Driven by the desire to give something back to the dairy industry — and the need to educate and answer consumer concerns about food safety, food traceability, the environment, and the unfavorable press that agriculture has sometimes received — nine dairy families decided to create the Fair Oaks Farms Adventure Center. Located in northwest Indiana, this fun-filled learning center offers visitors the opportunity to view all aspects of one of the country’s largest dairy farms, while receiving information that addresses their questions and concerns — and allows them to rediscover their rural roots.
The center focuses on three key messages: Good for the environment, good for the cows, and milk and its products are good for you. These messages receive constant reinforcement through the 7 Wonders of Fair Oaks.
One of those wonders is the “Grass to Glass” exhibit hall located in the adventure center. This exhibit explains dairy producers’ role in environmental preservation. In keeping with the themed focus of “being good for the environment,” the exhibit showcases how Fair Oaks Farms protects the soil, water and air for future generations. This passionate care of the land is an important part of the dairy, and is reinforced through the creative use of animatronics. Visitors also learn how an anaerobic digester is used to turn manure, a waste product, into a usable resource.
From here, visitors go to the interactive area. Driving the message of “being good for you,” visitors can test their skills and knowledge with a variety of fun, educational activities. Learning can be as easy and enjoyable as answering nutritional questions correctly to get your “Calcium Climber” to the finish line. People are more likely to retain an educational message when you create a stimulating environment in which to learn. The adventure center was developed specifically to be that environment.
Up close and personal
Visitors also have the opportunity to board a cow-themed bus and take a 45-minute tour of one of the operating dairy farms. This behind-the-scenes tour gives visitors an up-close-and-personal look at a day in the life of a cow. Focusing on the message, “good for the cow,” visitors experience everything from feeding and sanitation to cow wellness and milk production. The bus stops at the milking parlor where visitors can observe the milk leaving the cow and being carried through the sanitized pipelines to the cooler. In keeping with the hands-on learning experience, two of the pipes have been routed through the observation deck so visitors can actually feel the temperature of the milk as it comes out of the cow and after it has been quick-cooled. Content, well-cared-for cows and sanitary handling practices produce a safe, superior product.
The most important part of the overall dairy process is birth. With that in mind, The Birthing Barn was designed to share the experience of birth with the public. Visitors are seated in a theater-style viewing area and have the opportunity to see how it all begins at the dairy, with the arrival of a calf which leads to milk production for the cow.
We explain that this fresh, premium milk ends up in their glasses or becomes one of Fair Oaks Farms’ award-winning cheeses or delicious ice creams. In addition, visitors also can watch cheese being made at the Fair Oaks Farms’ Cheese Factory.
Doing our part
Visitors who experience the tour leave with a better understanding of how it all comes together: “good for the environment, good for the cows, and milk and its products are good for you.”
Having the consumer feel not only good, but secure, about where dairy products come from and how they are processed is vital to the future of this industry. Fair Oaks Farms has accepted the assignment of educating the public about every facet of dairy production. It is an important role, and one that Fair Oaks Farms accepts with pride and passion.
Gary A. Corbett is chief executive officer for Fair Oaks Farms.