Walking around the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds with Zoey Brooks is like walking around with a celebrity. Everywhere we go, people say ‘Hello!’ or whisper something along the lines of, ‘Oh, there’s Alice.’
“It’s funny, I’m responding to Alice as much as I would my own name,” laughs Brooks. “It’s great that people are recognizing it, recognizing that she’s here representing agriculture, but it takes you aback at first.”
In the House of Moo, Alice gives fairgoers the chance to meet a cow while educating them about dairy and agriculture. She may have even met some future Alices.
“Three little girls came up here and said, ‘we want to be Alice someday,’ these future Alices that always come through, so that’s always fun to see. It makes you wonder, you know, one day, if you’ll look back and they actually did become Alice someday, so it’s great to see them kind of get inspired here too,” says Brooks. “My first Alice experience was here at the State Fair. It was about 9 years ago when I first saw Alice at an event and we were here for the sesquicentennial breakfast. Alice got up on stage and spoke with us and I looked up and I said, ‘Oh, Gosh, I could never do that. That’s terrifying. It’s crowd of 300 or so, and, here I am today.”
Alice in Dairyland is the state’s face for all things agriculture, from cranberries to ginseng to beef and more.
“I serve as Wisconsin’s agricultural ambassador, it’s a year-term. I travel all across Wisconsin,” explains Brooks. “I travel about 40,000 miles in a year, so I do a lot of agricultural and community events where I go.”
While the program got its start as a beauty contest of sorts, today’s Alice is a full-time public relations professional for the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection. In 1948, judges used photos alone to pick the field of 16 finalists. Today, Alice has to be at least 21 and have at least four years of education or experience in public relations, agriculture, or related fields. She also goes through an application and interview process before being considered for a finalist position. Being Alice does come with a tiara and sash, but it’s meant to pay homage to the history of the agricultural queen program in the state.
In the coming weeks when the 68th Alice in Dairyland is named, she will have gone through what Brooks says is the most public job interview you could have. The entire process takes about five months.
“There is no talent competition, there is no ball gowns or anything like that. These ladies will in business suits, and I guess you could say their talent will be their ability to share agriculture’s story. It’s a really unique process, a lot goes into it, it’s very intensive,” says Brooks.
Starting in June, the new Alice will be on the job.
Brooks says she’ll miss meeting and working with amazing people and exploring Wisconsin, but at the same time, she’s excited to put down roots. Brooks will return to her family’s farm in central Wisconsin to be a dairy farmer. She says she’s looking forward to representing not only young people in production agriculture, but also young woman.
“I know that Alice in Dairyland that will reach far into the future and that’ll be around in Wisconsin for many years to come, and I just hope that other young women see this position as an incredible opportunity to not only share the story of Wisconsin agriculture, but to be able to share their passion,” says Brooks. “I haven’t worked a day this year because I love what I do, and that is being able to share that story and my passion for Wisconsin agriculture.”