“Most dairy farmers have strong roots in agriculture and feel very connected to agriculture. But, for the vast majority of people, they feel very removed from it," said Harrison. "Most kids don't get to see where food comes from or get to see a calf being born."
Harrison looked at his farm and cheese-making business as an ideal educational opportunity and addressed the issue by installing “The Udder Story,” a 5,000-square-foot exhibit and event center that offers an educational farm excursion. Visitors can see how feed is grown, how farmers previously milked cows by hand and how technology has improved efficiencies. Sweetwater Valley has welcomed more than 80,000 visitors since its opening in 2010 and the farm also offers tours of the barn, the milking parlor and the maternity and calf care center. Visitors also get a look at the farm's innovative features, including a sustainable waste-management system that allows Harrison to reduce his use of commercial fertilizer from 60 percent to 10 percent by replacing fertilizer with cow manure. It's a move that not only cuts fertilizer costs but gives the farm a much greener footprint. In addition, Harrison's land grows 80 percent of the food consumed by his cows.
“I always wanted to be more diversified and felt that you need to grow a good portion of what you're consuming,” Harrison said.
While Harrison continues to focus on his farm's success, his cows are busy feeding the world. An average dairy cow produces about 15,000 gallons of milk in her lifetime.
"You have to think about how many people she can feed, and she doesn't even compete with humans for what she's eating," said Harrison. "I can do my share in feeding people, and also do my share in making things different and interesting for consumers with our cheeses.”
Harrison may have the beginnings of his own tradition --two of his five children have already expressed interest in returning to work on the family farm after college. Harrison says he feels optimistic about the dairy business, adding “it helps having children who want to come back to it.”