From harvesting corn to milking cows and bringing new life onto the farm, farmers work day in and day out to responsibly feed the planet. Knowing that 98 percent of the United States population has no direct tie to agriculture, we know it’s not every day that a person can take a peek into the daily life of these farmers. But that's the idea behind the proposed Wisconsin Agricultural Education Center (WAEC): to show people what modern agriculture is all about.
As a farmer-owned co-op, we share this commitment and that's why the Land O'Lakes Foundation recently announced a gift of $1 million to support the continued development of the WAEC. The gift will support the Land O'Lakes, Inc. Birthing Barn, where visitors will watch the birth of two to three calves per day.
"Today less than 2 percent of the United States population is involved in production agriculture. It's vital that we tell the great productivity and sustainability story of the American food and agriculture industry," says Chris Policinski, president and CEO. "Helping people understand that story is vital to our future need of producing enough food using fewer resources."
Located near the shoreline of Lake Michigan, the center will provide a world-class interactive experience highlighting sustainable and responsible farming practices. It also will serve as an educational resource for people who want to better understand the origins of their food. It will showcase the technology used to feed people around the world, feature a discovery center full of hands-on learning opportunities and provide tours of Grotegut Farm, a progressive third-generation dairy farm focused on sustainability and best farming practices.
"We are incredibly honored to partner with Land O'Lakes," says Melissa Bender, executive director of the Wisconsin Agricultural Education Center. "This leadership investment will help us tell the story of how productive and sustainable farmers are today, their focus on animal well-being, all leading to healthy living and a strong economy."
Support from the beginning
In 2010, when the WAEC was just an idea, Land O'Lakes member-owners wasted no time offering their support. Dairy member Julie Maurer of Soaring Eagle Dairy in Newton, Wisconsin, saw this as an opportunity to help people better understand the industry and quickly got involved. Julie, who now serves as chair of the WAEC board of directors, has worked to make the WAEC a reality by hiring an executive director and, of course, by fundraising.
As word of the center spread, another member helped kick-start the fundraising efforts. Steve Zutz, CEO, president and board member of Country Visions Cooperative, a Land O'Lakes member agricultural co-op in Reedsville, Wisconsin, quickly realized that the WAEC would be a great way to introduce people to agriculture.
The Country Visions board voted to donate $15,000 to the campaign, an amount that was matched dollar-for-dollar by the Land O'Lakes Foundation through the Member Co-op Match program. Country Visions' cooperative partner, CP Feeds, also donated $15,000. In addition to the Country Visions match, the Land O'Lakes Foundation contributed an extra $100,000 to the early fundraising efforts.
With a number of successes under their belts and the project continuing to move forward, Julie and Steve are excited for the WAEC and the visibility it will bring to agriculture. "It's a story that needs to be told," says Steve. "And what a great way to tell it!"