Ann O'Leary, the 69th Alice in Dairyland, says she is enjoying the opportunity to promote Wisconsin's $88 billion agriculture industry. Since being selected Alice last May in Watertown, O'Leary has been busy crisscrossing the state.
Throughout the year, she makes visits to classrooms, agribusinesses and farms, as well as agricultural events including dairy breakfasts, Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, the Wisconsin State Fair and World Dairy Expo. She also writes regular features for several publications, conducts media campaigns and uses social media to promote Wisconsin agriculture.
O'Leary says she is humbled to be serving as Alice. "I love everything that I do. I like the travel and the places that I go to. It's a constant reminder of how diverse our agriculture is in Wisconsin."
Her favorite part of being Alice, she says, is meeting people. "The people I get to meet are so excited to share their stories," O'Leary says. "It is fun to talk to them about agriculture. They want to tell you about their farm or their business. I've learned so much."
Growing up in Evansville, she was active in Rock County 4-H and the Junior Holstein Association, and showed dairy cattle at the county and state fairs, but O'Leary did not grow up on a farm. She says that is helping her as Alice.
"I'm able to connect with consumers because I didn't grow up on a farm either," she says. "We bond over our nonfarm backgrounds, and then I’m able to share what I have learned. They are always surprised by how many people without farming backgrounds are involved in agriculture."
She recently toured an ethanol plant near Freisland and spoke to 400 kindergarteners through fourth-graders at an elementary school in Spooner. During her visit to the school, she read the book "My Field Trip to a Dairy Farm" to the first-grade class and answered their questions about farming. She spoke to fourth-graders about the nine essential nutrients in milk.
While she was in Spooner, O'Leary also visited Crystal Creek Natural, a swine, poultry, dairy and equine nutrition business, and spoke to the business owners.
"I'm really learning about lots of the different agribusinesses in Wisconsin," she says. "I've been to quite a few farms, too. I like that I am getting to experience Wisconsin agriculture firsthand."
Another part of O’Leary’s job that she enjoys is doing television and radio interviews. "I especially like speaking about all the different agriculture careers that are available on and off the farm," she says.
Traveling for agriculture
On trips across the state, O'Leary drives a flex-fuel Ford Explorer provided by the Wisconsin Corn Promotion Board. "I've only filled it up with E85," she says.
O'Leary says one thing she didn't expect was to do so much driving. "They said I would be traveling 40,000 miles this year as Alice, but until you actually drive about 3,500 miles a month, you don't realize how much driving that is," she says. "It's a big state, and we have agriculture everywhere."
From February through May, O'Leary will primarily be making visits to schools across the state, talking to students.
"I will be leading the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board presentation called 'Mapping a Healthy Wisconsin.' I'll talk about food we grow and produce in the five food groups in Wisconsin. It includes a trivia game where I give two clues about the product I am talking about. For example, I tell them Wisconsin is home to nearly 9,800 farms producing this official state beverage. And then they guess. Most of the students guess milk. After the presentation, I give them all cheese sticks and they receive materials they can take home and show their parents."
O'Leary graduated from Carthage College in Kenosha in 2014 and worked for two years as a recruiter at Epic in Madison before becoming Alice. After she finishes up her year as Alice in June, she says she plans to find a job in ag communications or public relations.
"I really want to continue promoting agriculture," she says.
Editor's note: Ann O'Leary is Fran O'Leary's niece.