||Alice in Dairyland Travel Journal by Ann O'Leary
Alice in Dairyland Travel Journal by
2811 Agriculture Dr. PO Box 8911
Madison WI 53708-8911
Phone (608) 224-5115
The Beginning of the End
Feb. 17, 2017
Today was a bitter-sweet day in the office. It was the preliminary interview day for the 70th Alice in Dairyland.
Women from across the state traveled to Madison to begin their journey towards becoming the next agricultural ambassador for Wisconsin. As I shuffled the candidates from room to room, I couldn’t help but think back to my interview experience and the last 9 months as Alice.
To say this time has been a whirlwind is an understatement. Time has flown by and I’ve traveled about 24,000 miles to date. Those travels have taken me to aquaculture farms, mink ranches, dairy farms and cheese plants. Each place I go I am exposed to a new aspect of agriculture and am reminded of the strong farming heritage we have here in the state.
Earning the title of Alice in Dairyland is not a cake walk. Up to six of the women interviewing today will be selected as top candidates. Once selected as a top candidate, the women vying for the positon of Alice will go through a 3 day job interview. The final interview process will be hosted in Brown County and will entail television and radio interviews, discussion panels, interview panels and presentations. On top of it all, the finalists will tour agribusinesses in the county to experience what it’s like to live a day in the life of Alice.
Some of the final interview process is open to the public and I highly encourage anyone interested to attend. It is very exciting to see the next Alice in Dairyland selected live. Learn more about the final events at aliceindairyland.com.
Hops - More than Glitz and Glam
Feb. 16, 2017
In preparation for this media campaign, I toured one of Wisconsin’s nearly 90 hops farms, Gorst Valley Hops. It was quite an exciting visit, despite the lack of hops in the hops yard due to winter.
As I chatted with James about the process of growing hops, I was astounded to learn how many minute details there are to growing hops plants. Not only does it take 3 years for a hops plant to reach full maturity, but they require precise timing of irrigation, fertilization and bine training.
During the winter months, hops plants are dormant. The perennial plant is not visible above ground and no growth is occurring. They begin to shoot out buds in the spring and these buds become the hops bine. A hops bine can grow 15-25’ high in a single growing season with the right care. This care includes training the hops bine to climb the right column at the right time so peak height is reached as the daylight length changes, applying fertilizer to the plants so nutrient needs are met but not exceeded and watering the plants so nutrient uptake is good. If these three key tasks are done at the right time, hops yields can exceed the commercial average of 1,500 pounds per acre.
Once the growing season is over, the hops plants are harvested in the fall at 75% moisture. The cones are removed from the bine and then dried and processed into pellets for brewing. The drying processes is critical to preserving the aroma and flavor of the hops. With over 250 different varieties of hops growing around the world, the drying process also help keep the different flavors distinct.
The whole process of growing hops is similar to growing other specialty crops and requires a lot of manual labor. It’s not all glitz and glam like many beer connoisseurs think, which is why many breweries do not grow their own hops.
You can learn more about Gorst Valley Hops and this unique Wisconsin crop at gorstvalleyhops.com.
The Original Napa Valley
Feb. 13, 2017
Did you know Wisconsin was originally intended to be the first Napa Valley?
Back in the early 1840s, Agoston Haraszthy started a vineyard overlooking the Wisconsin River, near Sauk City today. Due to the harsh Northern winters, his vines did not thrive, causing stress on his winery. He abandoned his Wisconsin vineyard in 1848 and moved on to California to found Napa Valley. His vines were taken over by the Kehl family for a while and the vineyard died just before the turn of the century. The next Wisconsin vineyard would not open in the state until the mid to late 1900s.
Today, Wisconsin is home to around 300 grape growers. Our state’s vineyards are able to survive thanks to the development of cold-climate varietals by the University of Minnesota. These special vines debuted in 1908 and have changed the wine industry in Wisconsin. Prior to their debut, Wisconsin was known for its fruit wines, such as cherry and apple. Even with more Wisconsin grape wines being produced, the popularity in fruit wine still exists today and you’ll find many wineries offering both fruit and grape options for their patrons.
Learn more about the history of Wisconsin’s wine industry at wiswine.org.
The Land of Hops
Feb. 09, 2017
Now you may be thinking I’m talking about New York when I mention the land of hops, but surprisingly there was a time that Wisconsin was the land of hops.
Back in the 1860s, disease plagued New York’s hops farm and many Wisconsin farmers stepped in to help meet the demand for this unique crop. Wisconsin quickly became the top producer of hops, with peak production topping out at over six million pounds in 1867. Today, production levels may not be as high, but hops growers are still a unique aspect of Wisconsin agriculture closely tied to our dynamic duo of beer and cheese.
The addition of hops to beer adds both flavor and longevity. Hops can balance out the sweetness of the malt and add a unique aroma to the beverage. Different varieties of hops plants produce different flavor elements such as citrus, dill, or melon. These flavors come from the female flower of the hops plant known as the strobilus. These cone-shaped flowers contain lupulin glands that house the compounds that brewers seek.
Who knows, maybe some of your favorite Wisconsin beers are made using hops grown at one of Wisconsin’s nearly 90 hops farms. Learn more about Wisconsin’s hops industry at www.wisconsinhopsexchange.com.
The Perfect Pair for America's Dairyland
Feb. 06, 2017
Lewis and Clark, Batman and Robin, and Milk and Cookies all represent famous duos. You cannot say one without the other.
Now what about Wisconsin cheese? What pairing do we have that goes well with that? Well, some of you may say wine, and some of you may say beer – depending upon your personal preferences of course. And in my mind, both of those pairings are right, as long as they come from Wisconsin.
Wisconsin is home to 138 cheese plants, over 100 different breweries and nearly 130 wineries. Whether you are looking to pair your favorite cheese with wine or beer, you can find locally made options for all three. And the best part is, not only are we making the beverages locally, we are also growing some of the key ingredients like hops, barley and grapes.
Stay tuned this month for more information about the “Steins and Vines” of Wisconsin agriculture. You can also visit www.cheesecupid.com to find suggested cheese and beverage pairings.
A Taste of Elegance
Feb. 05, 2017
Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to celebrate Wisconsin’s pork producers at the 29th Annual Taste of Elegance at the Wisconsin Corn and Soy Expo.
Our state is home to 320,000 hogs. Hog farmers across the state feed high quality corn and soy food to their animals to keep them growing strong and healthy. In 2015, Wisconsin hog farms produced 147 million pounds of pork. That pork was shipped across Wisconsin and the United States to be used in dishes at homes and restaurants.
At the Taste of Elegance, eight chefs from the state crafted a dish, each highlighting the versatile use of pork in cooking. From putting pork in macaroons to combining it with succotash, the food they created was unique and delicious. Besides the cooking competition, they also had a pie auction with proceeds going to youth scholarship and advancement programs. It was so exciting to see groups of producers bid on the pies and help encourage the future faces of Wisconsin hog farms.
A Blitz in Milwaukee
Feb. 01, 2017
The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board wasn’t kidding when they told me my school visits were called a blitz for the rapid number of schools I visit in a short amount of time.
Last week, I was crisscrossing Milwaukee County teaching 4th grade students about the diverse group of food we grow throughout the state. These visits offered a unique opportunity to expose children to something most of them have only seen in a zoo. As I went from class to class, I was pleased by their curiosity about dairy farms. Although not all of them knew where our food came from at the beginning, by the time my presentation ended they were asking questions thoughtful about why certain plants grow in different soils and how we get those plants to grow in the first place.
Some of my favorite questions included: “What do you do with the rotten fruit you don’t package?”, “Why does milk go bad in a store, but not in a cow?”, and “How do they get the cherry pits out without ruining the cherry?” There were also some funny moments as well, like a kid yelling “pop-tarts” when I asked “What food we grow to feed both humans and livestock, that we all eat for breakfast – hot or cold?”.
With the average consumer 3-4 generations removed from the farm, these classroom visits are an excellent way to reconnect people to their roots in agriculture. To hear more funny quotes and questions from my visits, follow my twitter account.
Unveiling the Alice in Dairyland Exhibit
Jan. 29, 2017
This past weekend, I was surrounded by fellow supporters of the Alice in Dairyland program as we celebrated the grand opening of the Alice in Dairyland exhibit at the Neville Public Museum in Green Bay.
The exhibit offers a wonderful display of the past 70 years of Alice in Dairyland and also contains some hands-on activities for any children that may wander through. Whether you are looking at the dress designed for the first Alice in Dairyland animatron at State Fair or admiring the pictures of all the previous Alice’s, there is a lot of history to observe. I even learned some things myself, like how Alice was originally a three-month position.
Two moments from this weekend’s event really stand out in my mind. The first, was getting to see some former Alice’s at the exhibit. It’s always a joy getting to reconnect with women who also served in this role and getting to hear their stories. The second, was meeting one of the men that helped conceptualize the Alice in Dairyland program. Seeing him take in the history of the program and to hear the pride in his voice as he talked about getting Alice up and running was definitely a highlight.
I encourage everyone to visit the Alice in Dairyland exhibit yourself now through the end of June. To find more information on the display and museum hours, visitwww.nevillepublicmuseum.org.
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Contact the Alice In Dairyland Program at:
2811 Agriculture Dr. PO Box 8911
Madison WI 53708-8911
Phone (608) 224-5115