History of the WDAN
The Wisconsin Dairy Artisan Network grew out of a farmstead dairy conference sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in 1999. This one-day conference focused on on-farm value-added processing of milk, with the intention of meeting the growing interest in direct-marketed value-added products made on a single farm. An unexpectedly high attendance prompted organizers to provide special attention to farmstead dairy producers, as the organizers realized they needed to better understand their needs and provide further support to them.
In 2000, three Field Days were held: one at LoveTree Farmstead, David and Mary Falk’s sheep dairy operation; another at Buckwheat Acres, Sara Bredesen’s goat dairy business; and a third at Specialty Cheese Inc., Paul Scharfmann’s specialty cheese plant. Attendees had a chance to hear how each of these producers developed their businesses and discuss their interests and concerns.
In February 2001, an ad hoc committee of interested farmstead and small-farm producers met and agreed to develop goals for the growing farm-based dairy processing and marketing community.
In 2001, a second trio of Field Days was held: the first at Butler Farms, Bill and Janet Butler’s sheep dairy; the next at Cedar Grove Cheese, Bob Wills’ custom cheese processing plant; and Radiance Dairy, Francis Thicke’s organic farm in southeast Iowa that does on-farm milk bottling, ice cream and cheese. The success of these Field Days highlighted the viability of these small-scale operations and demonstrated the need for continued opportunities for interested producers to come together.
The foundation was being laid for the growing artisan and farmstead dairy community, and needs that could be addressed were being identified and outlined. So in 2001, the Value Added Bureau of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection received a USDA grant. The grant objectives were to reach the people who were exploring or doing farmstead dairying with technical information, marketing models, financial resources, educational opportunities and mentors. The project was intended to be driven by volunteers from the dairy industry, with oversight and technical support from DATCP, the University of Wisconsin , UW-Extension and other state government agencies. To that purpose, a newly formed steering committee met several times a year to direct educational programming, a newsletter and a website, along with addressing regulatory issues.
In 2004 DATCP, working with state, federal and private partners, developed the Value Added Dairy Initiative to help restore and reinvigorate its transitioning dairy sector. With the support of Senator Herb Kohl, Congress earmarked federal grant funds – matched by in-kind contributions of agencies and organizations within Wisconsin ’s dairy sector – for Wisconsin to carry out this initiative. Two groups were formed to lead the charge:
Dairy Business Innovation Center
With a team roster of world-class dairy experts, the DBIC provides a full array of technical assistance services to new and emerging specialty dairy businesses.
Grow Wisconsin Dairy Team
Made up of a group of Wisconsin interagency members, the team coordinates and focuses resources for dairy farmers modernizing their businesses and processors streamlining the supply chain.