By Matt Reese
There is a line from the 1989 baseball movie Field of Dreams I thought of on a summer tour of the incredible MVP Dairy near Celina in Mercer County: If you build it, they will come.
For all of the folks out there who have been demanding ever-increasing transparency of the processes required to get their favorite foods in convenient packaging to the shelves of their handy grocery store at astonishingly low prices, they built it. Now, will you come see it? Will you appreciate the amazing lengths MVP Dairy (and the food industry in general) has gone to not only provide an incredible level of transparency but also showcase it in an easy to enjoy way? I hope so, but I’m not sure.
In this era of more specific demands of each end of the food supply chain, I am not sure many consumers really know what they are asking. It also seems that when their demands are met, some consumers do not really like the scope of what they see. Consumer demand asks agriculture to build it, but when it is built, rather than celebrate the feat of human will, engineering, and mastery over animals and nature, the farm or the processor is too often criticized, scorned and maligned. Is MVP Dairy an incredible effort to provide what consumers demand in an environmentally friendly, animal-care-emphasizing way, or is it big agribusiness partnering with corporate America for profit at the expense of animals? MVP Dairy may be viewed as both by increasingly fickle consumers.
MVP (an acronym for McCarty-VanTilburg Partnership) Dairy is a joint effort of the VanTilburg family that brings local connections and extensive agronomic expertise to the venture and the McCarty family that brings a long dairy heritage and corporate connections with Danone North America to the table. The MVP Dairy site is only 18 miles from Danone’s facility in Minster, the largest yogurt-making plant in the U.S., where popular products including Activia, Danimals, Dannon, Light & Fit and Oikos are made.
From my perspective, the MVP facility, people, animal care, and environmental stewardship are incredibly impressive. Wow! The agricultural operation is truly amazing. Here, though, I wanted to highlight the impressive learning center and educational opportunities at MVP.
The 15,000-square-foot learning center is open to the public with interactive displays sharing the story of how milk is produced and how dairy foods are made. Visitors can watch
the 80-cow carousel milking parlor in action from an overlooking balcony. The learning center also includes a fun virtual reality game allowing visitors to digitally run the diary facility and learn how everything works. In addition, there are virtual grocery store coolers featuring (of course) the many yogurt products produced at the nearby Minster plant. Visitors can touch a product on the screen to learn its origins from the soil to the yogurt cup, meeting the people (including numerous area dairy farmers who produce milk for the plant in addition to MVP Dairy) involved with the process through videos along the way. A trip through the MVP learning center would not be complete without a stop at the yogurt/coffee bar to sample some of those products in real life after learning how they were made through virtual means.
The MVP Dairy Learning Center is currently open to the
public by appointment only (with regular hours coming this fall). The eventual plan is to charge a small fee for most groups to offset the cost of hosting school groups free of charge. You can follow the MVP dairy Facebook page for updates and be on the lookout for a new website at www.MVPdairyllc.com.
All in all, from the crop production to the manure management (and back to the crop production again) MVP melds the old school appeal of dairy farming with state-of-the-art environmental and animal care standards carefully and painstakingly crafted to meet and exceed modern demands of transparency and accountability. It has been built. It is impressive. Will interested consumers seeking transparency and accountability come? And will they finally appreciate the incredible triumph of mankind that is our food system so conveniently showcased in one place? I hope so.