Webster Cooperative Dairy Association
Making a profit on Minnesota farms
Nominator Merle Fossum connects the dots between his family's history and the story of Minnesota farming. "I often heard that the Webster Co-op Dairy Association was the largest co-op creamery in Minnesota for some period of time. Our grandfather, John Fossum, moved from farmer to being manager of the creamery in Webster, and our other grandfather, Fred Sandmann, was on the board of directors. Big fish in a little pond.The bigger picture is that the rural cooperative movement in Minnesota was the financial organization created by small farmers to market their products. Over time, the hundreds of small co-ops have been bought up by Land O' Lakes, etc.--or just went out of business--but it was the movement that sustained agriculture in Minnesota for generations."
Well said, Merle. Any farmer who has ever tried to raise crops or livestock for profit has faced the problem of how best to sell his or her wares. A century ago, poor roads and trucks without refrigeration made things particularly hard for dairy farmers. Their solution was to form cooperatives--members delivered milk to a local dairy and then shared in its profits. The state's first dairy cooperative was organized at Clarks Grove in Freeborn County in 1889-1890, and it quickly became a model for other farming communities, including Webster. Minnesota became a national leader in the cooperative movement; by the early 1900s, the state's 671 cooperative creameries represented about half of all those in the United States.
It wasn't just milk and cheese that was sold through cooperatives, of course. In fact, by 1919, Minnesota had more than 2,600 cooperatives, selling products ranging from livestock to sugar to wheat. In 1999, Minnesota led the nation in net business volume of agricultural co-ops, with $9.3 billion. There were thirty-five dairy co-ops.
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