The newest farm attraction in Wisconsin invites visitors to indulge in up to 16 varieties of Wisconsin ice cream, take a bus tour through a working dairy farm and even witness a calf’s birth from auditorium-style seating.
The Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center has exceeded expectations since opening in July 2018. This nonprofit venue certainly meets its mission: to entertain visitors while connecting them to modern-day Wisconsin agriculture, an industry that contributes $88.3 billion annually to the state’s economy.
“The face of farming has changed in so many ways,” says Julie Maurer, a dairy farmer and president of the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center Board. “To have the opportunity to ‘go beyond the barn’ and experience some of that greatness and learn about the advances making agriculture better today than it was yesterday or 40 years ago is really exciting to do.”
Center Opens Doors to Modern Farms
The Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center has come a long way since its inception in 2010. Today, it represents a $13 million donor-funded, state-of-the-art agritourism complex situated on 36 acres between Milwaukee and Green Bay. The experience includes three main components: a farm bus tour, an exhibit barn of hands-on activities, and the Land O’Lakes Birthing Barn. The site also includes a café and ice cream parlor featuring Wisconsin-grown fare for lunch, snacks and dessert.
“I think definitely our birthing barn is the No. 1 attraction,” says Melissa Bender, director of education and programming at Farm Wisconsin. “It is such an awe-inspiring experience to watch a new life come into the world.”
The birthing barn manager fields questions throughout the day and a site-wide speaker system alerts guests of an impending birth. Meanwhile, a coach bus takes guests on a scheduled farm tour through a dairy farm three miles down the road, where a video guides them through the sights of this three-generation family farm.
Back at the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center, about 10,000 square feet of interactive experience space awaits in the site’s big red barn.
“We want people to realize there is much more to Wisconsin agriculture than what they see in the countryside,” Bender says. “It can include cranberries, potatoes, mint and more.”
In fact, the state ranks first in the nation for production of cranberries, ginseng, mink pelts, dry whey for humans, milk goats, snap beans for processing, cheese and corn for silage.
Demonstrating Farm Diversity
From alfalfa to zucchini, the museum-quality exhibit space at the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center allows guests to experience all things related to Wisconsin agriculture.
Kids and adults can feel like they work at one of the state’s bustling cheese plants by lifting a block of cheese. They can churn butter or fill a plate with Wisconsin-grown foods from all the major food groups. A popular combine simulator allows visitors to experience a corn harvest and hold a friendly competition to see who can harvest the most bushels.
Kids especially love the kinetic sand table that replicates the topography of Wisconsin. They can build hills and valleys and watch water move to learn about nature and soil conservation.
“It’s so thrilling to hear comments of people who have visited,” says Maurer, who owns Soaring Eagle Dairy with her parents and siblings about five miles from Farm Wisconsin. “Based on the feedback from the folks who have visited, it’s a fun experience. It’s interesting. It satisfies their curiosity. We provide them with the opportunity to experience Wisconsin agriculture in the discovery center, taste Wisconsin agriculture in our café and take Wisconsin agriculture home with them in our country store. I really think we got the product right.”