As Wisconsin’s 70th Alice in Dairyland, I have the privilege of traveling across the state and sharing many messages about Wisconsin’s diverse agriculture industry. During the last few months, I have experienced numerous great events, gatherings, and media campaigns and have met so many incredible people.
From wading in a cranberry bog, visiting a mink ranch, spinning my own yarn from Wisconsin wool to walking across the colored shavings at World Dairy Expo to deliver the supreme champion selection — each day is different with a new adventure and opportunity just around the corner.
My adventure in agriculture began on my family’s farm and through my experiences in the dairy community. Whenever I mention my family’s dairy and crop farm, my face lights up, and I’m excited to share with pride my agriculture heritage. In Wisconsin, 96 percent of dairy farms are family-owned, and that is a statistic that I am truly proud to be a part of. That same ownership structure exists in many states in this great nation.
Cows and cheese
My first loves will always be cows and Wisconsin cheese. Whether it was witnessing one of my registered Holsteins take her first breath; giving a speech at the Wisconsin Holstein Association Junior Convention because my mom made me; reviewing dairy quiz bowl flashcards on the school bus; or even coming home from college on the weekend to hang out with the cows and share pictures on Instagram, I will always call the dairy industry home and know that my “cow friends” are some of the best people I have ever met.
Traveling across the state of Wisconsin and almost 25,000 miles later, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve heard a lot, and I’ve witnessed incredible moments and some not so incredible moments. I’ve laughed until I cried; I’ve cried until I’ve laughed. I’ve hugged hundreds of people, and my fists have also clenched a couple times too. I’ve grown in my faith, experienced vulnerability, and have strengthened relationships with those around me, especially my family.
Everyone in this industry, whether we admit it or not, is a “dairy family.” This includes your employees, your nutritionist, your milk truck driver, and your A.I. technician. It includes your dairy processor, your veterinarian, and even your neighbor who has those annoying reoccurring habits. This includes the people who you share Crock-Pot dinners with at shows and even those who you try to avoid conversations with at all costs. We’re a family because at the end of the day we have a common love, passion, obsession, and even a hefty financial investment in the dairy cow.
Not picture perfect
Families fight, yell, gossip, and don’t always get along. And let me tell you, I speak from experience. Holidays are all fun and games until my mom takes a dig at one of her brothers, Grandma keeps asking us when one of us is going to get married, Uncle Dan says something absolutely ridiculous, or heaven forbid one cousin brings out a Snapchat screenshot and passes it around the dinner table for everyone to see.
We are not perfect. Our parents are not perfect. We don’t get married to a perfect person, and neither do we have perfect children. We have our complaints about each other, and sometimes we are disappointed by one another.
And although this “dairy family” isn’t perfect, it works. Our differences, our production methods, our opinions, and our obsessions coexist with a desire to continue. To move forward. To pass the farm onto the next generation. To breed exceptional cows with wide rear udders and wide front ends. Cows that last a long time, breed back every year, and have big appetites. Cows that produce a lot of wholesome milk for your family, neighbors, strangers, and even your enemies.
Cows are family
Our cows are part of this “dairy family.” They need us every single day. They need us from the moment they take their first breath, just like a newborn child. They need us when they get a stomachache, when they are being picky eaters, and even when it comes time to trim their toenails.
They need us rain or shine, when it’s snowing out, and when it’s so cold that the waterers freeze up. They need us on the hottest days when you’re running the sprinklers in the barns as often as you can. They need us at the county fair when you’re putting ice cubes on their polls to cool them down, or when it’s pouring rain at the show and you’ve got a tarp over their toplines as you head to the ring.
We need each other, too
Yes, the sad reality is that our industry is hurting, and most likely will be for a while. Farms are selling out, milk checks are accompanied with suicide prevention hotline information, and you’re trying all that you can to make ends meet. That’s where our “dairy family” comes in.
Families, although not perfect, pick up the pieces. They wipe the tears, they give you a pat on the back, they lend a hand. Right now, we need to be each other’s biggest cheerleaders. We need to continue to support one another, despite our differences, through this tough time.
We need to pray a little more, complain a little less, and reassure one another why we get up every single morning. Because this is a life that most don’t understand, except for family, and that is what makes it so special.
We are so fortunate to live in a country where the diversity of our agriculture industry is our greatest strength. We need all farms, of all types, all different sizes, and production methods, to continue to be successful. But most importantly, our “dairy family” needs all of your different personalities, backgrounds, and talents to continue to share why agriculture, and more specifically the dairy industry, makes our nation so incredibly great.
As “Alice,” as a sixth-generation farm kid, and as a passionate dairy enthusiast, I ask you all to join our efforts and work together to teach our consumers, friends, neighbors, and even strangers about dairy products, the dairy industry, and the dairy cow. Together we can use our enthusiasm and excitement to clearly and confidently tell everyone we meet why our industry is one worth fighting for.
“Dairy family” members, I can’t promise that it will be easy, but I can promise that it will be worth it.