If you have driven past Manitowoc on Interstate 43 any time in the last year, you may have noticed a big, beautiful brand new barn going up just west of the roadway. The Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center (FWDC), a 29,000-square-foot agricultural exhibition space, held its opening for approximately 200 donors and members of the press on July 16, sharing the vision and anticipation for what the center would bring to Wisconsin’s agriculture industry.
“Together, here, we will tell our story,” said Julie Maurer, president of the FWDC board of directors and owner of Soaring Eagle Dairy in Manitowoc County. “Because of our collective efforts, more and more Americans will better understand the role of agriculture in their lives.”
Governor Scott Walker, who helped cut the ribbon on the new facility, said the ability for the FWDC to answer the question of where our food comes from is one of the most important roles it will play in the state.
“We appreciate that food doesn’t just show up at the store,” Walker said. “It’s not just about telling people who didn’t grow up on a farm what it was like, it’s about telling people, whether they grew up on the farm, about the important opportunities of farming and agriculture in the state.”
Walker said the second goal of the facility, and the one he is most excited about, is the ability to inspire the younger generation to explore careers in farming that will keep them in Wisconsin. In light of an extremely tight labor market with unemployment at record low levels and the dearth of farm workers, the FWDC can serve as a recruitment tool.
“I think the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center will be one more compelling reason to put our graduates on a path to say there are tremendous opportunities not just for a job, not just a paycheck, but for careers,” Walker said.
The state kicked in $5 million for the facility, which was then matched by donors. Geared toward those who are curious but unfamiliar about what life on the farm is like, the facility includes exhibits on the various aspects of agriculture in Wisconsin: history, the food supply chain and land stewardship. It also includes a birthing barn, where visitors can see the birth of a calf.
“As farmers, as growers, as producers, we have to become more and more concerned about the consumer,” said Sheila Harsdorf, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). “We need to continue to educate and inform the consumer more about what actually is happening on our farms.”
The center was the vision of Norval Dvorak, a Kewaunee County-born farmer who had a lasting impact on agriculture in the region and around the globe. Dvorak, who died in 2015 at the age of 93, spent his life bringing the community and the farming industry together. The FWDC is seen as an extension of that vision.
“This passion about the need for education to increase public awareness in agriculture is really the foundation of [Norval’s] concept of the FWDC,” said Norval’s son, Steve Dvorak. “Unfortunately dad and mother could not see this project finished, but I know [they are] looking down and are very pleased with what this community and state have accomplished here.”
The grand opening for the public takes place July 28 and 29. The center is located at 7001 Gass Lake Road, Manitowoc. For more information visit farmwisconsin.org.