On any sort of summer road trip -- from Kansas to Colorado to Wisconsin to Indiana, you’re bound to see a vast agricultural landscape and plenty of farmland -- maybe it’s red barns, corn silos or goats and cows. But, if you’re like me, looking out that window might be the closest you’ve ever been to a real farm.
Most people probably won’t be able tell you much about the farms outside their window, because an estimated 98 percent of our nation’s population have no direct connections to farming. And for our farmers, we need to tell the story of food production.
At Land O’Lakes, our purpose of Feeding Human Progress also means talking honestly and openly about agriculture with those who may not have direct ties to agriculture. As a Farmer-owned cooperative and vast agribusiness, Land O’Lakes is in a prime position to tell that story.
But you don’t have to hear it from us -- our farmer-members are happy to take up the cause as well to tell their story.
Farm Wisconsin takes you "Beyond the Barn"
Along Interstate 43 between Milwaukee and Green Bay, Wisconsin, there’s a stop at exit 144 that’s all about modern agriculture. Along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center provides an interactive experience for visitors to better understand the importance of agriculture and farming. The 10,000 square-foot facility opened to the public in late July.
In 2010, when Farm Wisconsin was just an idea, Land O'Lakes farmer-members wasted no time offering their support.
"As folks living and breathing agriculture, farmers know how amazing the industry we are a part of is, says Julie Maurer, Farm Wisconsin board president and Soaring Eagle Dairy, a Land O'Lakes, Inc. member farm. "Now it's time to share that story with the 98 percent of the population who are not actively engaged in farming."
Last year, the Land O'Lakes Foundation alongside farmer-members generously supported the building and naming of the Land O'Lakes, Inc. Birthing Barn, where visitors can watch calves being born. Farm Wisconsin also features:
Educational displays and hands-on learning opportunities about global farming and sustainability
An opportunity to tour Grotegut Farm, a progressive third-generation dairy farm focused on sustainability and farming best practices
And, of course, there’s also a café and country store featuring Wisconsin products like delicious ice cream and cheese, as well as an outdoor playground.
“We all play a role in agriculture’s future prosperity and to ensure a better tomorrow,” Land O’Lakes farmer-member and Board Chairman Pete Kappelman says. “We all need to engage in this conversation. Children and adults, experts and lawmakers, farmers and consumers. And that is why Land O’Lakes had to be here, to be a leader in this project.”
On July 16, there was a special ribbon cutting event celebrating the public and private support that brought the Farm Wisconsin Discover Center to life. Around 300 of the center’s key sponsors and advocates, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, spent the afternoon hearing from key contributors and getting a sneak preview of the interactive exhibits meant to bring agriculture to life.
An agritourism legacy in Indiana
For the past decade, Fair Oaks Farm outside of Indianapolis has been showing visitors what it’s like to run a dairy and pork farm, drawing 500,000 visitors a year.
The farm collective behind fairlife milk has 40,000 cows on hand, tours of the farm and a “birthing barn” where visitors can experience a calf being born. Next up? A barn-shaped hotel that’s set to open in early 2019.
Kids can also tour the Pig Adventure or the WinField Crop Adventure which is sponsored through Land O'Lakes, Inc. The latter takes them into an interactive exhibit under the soil of a farmer’s field to understand how crops grow and how agronomists and scientists are helping move agriculture forward.
After touring the grounds, the next stop might be a hop onto the bus to get a tour of the Dairy Farm across the street. Fair warning: the windows might be slightly fogged up from the kids’ scrunched noses as they check out the cows in the barns.
Then you’ll view the milk rotator, where cows are contentedly milked, and finally, you can hop back on the bus and head back to Fair Oaks to try some delicious, homemade ice cream.
It’s about making the connections from farm-to-fork
Without experiencing agriculture firsthand, it can be hard to know how cows are kept comfortable during milking, what an adjunct is or how food gets from a field to your shelf.
After a trip to agritourism centers like Farm Wisconsin or Fair Oaks Farms, visitors can get back to the farm – at least for the day. For those of us who have never been on a farm before – agritourism isn’t a window to the farm, it’s a door.
One parting tip: Wherever you stop, make sure to stock up on some farm-fresh snacks to take with you on your way out. Your kids will thank you later.