Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center announces grand opening

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
The Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center is set to open in 2018 in Manitowoc County.

MANITOWOC - After eight years of planning and dreaming, the vision set forth by a committed board of directors, staff and volunteers will become a reality when the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center (Farm Wisconsin) opens its doors this summer.

Melissa Bender, director of education and programming for Farm Wisconsin says the local community, visitors and dignitaries from across the state—will celebrate the Center’s grand opening on Saturday, July 28. Farm Wisconsin is located south of Manitowoc at 7001 Gass Lake Rd., northwest of the I-43 and County Road C intersection.

"Farm Wisconsin is an opportunity (for visitors) to learn about Wisconsin's rich farm history," Bender said.

Despite cold temperatures and snow-covered roofs, construction has been moving along and a grand opening is scheduled for July 2018.

The $13 million attraction is a world-class, interactive discovery center that will focus on the diversity of Wisconsin agriculture within a framework of sustainable and responsible farming practices.

“Only 2 percent of Americans produce food for the other 98 percent of us,” said Julie Maurer, Farm Wisconsin board president and a Manitowoc County dairy farmer. “Wisconsin has a rich agricultural heritage. Visitors to the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center will connect with that heritage and learn about the fascinating future of agriculture through interactive exhibits, farm tours and a birthing barn where they can witness the miracle of calves being born.”

FWDC has leased land to Lakeshore Technical College on which is has built classrooms, at its own expense, for their Dairy Herd Management and Agribusiness students.

Nic Schoenberger, Farm Wisconsin board vice president continued, “As a farmer, I am most pleased with Farm Wisconsin’s focus on agriculture and conservation. The land is our most important asset. The evolution of farm practices to minimize environmental impact is a great story.”

Since Oct. 11, 2016, when the board of directors and supporters broke ground, motorists traveling down I-43 have watched the interactive discovery center take shape. Despite cold temperatures and snow-covered roofs, Bender says construction has been moving along with the roof on the big red barn completed over the past month.

"The conference center will be erected in a few weeks,"  Bender said, adding that everyone involved in the project is on track for the grand opening this summer.

Farm Wisconsin will welcome an estimated 100,000 visitors per year including school groups, bus tours, and visitors of all ages.

Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center is located south of Manitowoc at 7001 Gass Lake Rd.,, northwest of the I-43 and County Road C intersection.


  • A 29,000 square foot discovery center with educational displays and hands-on learning opportunities
  • A birthing barn where visitors can watch calves being born
  • A 300-person conference center
  • nature trails
  • An opportunity to tour a local dairy farm
  • A café, ice cream counter and country store featuring Wisconsin products 

Bender says Farm Wisconsin is at 96 percent of its $13 million goal. The outpouring of donations from across the state from the agribusiness community has been impressive. During the groundbreaking ceremony in 2016, it was announced that the Farm Wisconsin project was a recipient of a $5 million Non-State Grant.

Jean Dvorak, Corey Geiger, Ann O'Leary, Sarah Klavas, Rebecca Kleefisch, Melissa Bender, Roger Sinkula, Shawn Mueller, Lydia Botham and Julie Maurer break ground on the Wisconsin Agricultural Education Center in October 2016. Not pictured: Dave Armstrong, LaurieSchetter and Nic Schoenberger.

The Non-State Grant allows the use of state funds on non-state construction/development projects that have a statewide public purpose. The grant is designed as a 50% matching fund and Farm Wisconsin officials put a capital campaign in motion to raise funds to move the project forward.

To kick-start the campaign, Farm Credit System announced its intention to support the center’s capital campaign with a $550,000 gift. Others soon followed including a $1 million donation from the Land O' Lakes Foundation and a $500,000 donation from Country Visions Cooperative and CP Feeds. In lieu of Sargento's philanthropic partnership, the restaurant at the center will be named "Wisconsin Cafe presented by Sargento".

"We are grateful for all those who have helped to make Farm Wisconsin come to life," Bender said. "We have had businesses, farms and individuals who have all given support to the project and for that we're truly grateful."

Bender says the center continues to welcome donations at all levels. Naming opportunities for selected areas are still available.

For more information or to make a donation, visit, find Farm Wisconsin on Facebook, or contact Lauren Rose Hofland at