Wisconsin Soybean Association



Alice in Dairyland Travel Journal by Ann O'Leary

Alice in Dairyland Travel Journal by
Ann O'Leary


2811 Agriculture Dr. PO Box 8911
Madison WI 53708-8911
Phone (608) 224-5115
DATCPAlice@wisconsin.gov

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The Farmory
Mar. 20, 2017

With less and less of the United States’ population living on farms, but the demand for locally grown food increasing, city groups are turning to urban farming for supplies.

Urban farming is growing food in an urban setting. One example of urban farming in our state is the Farmory located in Green Bay. Conceptualized three years ago, the idea for the Farmory stemmed from the desire to increase food stability and sustainability in the community. The group hopes to accomplish this by creating a vertical farming system modeled after Will Allen’s Growing Power system in Milwaukee.

The vertical farming system they hope to build will include aquaponics. Aquaponics is the raising of fish and growing of plants in a closed symbiotic system. The soiled fish tank water is cycled through the plant beds, providing the plants nutrient in addition to being cleaned. The clean water is then put back into the fish tank and the cycle restarts. This process will allow the Farmory to raise yellow perch, as well as grow fresh greens and vegetables in a small area with a minimal footprint.

The Farmory’s ultimate goal is to provide a “living classroom” – a space where volunteers can learn and earn food or opportunities while helping grow food for their neighbors. Click here to learn more about the Farmory.


70th Alice in Dairyland Top Candidates
Mar. 18, 2017

Yesterday was an exciting day, not only did we get to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the six top candidates for the 70th Alice in Dairyland were also revealed.

After a day of information overload about the Alice in Dairyland role and final interview overviews, the top candidates were disclosed. This year’s group of candidates is outstanding. Each coming from unique agricultural backgrounds across the state, the top candidates are Abrielle Backhaus, Jenna Crayton, Alexis Dunnum, Kaitlyn Riley, Crystal Siemers-Peterman, and Kelly Wilfert. The knowledge they have on Wisconsin’s agriculture runs deep and their excitement to share the story of farmers everywhere is second to none.

Throughout the next 8 weeks, the six top candidates will be busy preparing for the three-day final interview process that will occur in Brown County May 11th – 13th. During the final interviews, they will partake in industry tours and be evaluated through TV and radio interviews, discussion panels, an interview panel and two presentations. The panel of judges will be looking for skills in public speaking and marketing, as well as a broad knowledge of Wisconsin agriculture.

Stay tuned each week as I highlight the background of one candidate on my blog.

You can watch one of these talented women become the next Alice in Dairyland live. The final program is open to the public and will be occurring at Lambeau Field. For more information and ticket pricing go to www.aliceindairyland.com.


A Golden Affair
Mar. 13, 2017

This past weekend, I joined Wisconsin maple syrup producers at the Spence Sugar bush in Spring Valley to kick off our state’s official maple syrup month. The month celebrates our state’s maple syrup industry which ranks 4th in the nation and the hard work Wisconsin’s 3,000 sugar bushes put in during the spring to collect sap.

Mark and Pam Spence were the host of this year’s kick off and official tree tapping. They have been in the syrup industry for the past 30 years. Mark started his maple syrup adventure with 500 buckets on his trees. He would carry the buckets to empty the sap into a larger tank and then transport the tank back to the farm to begin the heating process. After carrying 5,000 gallons of sap one too many times, he decided to install a vacuum system and tubing to help him harvest the sap from his trees with more ease. As an added benefit, vacuum systems can harvest more sap than gravity systems do.

The official tree used for the ceremonial tap was located in the Spence’s front yard. It had been tapped many times before and finding a good location for this year’s tap was no easy task. Once we located a good spot (4 inches from any previous tap spots), a hand drill was used to bore into the tree. After the hole was made a tap was put inside and a bag was placed on it to collect the sap. While it was too cold for the sap to flow, the event was still an exciting experience.

Maple syrup month runs March 15th through April 15th. I encourage you to partake in the festivities by purchasing locally produced Wisconsin maple syrup or by visiting one of our state’s sugar bushes.

Learn more about Wisconsin maple syrup at wismaple.org.


The Blitz Continues
Mar. 08, 2017

I feel like I blinked and February was gone! Between my #steinsandvines media campaign and school visits, the role of Alice has certainly kept me busy this spring.

The month of February began with a blitz in Dane County and ended with a blitz in Waukesha County. While the students and school districts were different, their excitement for Wisconsin’s $88.3 billion dollar agriculture industry was the same. The kids are eager to share their stories of experiencing agriculture first hand and always cheer when I tell them I brought cheese.

While their excitement is contagious, the moments that leave the biggest impression on me often come after I finish speaking. Students typically approach me after the presentation to share their stories or ask more questions. Their comments and questions can range from “My grandpa is a farmer.” to “Do you know all 600 types, styles, and varieties of cheese?”.

One of my favorite moments at Summit Elementary in Oconomowoc occurred during that post-presentation time. A young girl approached me, held out a clipboard, and shyly asked for my autograph. On her clipboard she had a post-it note for me to sign that read “My first Alice in Dairyland, the 69th”. To say this moment was hart-warming is an understatement. I signed the post-it and then asked if she wanted to be Alice someday. As she eagerly shook her head yes, my heart was filled with joy to know that these blitzes help inspire future generations to be involved in Wisconsin agriculture.

Learn more about the material I present on wisconsindairycouncil.com.


Friday Night Fish Fry? Think Local!
Mar. 06, 2017

During spring, there is a higher number of fish fries occurring across the country. However, it doesn’t feel that different here in Wisconsin since Friday Night Fish Fry’s are a year-round affair.

Everyone in the state seems to have their favorite place to go and some can be quite adamant that their location offers the best fish fry in town. Now I’m not sure who has the best fish fry, but I can tell you that the places using Wisconsin farm-raised fish should be near the top of that list.

Wisconsin aquaculture is an important component of our state’s $88.3 billion agriculture industry. Fish farms across the state raise a wide variety of food fish including trout, walleye, bluegill and perch. They do this in a very sustainable and environmentally friendly fashion. Farm managers go out and check their ponds each day to ensure the fish are healthy and well-fed. Our state even has a veterinarian program specific to fisheries to help our farms provide the best care for their animals.

When you purchase a fish fry made from locally raised fish, your money stays here in the state to support our farmers, communities and local economies. So this Friday night, I encourage you to hunt for a fish fry serving Wisconsin farm-raised fish. Who knows, it might become your new favorite!

Learn more about farm-raised fish on the Wisconsin Aquaculture Association’s website.


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.


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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

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