From high heels to farm fields
Hello everyone! My name is Kaitlyn Riley, and I am a 71st Alice in Dairyland Top Candidate. Although I am a writer, my adventure in agriculture is told better by the shoes on my feet than words on paper. I grew up among the 96 percent of Wisconsin dairy farms that are family-owned. Spending most of my time with our beloved Jersey cows, I only needed a pair of work boots and clean sneakers for school. As I got older, basketball, cross country and dress shoes made their way into my closet.
I was not sure what career path my feet would follow until I was a senior in high school recording a radio advertisement for June Dairy Month. Local radio legend Norb Aschom turned to me and said, “You have a voice for broadcast.”
Leaving my barn boots behind, I studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I wanted to combine my walks of life and share the story of Wisconsin agriculture. The diversity of Wisconsin’s agriculture industry is our greatest strength, and Wisconsin has a big story to tell ranking first in the nation for the production of ginseng, cranberries, cheese and more.
After graduation, I had the chance to work with Norb as a farm news director for WPRE-WQPC Radio in Prairie du Chien. I later became a multimedia journalist at News 18 in Eau Claire. Wearing high heels, I did everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates. In my years as a journalist, the most memorable stories were those that required the pink rubber boots I kept under my desk, the stories that introduced me to farmers.
In May of 2017, I dusted off my barn boots and returned home to my family’s dairy where I manage calf and heifer care. I proudly walk through the mud and muck while working in an industry that contributes to our state’s culture, economy and future. I still slip on a pair of flats as a freelance journalist writing about agricultural advancements.
I applied to become the 71st Alice in Dairyland because I want to walk a year in Alice’s shoes. I want to learn from Alice’s adventures to better educate urban and rural audiences about the farms of different types, sizes and production methods that bring success to Wisconsin agriculture.
I hope our footsteps meet in Adams County, so I can ask the story behind your shoes!