Construction of the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center in Manitowoc County, Wis., is well underway and will likely be completed by early next summer. The $13 million agricultural education center is expected to attract groups of schoolchildren, families and tourists from across the state and beyond Wisconsin’s borders.
Melissa Bender, director of education and programming for the center, has been part of the project since May 2015 and is excited to see construction of the facility taking shape. Kim Kowieski, director of operations, who has been involved in the project since December 2016, says they expect to finish the facility by early next summer. Bender and Kowieski are involved in many aspects of the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center project, from the capital campaign to developing exhibits to working with Bayland Buildings Inc., which is constructing the facility.
Bayland Buildings broke ground for the facility in October 2016 and began excavating at the end of May. The center will be an interactive, state-of-the-art facility “that will provide visitors with the opportunity to connect to the industry by better understanding where their food comes from and why agriculture is so important to them,” Bender says.
The facility will include a 29,000-square-foot Discovery Center that features hands-on learning opportunities through many interactive displays.
A highlight for visitors will be the chance to view the live birth of calves in the Birthing Barn, which is adjacent to the Discovery Center.
“We hope to average four to six calves being born per day,” Bender says. “We are working out details with a local farm to make this happen. We don’t want the animals to travel very far.”
In addition to the Discovery Center, there will be a 300-person conference center, an outdoor playground, and a cafe and country store featuring Wisconsin products.
“It’s definitely an exciting project,” Bender says.
Visitors will see a short video welcoming them to the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center and encouraging them to tour the facility. Tickets, food and product sales will support the center financially.
The 36-acre site is located along the west side of Interstate 43, less than 15 minutes from Manitowoc and Sheboygan.
“You can see Farm Wisconsin from the interstate, which we think will help encourage visitors to stop in,” Bender notes.
Part of the reason this site was selected for the center is because 43,000 vehicles travel on Interstate 43 daily, Kowieski says. “We hope to be able to capture some of the traffic going to and from Door County.”
The facility is also located about an hour from Green Bay to the north and from Milwaukee to the south.
“We think this will be a great place for parents and grandparents to bring their children and grandchildren,” Kowieski says. “They can stop here, get an ice cream cone and check out our facilities.”
Bender and Kowieski have big plans for the new facility.
“We hope to host wine and cheese events, weddings, business meetings and educational events here,” Bender says. “North of the building, we have some forested acres. We hope to develop a walking trail.”
“We also have acreage to the south that we could potentially expand to in the future,” Kowieski adds.
Lakeshore Technical College is located in nearby Cleveland. The college has a strong agriculture program and has built a new building adjacent to the Birthing Barn. Starting in January, Lakeshore Tech will offer many of its ag classes at the new building.
Bender praises the help of a lot of volunteers and the 19-member board of directors in carrying out this project. Many board members have been involved since 2010, when the idea for the center was proposed by a group of local people with strong interests in agriculture. The late Norval Dvorak, a member of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Meat Animal Science Hall of Fame, renowned for his work in cooperative organization and leadership, led the effort.
“Norval encouraged a number of individuals to be involved,” Bender says. “We’ve had a lot of supporters who have donated their time to this project. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.”
A range of exhibits will be displayed on the second floor of the Discovery Center. The exhibits will focus on all areas of agriculture, including potatoes and dairy, the environment, the diversity of agriculture, as well as ag careers.
While the facility is located in an area of the state that is known for dairy production, Bender says the Discovery Center isn’t all about dairy.
“We wanted to make it unique to Wisconsin,” she says. “We want people to understand that dairy is a huge part of this, but we have all kinds of agriculture unique to Wisconsin on display here.”
Bender says a little over $12 million, or 93% of the total cost of the $13 million project, has been raised so far. They are still looking for additional support.
“We take all donations, including donations from businesses, farms and individuals,” Bender says. “We’ve had very good farm support throughout our fundraising.”
Bender and Kowieski are planning a large grand opening next summer.
“We want people of all backgrounds to visit Farm Wisconsin next summer and experience firsthand the uniqueness of agriculture in our state,” Bender says.
To follow the progress of the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center, check out the live construction camera and follow on Facebook at “Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center.”
Following is a list of some of the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center’s top donors.
• Land O’Lakes Foundation
• West Foundation Inc.
• Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board Inc.
• Country Visions Cooperative
• Investors Community Bank
• John C. and Catherine Miller and Family
• Riesterer and Schnell Inc.
• CP Feeds LLC
• Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition
• GreenStone Farm Credit Services
• Norval Dvorak’s Memorial
• Bayland Buildings Inc.
• American Foods Group LLC
• Cooperative Resources International
• Dairyland Seed Co. Inc.
• Steve and Melanie Dvorak
• John Deere
• Lakeside Foods Inc.
• Quality Roasting Inc.
• Stecker Machine Co. Inc.
A complete list of donors can be found online.
To see photos of the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center construction process, check out the slideshow.