As a self-proclaimed storyteller of agriculture, Michelle Stangler found her love for agriculture and the farming community on her family’s small dairy farm in southern Wisconsin.
Stangler grew up with all of the responsibilities associated with living on a dairy farm. “Growing up on a dairy farm is no easy task for 18 years,” she said. “Chores in the morning, chores after school, I mean it was a lot.”
In 2018, Stangler and her family stepped away from dairy farming and sold their herd. During this time, she was introduced to various opportunities for advocacy in agriculture.
“Although we don’t dairy farm anymore, I still want to give back to the community because it’s so valuable and has gotten me where I am today,” she said. “I want to help share the positive stories of agriculture.”
Stangler attended her first year at UW-River Falls in the fall of 2020 as an agricultural education major. However, she decided to switch gears and double major in agricultural marketing communications and journalism.
That’s when she found broadcast journalism through the university’s radio station, WRFW-FM. To promote positivity amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, she created her own radio show called “Sharing Positivity.”
Initially, the show focused on songs that expressed positivity, but it evolved into sharing stories that highlighted FFA activities.
Her goal was to share stories with individuals away from the farm and promote the positive aspects of agriculture, not just the fears.
“So many people have different stories to share, and I love hearing about it,” Stangler said.
Stangler was recently awarded UW-River Falls’ Donovan E. Rasmussen Broadcast Journalism Fellowship, a six-week broadcast journalism program that highlights public affairs issues in western Wisconsin. The recipient must be a journalism major at UW-RF and produce a 30-minute audio documentary about the issue.
Rasmussen was a supporter of small town radio and originally endowed an internship program with the idea of allowing students to be an intern at a small radio station, but a direction change created the summer project fellowship.
Stangler is focusing her documentary on the challenges dairy farmers face in our region.
“(Consumers) don’t see the challenges beyond getting your milk from the store. So that’s where I want to do a deep dive outlook on,” she said.
This process will include conversations with everyone involved, including the dairy farmer, the grocery store employee and the consumer.
“I am really looking forward to speaking with a wide range of people within the western Wisconsin area,” she said. “Especially talking with those influencers of the area and just overall hoping consumers see a broader spectrum of the dairy community.”
One of Stangler’s reasons for continuing her advocacy is the issue of trust between farmer and consumer.
She wants the consumer to understand there is more to dairy farming than a gallon of milk on the grocery store shelf.
“As they get more of a picture (consumers) will see that dairy farmers, especially here in Wisconsin, are caring for their animals,” she said. “They are truly helping the consumer and modifying their practices for them.”
As director of the journalism program at UW-River Falls, Andris Straumanis, has been serving as her faculty mentor for the fellowship.
“She lives and breathes agriculture,” Straumanis said. “She clearly has her sights set on being a storyteller for agriculture.”
When discussing Stangler’s topic choice, Straumanis told the Leader-Telegram she was obviously interested in doing something within agriculture, but the topic quickly crystallized into focusing on the dairy industry.
“My sense is that most listeners in western Wisconsin would understand milk comes from a cow…But they really have no conception of all the steps that are going on in between,” Straumanis said.
Straumanis described Stangler as “remarkably busy” and seems to have “lots of irons in the fire”.
Entering her third year at UW-River Falls, Stangler is now the president and student program manager for the UW-River Falls radio station and has taken part in multiple internships in the agricultural field.
While the fellowship is still in the early stages, Stangler is looking forward to sharing her final project near the end of August.