By Caroline Johnson
Jan. 30, 2012 -- This past fall the University of Wisconsin-River Falls dairy pilot plant experienced something new – a change in management. Ranee May, the dairy plant manager since the plant opened in 1982, retired. Stepping into the managerial role is Michelle Farner, a licensed cheesemaker, who has worked at two different small Wisconsin dairies.
Farner also brings quality assurance experience from her work at two food manufacturing facilities in Wisconsin. She is excited to be bringing her education in food systems technology and her previous experience to the university setting.
Food pilot plants are a relatively unique feature for a university campus. UWRF supports plants for dairy, meat, and fruit and vegetable processing. These plants, located on the first floor of the Food Science Addition, allow students to gain hands-on experience in food production and processing. The dairy plant alone typically employs seven students. At the same time the plants supply the campus with a variety of products including fresh cheese, ice cream, and milk.
Although production in the dairy plant has slowed during the transition, it is scheduled to be back in full operation this spring. Farner is bursting with new and ambitious ideas to bring attention to the quality of the plant's products. She says that her goal is "to build on the success of the past 30 years while bringing some new excitement." From creating new flavors of Jack, Colby, and Cheddar cheeses to constructing snack packs for students, which would include sausage sticks and the plant's famous fresh cheese curds, there is much to look forward to.
In addition, Farner says that she will be working on offering fresh samples to students and staff when available.
"I'd love to be offering samples of cheese...when we make a block and cut it, I would like to be able to let people know and let them come in and try it," she says.
A testament to the university's dedication to implementing and demonstrating sustainable community development principles, the dairy plant is supplied with milk directly from the UWRF Mann Valley Farm, located just a few miles from campus, off Highway MM. Farner also wants to expand the use of the plant's products at campus events, particularly annual events and sales at the farm. She says with enthusiasm, "People will be able to go to the farm, buy their compost, and see what we're making."
Farner's enthusiasm promises a bright future for the UWRF dairy pilot plant. She says with gratitude, "This is the chance of a lifetime."