A new attraction in Wisconsin is giving consumers a glimpse into the importance of agriculture to the state and shines a spotlight on dairy.
The last weekend of July the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center opened its doors to visitors in Manitowoc with a grand opening. The newly opened center hopes to educate consumers about agriculture in the state with 29,000 sq. ft. of interactive space.
“We're right of off I-43, an hour away from Green Bay, an hour from Milwaukee, and really an hour from Fox Valley,” says Melissa Bender, director of education and programming. “We really want everybody to learn about Wisconsin agriculture.”
The Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center exhibits highlighting the diversity of Wisconsin agriculture, field to fork production, balancing farming and the environment, and advancements in technology.
Dairy production is an important part of Wisconsin, also known as America’s Dairyland, so there is a special section dedicated to dairy production. Wisconsin ranks second nationally in dairy production and cow numbers with 1.28 million dairy cows producing over 30 billion gallons of milk in 2016, according to Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin.
A highlight of the center is the birthing barn. Visitors can see two to five calves born per day from cows shipped in from local dairy farms prior to calving. Seats are around the viewing area and if the cow turns the wrong way video cameras will show the miracle of birth to the audience on television screens.
Visitors also have the opportunity to tour a farm with Grotegut Dairy Farm offering visitors a glimpse at a 2,500 cow farm. A bus travels through the barn giving attendees a look at the cows while they feed and bed down.
“The cows don't seem to mind. I think they thought we were going to feed them,” says Lauren Rose Hofland, executive director. “About 98 percent of the people are fed by 2 percent of the population. We are so far removed from where our food comes from that it's become a real issue.”
The center was the brain child of the late Norval Dvorak, an innovator in agriculture who helped found the cooperative that would become Land O’Lakes and taught veterans about farming practices following World War II. Dvorak formed a committee in 2011 to help bring a showcase of Wisconsin agriculture to Manitowoc, similar to Fair Oaks Farms.
Fundraising efforts in 2015 helped raise $8 million in private funds and a $5 million grant from the state. Construction began in 2017.
“It's really amazing how the state and the community came together to build this facility,” Bender says. “Norval really wanted this to educate.”
The Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center hopes to attract 100,000 visitors in the first year of operation. It is open seven days a week from 10 am to 6 pm.