“If you build it, they will come.” That line comes from the movie “Field of Dreams,” where a baseball diamond was constructed in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. In this case, it is not a ball diamond, but an agricultural educational complex built in a heavily dairy-focused area in northeast Wisconsin.
The Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center is a state-of-the-art, interactive agricultural education center. Its mission is to share the wonders of Wisconsin agriculture, encouraging consumers to explore the economic value of agriculture and better understand their food sources.
Explaining our views on agriculture to just one person may help build an understanding, but it seems like a drop in the bucket. A larger network of education exists to help tell the story of production agriculture. The facility that was built in 2018 has the ability to educate the masses in Wisconsin and beyond.
The Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center provides an opportunity for people unfamiliar with agriculture to get a glimpse of the science and technology involved in production agriculture, from the large combines that harvest corn to milk processing that produces and delivers a variety of dairy products to the stores.
There are over 10,000 square feet of learning space. The graphics are vibrant and include some hands-on activities for young children. The location features more than just dairy. Exhibits include vegetable production, row crops, career exploration, and soil conservation. Attendees can sit in a John Deere simulated combine and drive through a cornfield as the numbers on the digital readout count the bushels being added.
There is a station with a variety of ag careers. Exposing people to jobs not typically thought of within agriculture (scientists, engineers, bankers, and so forth) is valuable in attracting talented individuals to our industry.
After learning about everything that goes into getting food on the dinner table, youth (and adults) can write a thank you note to farmers to show their appreciation for growing the food that feeds them each and every day. The center sees that all cards are distributed to farmers in the state.
The facility also includes an elevated area enclosed with windows as walls where expecting cows deliver calves, known as the Land O’Lakes Birthing Barn. The stadium-style seating allows for a large crowd, and a Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center employee answers questions about the birthing process. A nearby dairy provides the cows for the exhibit. Each day new cows arrive, and newborn calves and their dams are returned to the dairy.
As I walked through the educational displays, I thought how great it could be if every fourth grade teacher in Wisconsin could visit this facility. It would give them a new outlook on agriculture when they teach their students about Wisconsin history, which is part of the school curriculum for this grade.
Making agriculture interesting and enjoyable gains us many fans. We can become frustrated when the typical citizen does not understand agriculture or the more broad concepts such as supply chains, input variability, the high cost of needed technology, labor struggles, and the concept of a non 8-hour work day. It can be a battle when others do not relate to these struggles, let alone understand the volatility of feed inputs and milk income. While not everyone embraces our chosen field, educating the public to better understand it can build alliances, whether that is personal or political. Having an informed city council or zoning board about agricultural practices can alleviate some of the communication issues that exist about farming.
Even those of us fully engrained in agriculture can benefit from a visit to the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center or a similar agricultural education center. It is also very enlightening to those of us wanting to learn more about another sector of agriculture. There is a café on-site as well as a gathering area where meetings or banquets (including wedding receptions and birthday parties) can be held. I attended an awards banquet for the local technical college there and thought it was a great place to further showcase our agricultural industry.
While it does not have the larger footprint of Fair Oaks in Indiana, guests from across the country stop to learn about the Wisconsin Farm Discovery Center in the hopes of building something similar in their home areas, shared Patty Lehn, the center’s executive director.
The Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center is open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Its hours of operation were reduced due to COVID-19, but the facility will open for groups of 25 or more on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. Regular hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The entrance fee includes a bus ride through a working dairy in addition to the educational displays and birthing center.
If you find yourself in northeast Wisconsin, I highly recommend a visit. Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center is conveniently located right off of I-43, at 7001 Gass Lake Road in Manitowoc. It is a chance to reflect on our diverse agricultural landscape and appreciate all the components that bring food to our tables.
The author is the online media manager and is responsible for the website, webinars, and social media. A graduate of Modesto Junior College and Fresno State, she was raised on a California dairy and frequently blogs on youth programs and consumer issues.