By CJ Krueger
ALGOMA, Wis. – Kewaunee County hit a home run in mid-July with its first turn as host for Farm Technology Days.
Held at Ebert Enterprises near Algoma – just two miles from the shore of Lake Michigan – the event brought more visitors to the 60-acre Tent City than the county’s population of more than 20,400 citizens over its three-day run, said Kristy Pagel, FTD publicity chair.
“We were excited to learn the first day of the show attracted more than 10,000 visitors, the highest attendance on day one in several years,” she said.
Farm Technology Days is designed to showcase the latest improvements in production agriculture, including many practical applications of recent research.
Hosts Randy and Renee Ebert and their family were eager to open their fifth-generation farm to the public and give folks a glimpse at not only the latest in farm technology, but also to shine a spotlight on the many ag-related enterprises within the boundaries of the county.
In the 64-year history of the show – which FTD Executive Director Matt Glewen pointed out started out as a plowing contest and later became known as Farm Progress Day and most recently Farm Technology Days – this is the first time the state’s largest agriculture show was held in Kewaunee County.
Nestled along the shore of Lake Michigan and sandwiched between Door and Brown counties, Kewaunee County has plenty to share with visitors. In addition to the $170 million generated by milk production and $125 million generated by dairy processing, the county featured its other industries, including Christmas trees, cherries, fish, cheese, wine and more in Innovation Square.
“This is the first Farm Technology Days I’ve ever visited and before this I always thought of the Door County Peninsula as just tourism,” said Megan Thill, a visitor from Rhinelander. “This county is really diverse in all that it has to offer. I think people would be very surprised to see all the products that are produced in Kewaunee County.”
Thill said she was “blown away” by the farm tour in which visitors were able to see the farming operation up close, including the new 80-cow rotary parlor used to milk the family’s 3,000 cows three times a day.
“I guess I didn’t know what to expect, but certainly not this round, red barn,” Thill said. “It looked like something out of the past.”
Those personal touches were extremely important to the Ebert family. “My wife’s family came from a long line of barn builders and we wanted to honor that tradition from those long-ago barns and incorporate new technology,” Randy Ebert said.
Jordan Ebert, the family’s oldest child, said the family put in many long days preparing to welcome nearly 45,000 visitors.
“This show has already changed our lives before it even started,” he said. “We decided that since we only get to do this once, we were going to give it everything we got.”
Preparations for the show were also difficult and at the same time therapeutic for the family, who unexpectedly lost daughter Whitney’s twin sister, Britney, last May at the age of 19.
To honor her memory, the family named one of the streets in Tent City after Britney and created a display inside the Family Living Tent. Both tears and laughter were present following the opening ceremony as the family released dozens of butterflies. As the winged creatures fluttered skyward, Renee Ebert blew a kiss heavenward.
“It’s hard, but Britney’s everywhere,” Renee said.
Hosting the largest agricultural show in Wisconsin and one of the largest in the nation takes time and a large group of hardworking volunteers. A small army of 1,900 volunteers – also a record for FTD – kept visitors well fed, with 15,000 burgers and 11,250 bowls of ice cream consumed.
Pagel said before the show closed on the first day, ice cream purchased for the entire run of the show had been dished out to hungry visitors. A quick call brought in more supplies.
While the show opened under sunny skies, Mother Nature tested the mettle of show organizers when passing thunderstorms dumped heavy rains on the 60-acre Tent City and surrounding farm fields used for parking.
Luckily, Tent City was built over a well-drained field and the show still opened on time for the second day thanks to the planning and the decision-making of the grounds crews and volunteers. Using three vacuum tanks and spreading a fresh layer of wood chips, visitors were able to access the grounds with ease.
Despite some rain showers, Pagel said the show was a success.
“A fund-raising goal of $500,000 was exceeded from in-kind donations alone, due to the overwhelming support of local businesses and families for the 2017 show,” Pagel said. “Additionally, with final numbers still pending, the show is expected to exceed the net profit goals of the executive committee.”
Those traveling to the show say it was worth the trip, including Charlie Nett, who drove from La Crosse to visit the three-day farm show.
“I love these shows. I get to find out what’s coming down the pipe in farm technology, and I can tap all of these people for their knowledge, from the salespeople to the University of Wisconsin Extension folks,” he said. “I’m always amazed at how much I learn each year. And I enjoy getting to meet new people under the food tent. What’s not to like?”