Alice in Dairyland is the title of Wisconsin’s top agricultural ambassador.
But it could be Alice in Cranberryland, or Alice in Ginsengland, or Alice in Snap-Beanland too.
Teyanna Loether, who has been Alice in Dairyland since June 1, rattled off the list of number-one rankings for ag products in Platteville Monday morning.
Loether, who was selected in Manitowoc in May, said her job is to “promote all of Wisconsin agriculture. Over the years, the position has evolved, just as agriculture has evolved. I’ve learned quite a bit about ag outside being America’s Dairyland.”
While Wisconsin fights with California for the title of the nation’s top dairy producer — California is number one in milk, but Wisconsin is number one in cheese and in the number of dairy farms — Wisconsin is also number one in cranberries, ginseng, snap beans, milk goats and mink pelts. One in nine Wisconsin jobs are related to agriculture, even though only 1 percent of the state’s population lives on farms.
Loether’s family’s farm near Sauk City demonstrates some of the state’s ag evolution. The farm had 100 to 120 dairy cows when she was growing up. Today, the farm doesn’t have dairy cows, but it does have market hogs and beef cattle. The farm also has 10 acres of vineyards.
“There are 110 wineries in Wisconsin,” she said. “It’s grown immensely.”
This is Loether’s second ag title. She was the 2010 Sauk County Fairest of the Fair, where she showed horses, chickens and swine.
Loether was chosen during a hectic month, to say the least, in which she also was awarded her master’s degree in animal sciences from UW–Madison, from where she earned her bachelor’s degree. The five finalists included two UW–Platteville graduates, Stephanie Nagel of Valders and Dormie Roberts of Burlington.
“It was a blast,” said Loether of her “three-day-long job interview. … It was really fun because it was not only an opportunity to do some things I’d never done before — I’d never been on live TV before — all the facets of being Alice in Dairyland on a daily basis is what we went through.
“All five of us top candidates have a passion for agriculture. We were able to share our stories. I really enjoy public speaking; it was something I enjoyed when I was in FFA.”
Loether’s first month included appearances at county dairy breakfasts and Milwaukee bicycle races. On Monday, she was promoting Wisconsin desserts, including ice cream (July is National Ice Cream Month), honey, maple syrup and dessert cheeses, including a stop at the Platteville Senior Center.
“I’ve been to pretty much every corner of the state so far in the first month,” she said.
The Wisconsin State Fair, which Loether called “a complete immersive experience about educating the public about ag in all its facets,” will be in West Allis in August. That will be followed by the World Dairy Expo in Madison in late September, along with a school year full of visits to fourth-grade classrooms.
“Most of the position of being Alice in Dairyland is education,” she said. “Education is a huge component. So I think just telling the story of Wisconsin agriculture and the people behind it — a lot of times people are curious but they don’t have the information behind it, so my role is to provide education.”
Loether has her own blog, www.wisconsinagconnection.com/alice/, which includes recipes, and is on Facebook and Twitter.
“A lot of questions I get is mostly about different practices in production agriculture — organic vs. conventional, raw milk vs. the wholesome milk we have in the stores,” she said. “Some of the best conversations I have are where I’d least expect it — the Tour of America’s Dairyland bike races.”
That means potentially wading into such rhetorical minefields as the value of organic agriculture, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
“Producers have options out there to choose what type of production is best for their animals and their farms,” said Loether, adding that 99 percent of Wisconsin farms are family-owned.
Once her year as Alice is done, Loether wants to continue in some sort of education.
“I think this year will teach me a lot about where I want to go in the future,” she said. “I really like the educational component of agriculture, so it’s going to be hard to decide because I really like all aspects of the job.”