GO ASK ALICE

State’s ag ambassador visits 4th-grade classrooms
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Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Ann O’Leary, the 69th Alice in Dairyland, asks fourth-grade students a question about agriculture Wednesday at Sacred Heart Catholic School. O’Leary visited schools in Birnamwood, Bonduel, Bowler, Gillett, Gresham, Shawano, Tigerton and Wittenberg to teach students about where their food comes from.

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Ann O’Leary uses four students at Gresham Community School to point out how agriculture is vital to the economy. Participating in her demonstration are, from left, Seth Marks, Derek Schrieber, Robert Kaquatosh and Jeny Reedy.

Wisconsin is known as America’s Dairyland, but much more than milk and cheese is produced here.

Fourth-grade classrooms across Shawano County received a lesson this week on the foods that Wisconsin is famous for growing and producing. Ann O’Leary, the state’s 69th Alice in Dairyland, told students about the variety of crops — as varied as green beans, cherries, trout, wild rice and more — and where those crops thrive.

“It’s a lot of fun,” O’Leary said after visiting with several classes at Gresham Community School. “I love coming to the schools and talking with them. Each classroom is different and seems to have its own knowledge of food and where it comes from.”

O’Leary has been crisscrossing the state for almost a year as the state’s agriculture ambassador through a program instituted by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. By the time O’Leary gives her title to the 70th Alice next month, she will have traveled more than 40,000 miles, which she told classes is longer than driving in a straight line around the world.

“I love to be the first Alice that most of you meet,” O’Leary said to a group of students at Sacred Heart Catholic School. “I’ve been to about 100 different fourth-grade classrooms so far. I also do radio and television interviews, so you might see me on the news at some point in time, and I do public appearances. When I’m traveling, I’m talking about agriculture.”

O’Leary pointed out that agriculture is a key factor in Wisconsin’s economy, generating more than $43.4 billion in economic activity. One in nine jobs in the state, including the techno wizards who calibrate Fitbits for cows to keep an eye on their health, is related to agriculture, she said.

“Agriculture is raising animals, which we call livestock, including your cows and your pigs and your chickens,” O’Leary said. “It’s also growing plants, which we call crops, and includes your corn and your soybeans.”

O’Leary told students that more than 600 different types of cheese are produced in Wisconsin each year, and that the state is the top producer of cheddar cheese in the country.

Wisconsin is also number one in producing cranberries, carrots and green beans, O’Leary said.

O’Leary’s lesson included demonstrating how agriculture stimulates the economy. Using four students as an example, she pointed out that there’s a farmer milking the cow, a cheesemaker turning the milk into cheese, a grocery store selling the cheese and the customer who buys the cheese.

Mary Lou Kugel, a farmer from the town of Waukechon, has taught the state’s Adventures in Dairyland curriculum in local classrooms for 22 years, and this is only the second time she can remember an Alice in Dairyland coming to local schools.

“It’s an introduction to students for them to know where their food comes from, a plant, a source and not just at a grocery store,” Kugel said. “It’s so wonderful for the students to finally meet Alice. They see her on television, but now they get to see her firsthand.”

ONLINE

Find out more about the Alice in Dairyland program at www.aliceindairyland.com.