Since 1886, the Farm & Industry Short Course (FISC) has been drawing students to the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus for certificate-level education in the agricultural industry. Now, thanks to donor support, they can go off campus for an experience as diverse as their career prospects.
From a goat’s milk creamery to a wholesale flower grower, the stops along the inaugural Agricultural Experience Tour in November 2017 went far beyond the typical Wisconsin farm. The two-day bus trip rolled through the northeast quadrant of the state, allowing students to connect with each other, instructors, and FISC alumni now involved in successful businesses.
The Farm & Industry Short Course, housed in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS), offers more than 30 courses in subjects including crops, dairy, meat animals, soils, agricultural engineering, farm business management, human relations, and communications. After graduation, FISC students find many types of agricultural jobs, including crop assistant, milker, herdsman, and farm manager.
Showcasing successful alumni
“We wanted to provide them with a shared experience to show the diversity of agriculture that exists within our state’s borders,” said Cindy Fendrick, FISC’s assistant director. “We hoped they would begin to see how their Short Course education will serve them in their agricultural career paths.”
William Zeimet of Cottage Grove, Wis., who was a first-year student during the tour, had never seen a rotary milking parlor until the tour stopped at Pagel’s Ponderosa, a 5,000-plus cow dairy operation in Kewaunee. Interested in becoming a dairy farmer, he found inspiration at Kampy Holsteins in the village of Brandon, meeting alumni Darren and Derek Kamphuis, who used their education to expand their family’s farm.
“The cool thing was that the business plan they used to do the farm expansion, they put it together while in school here,” says Zeimet. “It’s a class that I could take next year. They were able to take what they learned home to the farm and apply it.”
Agritourism and ‘goat yoga’
LaClare Family Creamery in Malone was a memorable stop for Joe Powalisz of Manitowoc, Wis. Students learned about the increasing demand for goat’s milk cheeses and yogurts from the award-winning creamery and niche events, such as ‘goat yoga.’ Powalisz was also impressed by the agritourism offerings for school groups and the public at Meuer Farm in Chilton.
“I think there’s actually a market out there for ag education — not just in a classroom but on-site,” says Powalisz. “It’s important that people know where their food comes from.”
Students also visited Natural Beauty, a wholesale floral operation in the village of Denmark that produces millions of plants annually; Knigge Farms, a dairy with a robotic milking system in Omro; and Pollack-Vu Dairy in Ripon.
‘An amazing trip’
The tour was made possible by an anonymous $50,000 donation intended to provide diverse, out-of-classroom experiences for five years at no additional cost to the students.
“I would just say thank you [to the donor] from the bottom of my heart, because it was an amazing trip, and I wouldn’t have gotten an opportunity like that if it hadn’t been for them,” says Cricket Cushman of Mount Horeb, Wis. “Just being able to see what else there is out there beyond my ‘back 40,’ I find that so amazing.”