Donations driving progress with Wisconsin Ag Education Center

Members and Land O'Lakes fueling agriculture education in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Ag Education Center Construction Site

Our ongoing partnership with the Wisconsin Agricultural Education Center (WAEC) is a great indicator of the progress and impact that can happen when we all work together. Our dairy members, co-op members and the Land O’Lakes Foundation have all donated and made the project possible, from the ground up.

Along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, the Wisconsin Agricultural Education Center set out to provide an interactive experience for visitors to better understand the importance of agriculture and farming. The overall experience will highlight sustainability, responsible farming practices and educate folks on where their food comes from.

From the beginning, Land O’Lakes dairy and agriculture cooperative member-owners have made it a priority to donate, get involved and get the word out on the importance of this center. Many of our cooperatives have leveraged member match programs as well, in which the Land O’Lakes Foundation matches contribution dollar-for-dollar. Then, in 2015, the Land O’Lakes Foundation took it a step further and contributed $1 million to the project. This will support the building and naming of the Land O'Lakes Birthing Barn, where visitors can watch calves being born.

“I grew up on a farm, but there are many kids who are generations away from seeing a farm. They don't really understand how involved farming is. This gives them a chance to understand it,” says Dan Natzke, Land O’Lakes member-owner and owner of Wayside Dairy, located just outside of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Dan also sits on the board for WAEC.

Building from scratch

Across Wisconsin, companies, cooperatives and dairies have all been contributing to this project since the beginning.

Dan was called by the WAEC back in 2010 to see if he would be interested in sitting on their board. Since then, he’s been very involved in the construction process. And his passion for the project has only grown.

“Land O’Lakes made the first significant gift to the WAEC project as we began our capital campaign fundraising in 2015,” says Dan. “There are a lot of great committees and volunteers who have worked on this and the way that businesses have contributed is impressive. We live in an area that's just so passionate about the dairy industry and about agriculture.”

Country Visions Cooperative, located in eastern Wisconsin, is also proud to call itself an “early believer” of the project. They have made a five-year pledge to WAEC and were one of the original 24 farmers and companies that gave $15,000 to get the project off the ground.

“So few of the consumers in the world are even from the farm. We grow the food for the world, and a lot of the time you only hear the bad things about ag, not the good things. I think it’s our duty as leaders in agriculture to support this opportunity to educate people about it,” says Steve Zutz, CEO of Country Visions.

Almost there

Dan and Steve are both looking forward to the building’s completion. The current outlook from WAEC is to have the building completed by early summer 2018, so that the center can be open in time for summer travelers and vacationers headed up to Door County.

“My wife is an elementary school teacher and she's excited to get her own students out there,” says Steve. “We have a lot of high school and elementary students who are always looking for field trips; this could be a great learning opportunity for them.”

Dan is also looking forward to the opening of the center.

“I'm really looking forward to taking my grandkids out there – getting ice cream and having them see what the Wisconsin Ag Education Center has to offer,” says Dan.

Of course, for both Dan and Steve, it’s really about educating people on the agriculture sector. That’s something that Dan and Steve are both passionate about.

“With this project, we’re letting people know what being a farmer is all about. We're letting people see that farmers are passionate people who produce high quality milk, are concerned about the environment and take care of their employees and their cows,” says Dan.

Moving forward

The Wisconsin Ag Education Center is close to its fundraising goal of $13 million, but is still looking for donations to get them from 91 to 100 percent. You can see the construction through the real-time camera set up here.

Wisconsin ag members and direct dairy members can donate directly through the WAEC website. It’s also a great opportunity to take advantage of the member match and direct member match programs.

“Any way that we could maximize our dollars, we wanted to do,” says Steve. “That’s why we took part in the member match with Land O’Lakes. We wanted to do anything we could for WAEC.”

If you aren’t located in Wisconsin, keep in mind that the Land O’Lakes member match programs will match your contributions to eligible local nonprofits and organizations in your own community. Learn more about member matches  on the member website under Community Involvement.