Hello! My name is Kaitlyn Riley, and I am honored to be the 71st Alice in Dairyland. My first appearance on this blog was as an Alice in Dairyland Top Candidate going through the intensive interview process. That post helped get my foot in the door for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
I’ve always wanted to walk a year in Alice’s shoes. Now two weeks on the job, I am literally and figuratively getting my feet wet.
In those first weeks, I’ve logged more than 1,500 miles in Maizey, a flex-fuel Ford Explored powered by ethanol. While on the road, storms poured rain on host farms that spent the past year carefully planning for June Dairy Month. Despite the conditions, flooded roads and saturated farmland did not dampen the spirit of any event. Volunteers arrived hours before breakfast was served to spread gravel, mulch and shavings. Communities worked together for new parking and shuttle plans to preserve farm fields. Guests wore rubber boots of many colors to get the full-farm experience which included stomping in the mud and muck.
After having my dress shoe fall off while accidentally walking in a pile of mud over the weekend, I can’t help but smile and think I should have brought my barn boots from home. I was raised on one of the 96-percent of Wisconsin farms that are family-owned. My parents, Jody and Paulette Riley, raised my brother, Justin, and me with a love for agriculture. Although my brother and I left the farm after high school, the dairy industry played a key role in our careers. Justin became a licensed cheesemaker and now works for Foremost Farms, one of Wisconsin’s more than 200 dairy plants. I wanted to share the story of Wisconsin’s diverse agriculture industry, so I studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I worked as the farm news director for a radio station in Prairie du Chien, and later as a multimedia journalist in Eau Claire.
After working away from home for more than two years, I knew I needed to reconnect with agriculture. I returned to Riley Farms where I managed calf and heifer care and worked side-by-side with my parents. Returning to the dairy as a full-time employee gave me a new appreciation for the work ethic of Wisconsin farmers. For my family, it is more than a job. It is part of our heritage, a family tradition. I am always honored when people take an interest in what we do because it reminds me of how special our tradition is.
Although my shoes are dirty, and my feet have new blisters, my heart is full with the love and support of our agriculture industry that has driven Wisconsin’s economy for more than 175 years. I anxiously await learning about the farms of different types, sizes and production methods that bring success to our state during my short year as Alice.
As June Dairy Month celebrations continue, there is endless cheese to taste, ice cream to enjoy and dairy traditions to try. I encourage you to pack your spare pair of rubber boots and join me in honoring our farmers.
For events, recipes and videos, check out hooraywisconsindairy.com.