Illinois dairy woman featured for TV show

Illinois dairy woman featured for TV show
By Alisa Anderson

Ardath DeWall’s kitchen became the setting for part of an episode of the new American Agri-Women TV show. Ardath, a dairy producer from Shannon, Illinois, was asked to highlight her involvement in promoting and representing the dairy industry and to discuss some of the programs that others can get involved with.

The soon-to-be-aired TV show, which will come out this fall, will be a series of informative sessions first with an expert, then with a farm that has implemented the skill or topic covered. Some of the topics to be featured are crop insurance, utilizing farm programs, getting involved in agricultural issues, agri-tourism and promoting agricultural products.

“Our main objective is to provide farm and ranch women with information and some additional tools to help them have profitable operations,” says Chris Wilson, producer of the show and AAW first vice-president.

Ardath, a former AAW president, owns the featured member farm for the episode focused on promoting agricultural products. Ardath is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Midwest Dairy Association Chicago Division, on the Illinois Corporate Board of Directors and on her local Farm Bureau and as publicity chairman for the Stephenson County Ag Breakfast. Ardath’s active participation in the dairy industry spans over many years and makes her well qualified to talk about this subject.

Ardath’s involvement in the industry started 40 years ago when she married Verlo DeWall, a neighbor boy and dairy producer who lived a few miles down the road. Ardath was born and raised on a beef and swine operation, so the dairy industry was new to her.

“My husband always had a real passion for registered cattle. He just loved to go look at cattle and always wanted to learn. It took me a while to become more passionate about dairy cows like he was. When you don’t grow up with it, you have to grow into having that passion for the business,” Ardath says.

Ardath started feeding calves and eventually milked the cows by herself once a day. She and her husband got involved with a local milk marketing co-op and the Junior Cooperators. Ardath became involved in the American Milk Producers Inc. for women. From then on, Ardath, Verlo and their two sons remained active and served in many positions in many organizations.

Being involved in the industry wasn’t always easy for Ardath. Juggling her family, farm and outside duties was complicated by Verlo’s health problems. When three bypass surgeries laid him up, Ardath and her two boys, Steve and Jeff, had to fill in for him. Ardath says that teamwork has been the main thing that has kept their family and farm running smoothly so they could continue to be involved in other things.

“When one of us was doing something, the other one filled that gap and carried on. Teamwork, supporting each other and never forgetting that underlying faith in God – you need that. You just have to be happy in where you live and what you do, work together and be happy to be together,” Ardath says.

Because of her active involvement in so many organizations, Ardath started working in organization-wide and national positions. These provided many opportunities to go places, meet important people and watch the industry change and develop.

“We went to various meetings on the national level, and we had the opportunity to hear such fantastic speakers,” Ardath says.

One such meeting was a Congressional dinner that she attended when she was on the National Dairy Board. While she was there she had the opportunity to meet President Reagan. “It was very brief. It was like, ‘So glad you’re here’, and that was it,” Ardath says.

Another similar opportunity presented itself at a Rural Caucus in Iowa, which she attended as president of AAW. While there she met President Clinton, Vice President Gore and Leon Panetta. “It’s exciting to meet a President and shake hands with them, no matter what party they are from. It’s just truly very exciting,” Ardath says.

Ardath was asked to testify twice in the hearings before the House Committee on Agriculture in 1989 when the Veal Calf Protection Bill was passed. About the same time she testified in the Illinois state legislature about another agriculturally related bill.

But part of Ardath’s message on the show is that women don’t have to serve on the national level to make a difference. They can and need to serve locally too.

“I talked about a few of the programs there are. I maybe focused a little more on schools, the child nutrition and fitness initiative and a couple of those programs. I focused on how some of the individual promotion groups are promoting on the local level. You don’t just have to work on the national level, you can work on the local and state levels and try to incorporate promotion activities on all those levels as well,” Ardath says.

Ardath says she has appreciated all the things she’s learned and seen, and feels that it has expanded her knowledge and experience. “So much has transpired over they years, and I’ve seen so much history that has taken place,” she says.

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