered Holstein dairy farm, raised by parents who grew up on dairy farms, where feeding calves and clipping dairy cattle for the county fair were just a couple of things that helped shape her childhood.

Julia Nunes, of  Chippewa Falls, talks about her agriculture background at Lake Lawn Resort in Delevan on March 14.

"I’ve always been passionate about promoting agriculture and telling my agriculture stories to people I’ve met whether it was at a county fair or even just at a grocery store," said Nunes.

During her teen years, she was heavily involved in her area Junior Holstein group and 4-H club. Nunes went on to study at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, where she was involved in the Gopher Dairy Club and Lambda Delta Phi Sorority. In 2017, she shared her knowledge of agriculture and the dairy industry while serving as the Northern Wisconsin State Fair’s Fairest of the Fair.

Nunes interned at Redhead Creamery, where she sharpened her love of cheese. In May 2019, she graduated with bachelor’s degrees in Agricultural Communication & Marketing, and Animal Science, with minors in Agricultural & Food Business Management, and Horticulture. Upon graduation, she accepted a position with Kinni Hemp Company in River Falls.

“I will strive to be the role model that Alice in Dairyland was for me growing up,” said Nunes. “I’m passionate about agriculture and I love sharing the stories and educating people about things they have questions about and I’m really excited about this opportunity.”

Grace Schroeder

Along with a desire to give back to Wisconsin, the state that has shaped her life, Schroeder's experience includes public relations skills and an appreciation of hard work that she gained from growing up on her family farm. Long summer days at county fairs, demonstrating recipes with Wisconsin agriculture products, and pitching in to help with her family and friends’ farm chores were a huge part of her childhood. Those memories influenced her decision to study public relations at St. Cloud State University.

Grace Schroeder, of Cashton, talks about growing up on her family farm as the top six candidates for the 73rd Alice in Dairyland were announced at Lake Lawn Resort in Delevan on March 14.

In college, she combined her passion of Wisconsin agriculture and communication, while working at the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce, Pasture Pride Cheese, and Kickapoo Valley Ranch. She also used her past experiences as a Warren’s Cranberry Princess and Miss Cashton to grow her portfolio as a public relations spokesperson. In May, she will complete her bachelor’s degree in public relations with a minor in marketing.

“The entire state of Wisconsin knows Alice is a quality ambassador for all aspects of agriculture,” said Schroeder. “If given the opportunity, I will uphold that tradition by inspiring and educating all generations like the past Alice’s have done before me.”

As Abigail Martin, the 72nd Alice in Dairyland, watched the introduction of the candidates, the end of her reign is a bittersweet moment.

"It’s been an amazing year to travel throughout the state of Wisconsin and really give a voice to our farmers and processors that are working hard 365 days a year to provide food, fuel and fiber for our communities," Martin said. "I’m over the moon excited for these ladies. I’ve been in their shoes and it’s going to be a wonderful journey these next couple of months as they are preparing for the upcoming finals in May and studying and learning all about agriculture."

The candidates face busy months ahead, studying, making flash cards, writing blogs, and samples of social media posts, preparing for TV and radio interviews and preparing for a final speech, Martin explained. 

"They’re going to run into industry professionals when we’re out doing our agriculture business tours, so taking the time to make as many connections as you can and learn as much as you can through this process because it’s definitely going to set them up for career success," Martin explained.

In May they will want to "hit the ground running" during three intense days "when they are under the scrutiny of judges, when you’re on, constantly on, so its exhausting but it’s a wonderful experience. " 

During her time as Alice, Martin learned the people in Wisconsin agriculture are what makes it special.  

"The people are really special and it’s been a wonderful opportunity to represent them," said Martin. "Post Alice I’m definitely going to continue being an agvocate and sharing their stories and I know wherever I end up it will be in the agriculture industry because this is what I love, this is my home."

The role of Alice in Dairyland is important to Wisconsin agriculture because "gives a voice to our farmers and processors," Martin said. She was able to share her background as a dairy farm kid but also educate consumers about cranberries grown in the state and help them connect where their food comes from and encourage supporting Wisconsin agriculture. 

Whoever is chosen as the next Alice, Martin said, "There’s going to be six wonderful agvocates come May, whether or not they are selected they are going to be wonderful assets to our agriculture industry."

Carol Spaeth-Bauer at 262-875-9490 or carol.spaeth-bauer@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at cspaethbauer or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/carol.spaethbauer.