Of the five 2012 Alice in Dairyland finalists, only one had a local tie — UW–Platteville graduate Rochelle Ripp.
The Alice in Dairyland finals in UW–Platteville’s Ullsvik Hall ended with Ripp, who earned a UWP agribusiness degree in 2009, being chosen for the year-long role as the state’s agriculture ambassador.
Ripp will spend the next year traveling around 40,000 miles promoting Wisconsin agriculture in media interviews, school appearances, and appearances at dairy breakfasts, other ag events and the Wisconsin State Fair.
Ripp seemed a bit stunned and occasionally got emotional during the post-finals news conference. She termed her selection “amazing. This is what I’ve worked so hard for.”
Ripp also was a 2010 Alice finalist, but said, “No two years are exactly the same.”
Ripp said her role would be “to promote not just Grant County agriculture, but agriculture for the whole state … the foods, fuel and fiber industries that propel our $59 billion ag economy.
“Consumer perception I think is the largest challenge — their not understanding where their food is coming from, and their getting information from media that is unreliable.”
Ripp grew up on a dairy and crop farm outside Lodi.
“I am learning so much more about Grant County through this process,” she said. “I always appreciated the drive from Lodi to Platteville because I love the beautiful countryside.”
She followed her 2009 graduation from UW–Platteville — her agribusiness degree featured an emphasis on marketing communication — with a semester-abroad program in the Netherlands. She said it gave her “a very deep appreciation for Wisconsin agriculture and what we have to offer,” adding she was “able to share my Wisconsin heritage.”
She credited UW–Platteville for “the connections I’ve made, the opportunities that have become available because of networking — it’s all kept on building on each other.”
Ripp did internships at John Deere and a bovine genetics company before going to work for Filament Marketing of Madison.
Ripp described herself as “coming from the ag agency standpoint, and I’ve worked in varied methods of communication,” including social media.
She is looking forward particularly to speaking with students.
“One thing I hope I don’t do is fail to take advantage of every opportunity,” she said. “I want to experience everything with those producers.”
Ripp’s selection of Alice wrapped up three intensive days of tours and interviews for the year-long position with the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The final six were chosen after interviews in February and March. One finalist, Rachel Erickson of Oshkosh, withdrew from the finals for personal reasons.
DATCP secretary Ben Brancel, who announced the Alice selection, called Ripp “uniquely skilled to present agriculture to the consuming public. … Four out of four people eat … but they don’t know where their food comes from.”
While Alice in Dairyland originally promoted Wisconsin dairy, Brancel said, “It’s evolved over time; it’s now a consumer relations/marketing position, it works with a number of commodities. It’s focused on all of agriculture, all of the diversity of agriculture.”
“What if you’re asked …”
The three days of the Alice finalist selection process began with 2½ days of tours of Grant County agribusinesses Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning.
Friday evening featured the Taste of Grant County and an impromptu question-and-answer session at Potosi Brewing Co., based on questions the 64th Alice, Katie Wirkus, had been asked in the previous year.
Ann Marie Ames, a reporter at the Janesville Gazette, was asked a hypothetical question about factory farms.
“We need to be careful about the words we choose,” she said. “Whatever works for each farm, we need to understand they understand what’s best for their animals and how to take care of them.” Ames said it’s important to learn from “good media sources and more than one media source.”
Sarah Holm, a UW–Eau Claire political science student who milks cows on her family farm near Elk Mound, was asked about schools’ removing chocolate milk from lunch offerings.
Holm noted the issue of chocolate milk’s higher sugar content, and added, “Hopefully, they’re trying to replace soda with milk.” She said it’s important to give “attractive options for them,” noting that chocolate milk has less sugar than soda and is a healthy fluid replacement for athletes.
Ripp was asked about bovine somatrophin. She called it “a safe product … a product that is used by some dairy farmers … carefully managed to help cows produce more milk.” She said farmers have “the option to choose whether to go organic or traditional milk, or BST or BST-free milk.”
Amy Manske, a UW–Green Bay graduate who majored in communication and minored in business administration who grew up on a dairy farm near New London, was asked to describe a fish farm.
Manske said she would explain about other kinds of farming, then add that a fish farm was “pretty much the same thing, but with fish.”
Danielle Hammer, a UW–River Falls graduate in agricultural business who grew up on her family’s corn, soybean and wheat farm near Beaver Dam, was asked about encountering a vegan who won’t eat cheese.
“I was a vegan for a day,” she said, after being challenged by a vegan friend. “I understand that this is a hard choice to make … being vegan is your choice,” but “you still rely on Wisconsin agriculture to feed your body.”
The last two of eight
The last two of the eight portions of the Alice job interview took place during the finals Saturday night. Each finalist was to give a brief talk about an agribusiness she had visited in the previous two days.
Hammer spoke on Gro Alliance of Cuba City. Ames spoke on Immuno-Dynamics of Fennimore. Ripp spoke on Wolf L&G Farms of Lancaster. Holm spoke on Woolwich Dairy of Lancaster. Manske spoke on Potosi Brewing Co.
The finalists also visited Bloomington Livestock Exchange and Meister Cheese Co. of Muscoda. Thursday night ended with a dinner and tour of Bauer–Kearns Winery LLC in the Town of Belmont. The finalists toured Rural Route 1 Popcorn of Montfort, and the UW–Platteville Pioneer Farm when the finalists were announced March 23.
The finalists also gave a talk on agriculture. Manske talked about Manske Farms of New London, started by her grandfather. Ripp spoke about “Our Pioneer Heritage,” Wisconsin agricultural history. Holm also spoke about ag history, tying in her great-great-grandfather, who came to the U.S. from Norway. Hammer talked about “traditions and advances in agriculture.” Ames spoke on “Wisconsin Agriculture: A growing story.”
Not surprisingly given the location of the finals, UW–Platteville and Grant County had a large presence in the Alice finals.
Liz Henry, who was chosen as Alice when the finals were last at UW–Platteville in 1986, cohosted the ceremonies. UW–Platteville assistant chancellor for admission and enrollment services Angela Rule Udelhofen, the 1994 Alice, was one of the organizing committee co-chairs. Montfort native Jill Makovec, the 2007 Alice, was part of the organizing committee.
UW–Platteville criminal justice student Zachary Fischer, a sergeant in the Wisconsin Army National Guard, sang the National Anthem.
From 1 to 64
Twenty-three of the previous 64 Alices in Dairyland attended the finals. That included the first Alice, Margaret McGuire Blott, a native of Highland, who was named Alice in 1948.
Blott, who now lives in Mukwonago, recalls “meeting lots of very nice people. I enjoyed the work very much.”
The 23 Alices got together for a group photo before the finals.
From Alice to Alice
Wirkus, the outgoing Alice, will not hand over her tiara until June 3. She will be a middle school teacher in Edgar this fall.
“It has been exceptional,” she said. “It’s exceeded my expectations. I’ve wanted to be Alice since I was 4 years old.”
Wirkus’ Alice experiences included a tour of a 20-acre sorghum farm near Elkhart Lake that produces 1 percent of the entire U.S. output of sorghum. She also found herself riding in the Tour of America’s Dairyland bicycle race wearing heels, winning the sash-wearing division.
Wirkus said the most difficult part was “the amount of stress and pressure you put on yourself … you only have one year to make your impact.”