The skies were grey, but smiles were bright as state government officials, board members and supporters broke ground on the Wisconsin Agricultural Education Center (WAEC) earlier this month.
The WAEC project has reached 80 percent of its $13 million fundraising goal. In addition to raising the last $2.5 million, board members are looking forward to seeing everything come together.
"Each phase of this project has been amazing to be a part of, but the groundbreaking is extra special. For us, it means that our goal to open the doors in 2018 is going to happen," says Julie Maurer, WAEC board president and Soaring Eagle Dairy, a Land O'Lakes, Inc. member farm. "Our board of directors has been planning for this day for five years and reaching this point, with the support of sponsors like Land O' Lakes, is thrilling!"
The best part of all is being able to share the story of modern ag with people of all ages.
"As folks living and breathing agriculture, farmers know how amazing the industry we are a part of is, says Julie. "Now it's time to share that story with the 98 percent of the population who are not actively engaged in farming."
If you build it, they will come
Just off Interstate 43 in Manitowoc County is a field that is the future home of the WAEC, a 29,000 square-foot facility dedicated to educating people on the origins of their food. Since 2009, a dedicated team of people have worked to make this agri-tourism and teaching facility a reality through fundraising and good old-fashioned "spreading the word."
"Our group has put in countless hours of meeting and planning time," says Nic Schoenberger, WAEC Board of Directors Vice President and Greendale Dairy, also a Land O'Lakes member farm. "During this time, I'm sure everyone wanted to speed up the progress!"
Last year, the Land O'Lakes Foundation gifted $1 million to support the building and naming of the Land O'Lakes, Inc. Birthing Barn, where visitors can watch calves being born. The facility, which will share the story of modern agriculture like Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana, will feature:
- Educational displays and hands-on learning opportunities
- An interactive globe that will showcase population density and highlight the importance of finding a way to feed the world
- A 300-person conference center
- An opportunity to tour Grotegut Farm, a progressive third-generation dairy farm focused on sustainability and farming best practices
- A café and country store featuring Wisconsin products and an outdoor playground
"Our building committee is working vigorously to finalize the building plans and hope to start moving dirt this spring," says Nic.