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Brooks Reflects Back on Her Year as 'Alice'
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 05/06/2015

In addition to being the state's agricultural ambassador, Zoey Brooks says her reign as Alice in Dairyland has been the ultimate professional development training experience. And after 40,000 miles of travel, about 250 media interviews and 100 speeches, the Waupaca native feels she has accomplished her mission of being just as much of a student as she was an educator in this job.

"My goal was to learn one new fact about Wisconsin agriculture every single day so I would have more knowledge to pass on," Brooks told Wisconsin Ag Connection in an exclusive interview. "But looking back, I can honestly say I surpassed that goal by ten-fold."

Brooks says her dream of becoming 'Alice' started a long time ago, adding that she has been following Alice in Dairyland for many years, but really enjoyed seeing what the program was all about behind the scenes.

One of her personal missions during the past 12 months has been to break the stereotypes of what a farmer is--especially since she plans to return to her family's 250-cow dairy operation when her current obligations are complete.

"When I visit elementary classrooms, I often ask kids what they think of when they hear the word 'farmer,'" she recalled. "Many described farmers as older people who drive tractors and wear a straw hat. But when I told them that I--while wearing my tiara and sash--was a farmer too, they were really surprised."

In fact, one of Zoey's goals this year was to encourage young people, especially women, to look into production agriculture as a life-long career.

Among the most memorable experiences of her reign was the 11-day Wisconsin State Fair. Brooks said she was pleased to see that many people at the fair recognized who 'Alice' was.

"Maybe they didn't know me personally, but it was cool to see how many people where familiar with Alice and what she does for Wisconsin."

Retiring Alices often admit they didn't realize how diverse Wisconsin's agricultural industry was until they served in this capacity. Brooks agreed--and said the cranberry industry is the one area she found most fascinating.

"I think many of us get our 'cranberry education' from Ocean Spray commercials," she said with a smile. "But when I went to Warrens and toured the various cranberry marshes and area museums, I began to realize how involved Wisconsin really is in this industry. Our berries are sold all over the world and are used in so many different products. It's a very big deal."

She also enjoyed the opportunity of judging many fun community events and contests, ranging from a grilled cheese sandwich taste test to maple syrup competitions. At year's end, she will have visited nearly 340 classrooms and talked to over 10,000 individual fourth grade students across the state.

Brooks is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in animal science. She plans to become a partner in the family dairy operation, where she is among the sixth generation raised on the farm.

Meanwhile, Zoey will crown her successor this Saturday during the annual Alice in Dairyland Finals Ceremony, being held this year in Manitowoc County. But she will continue to serve in her roll for several extra weeks while the new 'Alice' is being trained.

A finale program will also be Webcast live on Wisconsin Ag Connection on May 9, which is being sponsored by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Foremost Farms USA and Landmark Cooperative Services.

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