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Taysha Veeman among three finalists who will soon vye for the state's top honor

SUBMITTED PHOTO - SPHS grad Taysha Veeman, the reigning Marion County Dairy Princess, will vie for the state title as well.

Between St. Paul and California, adding in a significant stop in Salem, Taysha Veeman will be one busy woman during the first month of 2020.

A 2019 graduate from St. Paul High School, Taysha enrolled at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo this past fall.  Following the winter break, she will head back to classes per usual. But a lifelong dream and goal will bring her back to the Willamette Valley shortly after winter term begins.

For the past year as the Marion County Dairy Princess, Veeman has been busy representing the county while promoting dairy products, educating the public about nutrition and enlightening her community about life on a dairy farm at local schools, fairs and events.

Oregon Dairy Women spokeswoman Jessica Jansen said that 2019 Oregon Dairy Princess Emily Henry and First Alternate Natalie Berry will pass on their titles during the ODM's 61st annual coronation banquet set for Jan. 18 at the Salem Convention Center.

Taysha will arrive with the other contestants and judges the prior morning for a full two days of interviews, speeches and prepared commercials promoting dairy products. The winner will be crowned at the conclusion of the coronation banquet.

"As a little girl, my family would attend nearly every state and our county's dairy princess contests. I watched as these beautiful women would stand on stage and share their passion for the dairy industry with others," Veeman said. "I knew that this is what I wanted to do someday, be one of the princesses."

While she is thoroughly enjoying her freshman year in San Luis Obispo – especially the weather – Taysha will fly back to see her dairy princess duties through. She joins Araya Wilks of Tillamook County and Jaime Evers of Klamath County as state finalists.

Dairy princess duties go much farther and deeper than pageants.

"The Oregon Dairy Princess program has provided six decades of promotion for the Oregon dairy industry. Our dairy princess ambassadors represent Oregon's 200 farm families including my family's farm," Becky Heimerl, Oregon Dairy Women president, said.

"Princess ambassadors provide Oregon students and the public with an understanding of dairy farming and how dairy foods can be a part of a healthy diet," she added. "Most Oregonians are at least two or three generations removed from the farm. Our hope is that this program offers people a connection to dairy farming and the ability to learn more about this important Oregon industry."

Veeman fits that bill well. The daughter of Rod and Toni Veeman, she has seen the ins and outs of her family's dairy pretty much since birth. "Before I could even walk dad strapped me in the little carrier and he'd take me out in the field," she reminisced. "Since I was 5, I would go out to help (in the dairy). I couldn't do much at that age… When I got older, I started helping my mom."

When she came home from San Luis Obispo for the holiday break, Toni Veeman wanted to employ her daughter's experience and put her to work milking about 300 cows.

"As soon as I got home, my mom said, 'glad you are home so I can put you to work,'" Taysha Veeman laughed.

There are always chores that need tending when working in agriculture and the dairy industry is no exception. There is a work ethic and bit of character building that comes with it. In Veeman's there is also some life direction and the pageant will be a part of how she pursues her goals.

"The young women that participate in our program gain extensive personal and professional development opportunities and go on to successful careers in education, healthcare, farming and more," Heimerl said. "Participants in the dairy ambassador program are also provided college scholarships to continue their education."

At Cal Poly, Veeman is studying agriculture and animal science. It's not new to her: in addition to running track and cross country in high school, she was active in 4-H and FFA, showing dairy and beef cattle at the Marion County fair. She said her college, while it doesn't have a veterinary medicine program, does have a lot of hands-on opportunities working with animals.

"They do enterprise classes, which count as units but not official classes," Taysha said. "You can go out to a dairy and help cows and calving. They have different ones (enterprise classes) for different species, too."

Early winter term will see some significant travel and that will tie in something she's envisioned all her life.

"I'll be juggling the pageant and school. I will be able to do some different events when I come back home for the holidays. Then I will go back to school and fly back for contests, then go back up to return to school," she said.

"It's definitely a challenge working with school. But it's what I've always wanted to do, so I'm making it work. Ever since I can remember going to county and state coronation for the dairy princess, I thought it was so cool that they were up there promoting the dairy industry -- and that's what I want to do because I love our cows."

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