Christine Lindner's first wedding anniversary was just another working day.

As the 63rd Alice in Dairyland, she's on the road about 340 days a year to tout the diversity, quality and economic importance of Wisconsin agriculture.

Alice in Dairyland's Sunday appearance at the Taste of Portage, however, took her to the city where, a year ago to the day, Christine Lepple married Russ Lindner.

And one of the people who came especially to greet her was the priest who officiated at her wedding at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Portage, the Rev. Jim Murphy.

"I was at the State Fair looking for you," Murphy said as he greeted her.

Although Lindner grew up on a dairy farm near Beaver Dam in Dodge County, she and her husband live in Fall River - making her the first Alice in Dairyland who lived in Columbia County at the time of her crowning.

So it was a hometown crowd of sorts - most of them sitting at picnic tables under a tent in Market Square - to whom Lindner posed her first question: What does Wisconsin produce 18,850 gallons of every year?

"Beer!" shouted a friendly heckler.

Actually, Lindner noted, beer is indeed a vital Wisconsin product, with hundreds of breweries, micro- and otherwise, throughout the state.

But the product to which she alluded was milk.

Wisconsin agriculture, Lindner noted, adds $59 billion to the state's economy every year, and the state's 13,000 dairy farms are a key component.

However, one major misconception that she addresses in her appearances is a too-narrow, or maybe too-small, definition of what constitutes a family farm.

Lindner, 26, said she considers the farm where she grew up to be a family farm - all 4,000 cows of it.

Wisconsin needs farm operations of all sizes, she said, and it needs new ways of farming.

"All businesses need to be innovative, and embrace family members who want to come back to the farm with new ideas," she said.

With Wisconsin ranking second only to California in the production of milk, and leading the world in the production of cheese, dairy farming remains the backbone of the state's agriculture economy.

It wasn't always that way, Lindner said. In its earliest days, Wisconsin was known nationwide as a leading producer of wheat. Despite a chinch bug infestation that wiped out the wheat crops of early Wisconsin farmers, wheat has come back as a major cash crop in the state, she said.

Others - including hogs, poultry, corn, soybeans, strawberries, cranberries, apples and wild rice - were displayed on a poster board that Lindner described as a "fantastic farm," in that few single Wisconsin farms actually produce all or most of these products.

All these, and others, Lindner promoted by giving clues to the audience and inviting them to shout out the names of Wisconsin agricultural products.

Brad Conrad of the Portage Area Chamber of Commerce said he'd tried to book an Alice in Dairyland appearance at Portage's recent Fourth of July parade but was told that Alice in Dairyland doesn't do parades or other appearances where she's only required to smile and wear her sash and crown - the crown being accented with a pear-shaped amethyst and two pear-shaped citrines, both mined in Wisconsin.

He said that's because the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer protection hires a different Alice every year - always a woman, but not necessarily a single woman - mainly to educate people about the state's agriculture industry.

Lindner came to Portage Sunday directly from a garlic farm near Arlington.

After her Portage appearance, she said, she planned to return the E-85-fueled vehicle that the state issues her for her appearances, then go home to Fall River, so she and her husband can go to Wisconsin Dells to celebrate their anniversary.

Yes, Lindner acknowledged, her 40,000-mile-per-year travel schedule is hectic for a newlywed. But it stems, she said, from a passion she holds for promoting Wisconsin agriculture, a passion that started when she met an Alice in Dairyland while she was in elementary school.

"My goal," Lindner said, "is to bring agriculture into the daily lives of the people of Wisconsin."




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