Food + Farm Exploration Center begins educational mission with groundbreaking

Dan Hansen
Correspondent
Members of the Farming for the Future Foundation, and other stakeholders take part in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Food + Farm Exploration Center in Plover, Wis., on April 29, 2022.

PLOVER, Wis. –  As increasing numbers of American families no longer have a personal connection to farms, there is often a lack of understanding regarding the source of food – some may even think their food originates in the grocery store. 

Many people also have an outdated image of farming that is far different from today’s modern agricultural industry.

The Farming for the Future Foundation took an important step to help correct these misperceptions on April 29 when it officially broke ground for its state-of-the-art Food + Farming Exploration Center, which is slated to open in the summer of 2023.

Dedicated to helping families understand and appreciate their food and the people who grow it, the Farming for the Future Foundation (FFTFF) is a nonprofit organization founded by the Pavelski family and incorporated in 2018. The multi-generational family has been farming in central Wisconsin since 1873.

The mission of the foundation is to help educate current and future generations about agricultural innovations and sustainability. The Food + Farming Exploration Center will serve as an education hub with interactive exhibits and programming focused on various areas of farming, crop production and the latest agricultural  technology.

Located in Plover, just west of I-39 along one of the state’s most heavily travelled highways, the 24-acre site on which the center is being constructed was donated by the Worzella family, multi-generational potato and vegetable growers. A family representative said, “We’re thrilled to have the center built on land we’ve farmed for generations.”

Center’s mission

FFTFF Executive Director Candise Miller welcomed more than 200 people to the groundbreaking ceremony, including diverse members of the agricultural community, equipment suppliers and government officials.

FFTF Executive Director Candise Miller welcomed 200 attendees to the groundbreaking event.

“Many people just aren’t connected to the food they eat on a personal level anymore. We are working to bridge that divide, bringing people back to the table to have conversations about where their food comes from. Fostering a greater understanding of production agriculture is essential if we are to proactively address the challenges of feeding a growing world with fewer resources,” Miller said.

“I think of how much this project is like agriculture. We start with an empty field, we apply good planning, assemble a talented team, we nurture and we plant,” she said. “As a reward for our efforts, next year around this time, we will have grown a transformational project that will impact production agriculture and the people of our communities and state for generations to come.”

She emphasized that the Center will be a centralized place for the public to meet the people behind food production, to build new science and engineering skills, to connect, play and learn.

“It will be a teaching farm, a children’s museum, a science center and a community workshop all rolled into a tantalizing celebration of food and farming.”

The Center’s programming will also have a strong focus on workforce development. Richard Jaworski, director of the Food + Farm Exploration Center, said he sees the center as a place for engagement and learning through the various programming and practical hands-on training to be offered.

“I look forward to it being a leading agritourism destination that promotes STEM careers in agricultural sustainability and innovation through exciting and engaging programs and exhibits,” Jaworski said.

Demonstration fields will feature one-acre growing spaces, with each space having its own crop rotation and center-pivot irrigator. The center also will an AG STEM Lab, kitchen lab, children’s gallery and garden, a café, conference rooms and a climate-controlled greenhouse.

DATCP on board

Randy Romanski, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, also spoke at the groundbreaking. He acknowledged the Food + Farming Exploration Center’s importance to Wisconsin's $1.8 billion agriculture industry and the state’s overall economy.

DATCP Secretary Randy Romanski praised the project and thanked all those involved in working to bring the idea to fruition.

“Projects like this are critical to addressing the challenges facing our industry,” he stressed. “This will provide learning opportunities for future generations of producers, processors, milk haulers and retailers, and will ensure that even those who aren’t involved in agriculture understand the impact of the industry to our state and the world.”

Romanski praised all those involved in building the center. “We appreciate all the vision, time, energy, generosity and planning that it takes to get an idea like this off the ground.”

Fundraising continues

Through its Cultivating Connections campaign, chaired by Dick Okray, Richard Pavelski and Les Dobbe, the Foundation has raised more than $20 million of its $36-38 million goal. Fundraising is expected to continue throughout the next year bringing together multi-generational farmers, aligned industry members, friends and neighbors.

Richard Pavelski, a founding board member of the Foundation, announced Friday he will match up to $1 million raised through May 31.

“There has never been a greater need for people to understand where their food comes from,” Pavelski said. “The Center is critical to ensuring we can meet the growing demands of the industry, and that is why my family initiated this match program. We hope to inspire others to donate by maximizing their gift.”