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Carousels, cows and careers

Wisconsin summer nights are often filled with dazzling displays of color. Carnival lights from local fairs and festivals scream of celebration as they illuminate the sky. Like the circling fun of a carousel ride, Wisconsin fairs revolve around opportunity.

The Crawford County Fair was always the highlight of my summer. My brother, Justin, and I practiced walking our heifers and cows for months. With help from mom and dad, we gathered our supplies, picked the finest crops from the field, and trailered our exhibits and animals to the fairgrounds. Not everyone could walk away with a blue ribbon or a tall trophy, but that was okay. The fair was a time to reconnect with friends, eat as many shakes at the 4-H Food Stand as possible and enjoy one last stretch of summer before the school year started.

Because my friends and I loved showing cattle, we joined the Crawford County State Fair Dairy Team. Our parents kindly volunteered to chaperone or drive kids and cattle to the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis. Local businesses generously pitched in by donating supplies and funds for our display.

Going from the small fairgrounds in Gays Mills to the nearly 200-acre State Fair Park was quite the culture shock. We knew we were not in rural Crawford County anymore as curious fairgoers stopped to ask thoughtful questions about dairy farming in Wisconsin. In all of my years of showing, I thought we were just having fun with carousels and cows. I had no idea the fair was crafting my career in communications.

The Wisconsin State Fair gave me an opportunity to explain how farmers provide a safe, wholesome and secure food supply for families. I was never a great public speaker. Truthfully, I was very shy. However each day at the fair, I had fresh practice sharing pride for my family’s dairy farm. I became an active listener, an effective storyteller and a passionate communicator. If not for my experiences with Wisconsin fairs, I would have never found my love for agricultural communications.

As Alice, I was fortunate to spend all 11 days at the Wisconsin State Fair delivering demonstrations and speeches this year. My goal with every interaction was to let career opportunities shine for young exhibitors and fairgoers alike. Regardless of anyone’s background, there are numerous opportunities to work in Wisconsin agriculture. In fact, one in nine people working in Wisconsin has a job related to agriculture. Each of those jobs supports a nearly additional 1.5 jobs elsewhere in the state. My family’s dairy farm alone works with feed mills, dairy equipment manufacturers, veterinarians and more. Wisconsin needs technicians, genetics experts, dairy software developers and more to help our farmers and processors become more efficient and provide the best quality care for livestock and land.

Are you drawn to fairs by shimmering carnival lights, or has exhibiting also been a part of your family’s tradition? Whatever your reason to enjoy the fair season, there is still plenty of time to explore options in Wisconsin agriculture. I am excited to once again visit the Crawford County Fair Aug. 22-26, but if you can’t make it to my home corner of the state, there is a full list of fairs online. I challenge you to enjoy the ride, explore your options, and take in the opportunity to see Wisconsin agriculture in action at our county and district fairs.

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