The state’s newest museum allows visitors to simulate driving a combine at harvest time, lift a faux block of cheese, learn how yogurt is made and discover more about mink, fish, poultry and bison farms in Wisconsin.
There is an interactive exhibit that uses kinetic sand, lights and a computer program to simulate what happens when land and water are altered. Other displays showcase farmers markets, soil, honey, automatic milking machines, robotic feed pushers and drones that can spot weeds.
But when it comes to learning about the birth of a calf, the $13 million Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center, which opened Saturday in Manitowoc County, skips the simulators and props.
Instead, the 29,000-square-foot museum has opted for the real deal.
An octagon-shaped birthing barn next to the museum allows visitors to watch two to five calves being born each day. The animals, shipped from a nearby farm, are behind a fully enclosed glass wall. The audience watches from stadium benches tiered in a half-circle. A video screen and camera are also on hand just in case the mother cow decides to turn her backside away from the crowd.
The whole idea is to give a population that increasingly is removed from the day-to-day workings of a farm an immersive experience on how food goes from farm to table and to showcase the state’s diverse and evolving agricultural industry.
“Everybody used to be on a farm or a generation removed,” said Roger Sinkula, who helped lead efforts to create the center. “We’re at that point now where we’re three to four generations removed from a farm.”
Agriculture contributes $88.3 billion annually to the state’s economy and accounts for nearly 12 percent of its jobs, according to the state Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection.
The state’s ag economy includes equipment manufacturing, research at its universities, apples grown on The Ridge near Gays Mills, cherries picked on the Door County Peninsula and potatoes harvested on the sand flats of Portage County.
The state leads the nation in the production of cheese, snap beans, cranberries, ginseng, mink pelts and milk goats. The state’s 1.28 million dairy cows in 2016 produced over 30 billion gallons of milk, or 14.2 percent of all milk produced in the U.S., according to Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, formerly known as the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. That ranks second only to California.
But while milk production remains robust, thanks to increasingly larger farm operations that can milk thousands of cows a day, milk prices are down, there are concerns about tariffs and small dairy farms are vanishing across the state. According to the latest figures from DATCP, there are 8,463 licensed dairy herds in Wisconsin. In July 2004, there were 15,488.
The losses, combined with more automation, means fewer people are working on farms. The Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center, located on 36 acres along Interstate 43 south of Manitowoc, is designed to help bridge the gap between producers and consumers. Officials hope to attract school and tour groups, families and tourists making their way to and from Door County, Green Bay Packers games and northern Wisconsin.
Source: Wisconsin’s State Journal