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New Alice in Dairyland Julia Nunes selected as Abigail Martin prepares to say goodbye

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Julia Nunes was named 73rd Alice in Dairyland Saturday, June 20.

Julia Nunes has been selected to take over as the 73rd Alice in Dairyland, who serves as an agricultural ambassador for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in a one-year stint.

The selection ceremony took place in Walworth County. Nunes said she was shocked when Bill Thompson, president of the Walworth County Fair Board who emceed the event, read her name.

"I wasn't expecting to be crowned," Nunes said. "I didn't really know how I was doing or how I compared to the other women. ... I didn't know what to say."

She will officially take on the role July 6. Nunes, from a dairy farming family in Tilden, served as the Fairest of the Fair for the Northern Wisconsin State Fair in 2017.

She is succeeding the 72nd Alice in Dairyland, Abigail Martin, who has served as the state's most visible ag ambassador during a uniquely tumultuous time for the ag industry. Martin will stay on through the end of July to help Nunes behind the scenes.

Nunes said she's excited to be creating more virtual content than ever for the Alice in Dairyland program since she won't be able to go on industry tours or visit county fairs. She said she will bring unique qualities to a very unique year for the program.

"I'm (looking forward to) being able to act quickly on my feet, snag great pictures and videos and be able to go live in a split second," Nunes said. "It will be a different year for Alice."

One of the things on Nunes' checklist so far is making sure to showcase youth exhibitors across the state and share the projects they may not be able to take to their local fairs. She also said that even though the Wisconsin State Fair, the World Dairy Expo and other big events are being cancelled, that doesn't mean we have to stop talking about what they represent.

"Just making sure not to forget any of that stuff even though I'm not physically at the event itself," Nunes said. "Even with the pandemic and things being cancelled ... I'm still so excited to learn more about Wisconsin agriculture and the diversity it entails."

Nunes graduated last year from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with bachelor's degrees in agricultural communication and marketing as well as animal science, with minors in agricultural and food business management along with horticulture.

She began working at Kinni Hemp Company in River Falls upon her graduation and held an internship with Redhead Creamery outside St. Cloud, Minnesota. Nunes was also involved in 4-H and the Junior Holstein Association as a teen. In college, she was a member of the Gopher Dairy Club and Lambda Delta Phi Sorority.

72nd Alice in Dairyland Abigail Martin gives her farewell address.

Martin originally hails from Milton, where her family maintains a 175-cow dairy farm. She has a degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in dairy science. Martin was also heavily involved in ag extracurriculars, including Association of Women in Agriculture, Badger Dairy Club and Collegiate Farm Bureau.

She had previously worked with Rock County 4-H, East Central/Select Sires, and the Babcock Hall Dairy Store in marketing. Before accepting the role of Alice, she had accepted a position with DeLaval in their North American marketing and communications department.

Martin said she was impressed by Nunes' passion for agriculture and that she liked her self-introduction of having "a big, cheesy personality." 

"I was very excited for Julia when she was selected and I know she'll have a great year ahead of her," Martin said. "She's always smiling and she's going to be a great representative."

Martin said she will most miss the connections she made with people while on the road. She said she met many producers, farmers and consumers who she enjoyed educating. She also said she'll miss her coworkers at DATCP, as well as the Alice in Dairyland car, Kernel. Each year, DATCP says Alice will drive over 30,000 miles visiting Wisconsin farms and fairs.

"As I was driving the car back to the office Sunday morning after the weekend's events, I thought, 'I'm really going to miss driving this car around and promoting our ethanol industry,'" Martin said.

Martin said her retirement as Alice is "bittersweet." She gave a speech before Nunes was selected, highlighting her experiences from the first day on the job to the last, with the latter half of her year being spent at home.

"My apartment quickly turned into a radio booth, a TV studio (and) social media headquarters, all at once," Martin said of her transition from the real world to the virtual world. "Transitioning from life on the road to life at the kitchen table was no small task, but the importance of sharing Wisconsin's agriculture story was greater than ever.

"Days of the year may come and go. But even as they do, one thing remains true: my deep love for the state of Wisconsin and for our agriculture community."

Jayne Krull, the agriculture and farm center director for DATCP, said some new changes are happening to the Alice program. She said the finals for Alice will still happen in May every year, although this year's finals were delayed due to COVID-19, but the transition period between Alices will be much longer. The incumbent Alice will now be expected to stay on until July to help the incoming Alice better transition into the role. 

Going forward, DATCP will also require all Alice finalists to complete the agency's agriculture marketing and communications program. All six finalists this year were awarded plaques of completion at the selection ceremony. Even though only one will win the title of Alice in Dairyland, Krull said the certificate can help build their resumes.

"We hope you gain something unique and valuable to list on your resumes and acquired a new level of knowledge, so you can continue to advocate for Wisconsin agriculture," Krull said Saturday night.

Wisconsin Fairest of the Fairs Cayley Vande Berg, of Fond du La also made a virtual appearance at the selection ceremony, wishing the finalists luck and inspiring hope.

"The challenges and new opportunities presented by COVID-19 has opened new lines of communication, education, and promotion for our state's diverse agriculture industry," Vande Berg said. "We are fair strong."

Beth Schaefer, one of the selection panelists this year, praised Martin's work through a uniquely challenging time.

"We are very pleased with ... the incredible work of Abigail Martin, representing and sharing the dairy story of not just our Wisconsin family farmers, but the value of buying local to support our communities," Schaefer said.

Krull added that the next Alice finals will be held in Walworth County again in 2021, followed by Dunn County in 2022 and Dane County in 2023.