When Kristin Olson was in fourth grade, she was in one of the lucky Wisconsin classrooms to enjoy a visit from Alice in Dairyland. Olson admired the agricultural ambassador who taught her class about the work of farmers and Wisconsin’s agriculture industry.
Olson continued to follow Alice throughout the years, as a new young woman was awarded the title each year. Meanwhile, Olson was winning her own titles, including Fond du Lac County Fairest of the Fair in 2007 and Wisconsin Holstein Outstanding Girl in 2009.
And then, it was Olson’s turn to be Alice.
In May, Olson, a Windsor resident, was selected among four Alice in Dairyland finalists, making her the 66th Alice.
Alice in Dairyland, a year-long public relations position within the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection, is a demanding job; but after just four months, Olson says she’s up for the challenge.
Olson started on June 3, and has since driven over 4,000 miles, visiting all corners of the state to promote the state’s $59 billion agriculture industry. Olson hit the ground running in June, National Dairy Month, quickly followed by July, National Ice Cream Month, which involved visits to local creameries.
That’s the life of Alice in Dairyland. In the course of the year, she will travel 40,000 miles and make 400 appearances, as well as many media interviews.
Olson says her previous job as a dairy advertising coordinator at Accelerated Genetics has prepared her for the position.
“I was in a communications role there and now Alice is taking that one step further,” Olson said.
Long before becoming Alice, Olson gained hands-on experience in Wisconsin’s agriculture industry.
Raised near Fond du Lac, Olson helped her family show their small herd of dairy cattle every summer at various fairs and the World Dairy Expo. Even at a young age, Olson always looked forward to showing cattle.
“The summer was the highlight of the year,” Olson said.
In addition to showing cattle with her family, Olson participated in the Wisconsin Holstein Association and 4-H, all of which reinforced her interest in the agriculture industry.
“All of my experiences with youth organizations developed the passion and got the ball rolling, and it accumulated from there,” Olson said. “The people I met and experience I gained from showing cattle made it something I wanted to continue in my career.”
At University of Wisconsin - Madison, Olson studied life sciences communications, and served on the leadership of the Association of Women in Agriculture, Badger Dairy Club and the National Agri-Marketing Association.
After graduating in 2010, Olson started her position at Accelerated Genetics and moved to Windsor with her husband, who works at ABS Global in DeForest.
While the idea of pursuing Alice in Dairyland was in the back of her mind in college, Olson said she knew the timing was right when she decided to apply in January. Following the first round of interviews in February, Olson was selected as a finalist.
For three days in May, the four women (Beth Babcock, Wisconsin Dells; Marie Mahaney, Milwaukee; Tammy Wiedenbeck, Lancaster; and Olson) toured Calumet County, participating in mock TV and radio interviews, writing assessments, individual interviews, and agri-business visits. All of those activities led up to the candidates’ final speeches on the third day, after which a winner was named.
Olson said her three years of experience in the professional workplace, in addition to her years of experience in the industry contributed to her success at the competition.
While her experience in an office helped her as a candidate, now as Alice, Olson has had to adjust to a non-traditional work environment.
“It’s a lot of traveling and being out and about with different people,” Olson said. “My schedule is completely different each day, which is really fun.”
Former Alice, Rochelle Ripp of Lodi, has helped with the transition, Olson said. In the week of overlap between terms, Ripp helped train Olson in the position.
“She tried to give me a crash course on everything I need to know,” she said. “It’s just good to know she’s always there.”
As Wisconsin’s agriculture ambassador, Olson said she looks forward to speaking to a wide variety of people, serving as a liaison between those who work in the agriculture industry and those who have minimal knowledge of the industry.
“I’m excited to talk to consumers who maybe don’t know where their food comes from and shed a positive light on our agriculture industry, but then also talk to farmers to empower them to share their message and stories too,” Olson said.
Regardless of the audience, Olson said her message will stay consistent.
“No matter where we come from or what background we have, whether that be rural or urban, we are all affected by Wisconsin’s 59 billion dollar agriculture industry in one way or another,” Olson said.
She’ll get to put that to the test as she starts her school tours later this year.
From rural schools to urban schools (including Milwaukee Public School District), Olson will visit 10,000 fourth-grade students to teach them the importance of Wisconsin agriculture.
Using smart board technology, the “Growing a Healthy Wisconsin” program will be highly interactive and fun for kids, Olson said.
The smart board technology may be new, but Olson will get to re-live where it all started for her, in a classroom with a visit from Alice. Only this time, she’ll be the one wearing the tiara.