May 28, 2012

The Mystery Trip Continues

The next part of the trip took us back to Wisconsin to Wausau and its surroundings.  There we stayed at the Jefferson Street Inn in the center of the small city, right next to lots of shops and a mall.
We had a wonderful filet mignon dinner, prepared for our group and served in one of the large rooms available.  In the midst of the meal, the tornado sirens began to blare.  Soon the manager came, saying that a tornado had touched down on the edge of the city, so we were all escorted into a stairwell where we spent about 20 minutes before the all-clear was given.  "Making a memory..."
We picked up a local guide the next day who took us on a tour of the city, showing us the large, elaborate homes of the timber barons from the early days of the area.  Our first stop was an art museum filled with beautiful woodcuts and NASA inspired art by famous artists such as Norman Rockwell and Annie Liebowitz.

Then we went into the country, the heart of dairyland.  Our first stop was at a technical school where we were given a tour of their agricultural facility, primarily their dairy operation which uses a robotic milking machine.  Because of electronic tagging on the animal, the robot recognizes the cow when it enters, whether it is time for it to be milked, its udder measurements, etc. and so no humans really are involved.  If a cow goes into the stall and it's not time for milking, the gate opens and they are refused (not fed).  Computers log all aspects of feed mix and milk output.

Our next stop at Willow Springs Garden gave us a look at a restored town hall and a round barn in the process of being restored.  The whole farm is used for special events and festivals which are very popular in the region.  One couple owns and manages it all.  There we were divided into three groups: one group made butter (Jim), one group made ice cream, and the last group made mozarella cheese (Dianne). Our masterpieces were then served to us as part of our lunch!

Photos: Making butter
and mozarella cheese

Photos of the round barn, interior and exterior.  It is sporting brand new siding, but much work is needed yet on the inside.

Our next stops were at two very different dairy farms - one enormous operation with 3000 cows and the other, a smaller family farm with 70.  The first place was "a little" pungent!  Whew! 
The family farm also raised ginseng as a crop to be sold, mainly to China.  It is harvested after three years of growing and is quite a risky, labor intensive crop to bring to maturation when the root is harvested and dried.  Wisconsin is the leading state for ginseng production in the U.S.

After a comedy of errors at dinner that night (long story), we were on our way home on Saturday morning with a little more knowledge, a new group of acquaintances, and some tales to tell. 

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