Alice in Dairyland wore a tiara on Saturday evening as Taylor Schaefer of Franksville received the 75th anniversary title as the state’s agricultural ambassador at Monona Terrace in Madison.
Alice wore an industrial hard hat and hair net on Friday morning as the finalists group toured the Little Potato Company facility in DeForest. Agriculture and the cutting edge of agribusiness are as diverse in Dane County as anywhere else in the state and the six finalists for the position toured a variety on May 19-20-21.
Little Potato Company describes the size of the spuds, not the business. The DeForest facility is the first United States site for the Canadian company, with family roots in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
The DeForest facility processes and packages potatoes grown in Wisconsin and some product from Canada. The company started in 1996 and built the DeForest facility in 2016.
Little Potato Company’s niche is fresh product, in one to five pound packaging for quick cooking.
Alice in Dairyland’s job is spreading the word about Wisconsin agribusiness and the finalists were doing their work during the facility tour, asking questions, listening to background presentations, and taking notes. The tour showed the candidates how the facility takes in the product from state growers and then preps and sorts it for packaging lines, and then cold storage before shipping out to United States markets.
Little Potato Company processes about 48 million Wisconsin potatoes in a year. The DeForest facility has room for growth within the current facility and in the industrial park area.
Little Potato Company supports the community in addition to providing jobs and a market for producers. It is a strong supporter of Second Harvest hunger-prevention efforts, it is a prime sponsor of the DeForest FFA program which packaged more than 50,000 meals for foodbanks this spring, it works with the Lodi School District to supply fresh product for its food service program, and it sponsors a local 8U baseball team.
Wisconsin is the third largest producer of potatoes in the United States as its glacial and sandy soils and climate are ideal.
Jerry Aaps recently wrote that “By the 1870s, many Wisconsin farmers turned to dairy farming and other crops as wheat growing was failing. In central Wisconsin, in addition to milking cows, many farmers began growing potatoes. According to the USDA Ag Statistics Service, Wisconsin farmers grew 64,304 acres of potatoes in 1870. That number exploded to 325,000 acres in 1922.”
The six finalists were Amber Cafferty, Fountain City, Amelia Hayden, Sharon, Courtney Moser, Westby, Taylor Schaefer, Franksville, Samantha Schuessler, Antigo and Charitee Seebecker, Mauston. The current Alice, Julia Nunes of Chippewa Falls, and former Alice and 75th committee chair, Jill Makovec of Dane County, also joined Friday’s tour.
After the tour, the group had lunch at North South Seafood and Smokehouse, where Marcy Heim, a former Alice in Dairyland finalist, provided the inspirational message. Heim travels the country for her business, The Artful Asker.
On May 19, the candidates toured Koepke’s Greenhouse in Oregon and Brix Cidery in Mt. Horeb. On May 20, they toured the Meat Science & Animal Biologics Discovery building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, The Little Potato Company, and Hinchley’s Dairy Farm in Cambridge. Saturday morning wrapped up with a special Dane County Farmer’s Market tour with Chef Tory Miller.
Ultimately, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) selected Schaefer of Franksville as Wisconsin’s 75th Alice in Dairyland. In this position, Schaefer will work for the contract year as a full-time communications professional for DATCP, educating the public about the importance of agriculture in Wisconsin.
Schaefer’s fondest memories stem from her family’s beef and crop farm, where raising livestock and serving as a youth leader in the Racine County 4-H program ignited her passion for agriculture. Schaefer went on to study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was involved in the Association of Women in Agriculture, Badger Dairy Club, and the University of Wisconsin Marching Band. In 2021, she interned with Mayer Beef and Folk Song Farm, where she broadened her knowledge of the Something Special from Wisconsin program and connected with consumers.
She has since joined the Animal and Dairy Sciences Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a digital media intern and the Mid-West Farm Report as a farm assistant. In May 2022, she will graduate with bachelor’s degrees in animal sciences and life sciences communication and a certificate in digital studies. Upon graduation, she accepted a position with the Mid-West Farm Report in Madison, Wisconsin.
“As a young exhibitor, I looked up to Alice for her contributions towards reconnecting consumers to producers and ability to foster positive relationships between urban and rural community members,” said Schaefer. “As Alice, I will explore Wisconsin’s diverse agriculture industry and share my knowledge with audiences of all demographics across the state.”
Schaefer will begin her term as the 75th Alice in Dairyland on July 5. She succeeds 74th Alice in Dairyland Julia Nunes of Chippewa Falls, who will continue her current term as the 74th Alice in Dairyland until the transition in July.
Alice in Dairyland is a full-time communications professional for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). The Alice program is supported by several partner organizations including Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, Kettle Moraine Mink Breeders Association, Wisconsin Corn Promotion Board, Midwest Jewelers Association, Ginseng Board of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Beef Council.