Celebrating 100 years - Hastings creamery started downtown, making butter
A lot can change in 100 years. The Hastings Cooperative Creamery Association, which last week celebrated its 100th anniversary, has seen several changes of its own, but one thing has remained at its core.
"We seek to benefit our farmers," said Dave Zwart, the plant manager.
The co-op is a milk processing and bottling operation that is owned by the farmers who send their milk there. Currently, there are 105 owners, or patrons, as they're called. Between them, there are about 8,000 cows. The bottling plant can see up to five milk trucks a day, dropping off about 50,000 pounds of milk each, and the plant does about $40 million in sales per year.
It's not a big operation, but that's one of the co-op's advantages.
"We know we're not gonna be the big guy," Zwart said.
But because of the small size, the co-op can ensure a higher quality product than larger companies.
"High quality raw milk makes high quality finished product," Zwart said. "...We know where every ounce comes from."
Milk wasn't always the mainstay of the co-op. When it was founded in 1913, the co-op only made butter. The plant was located on the old levee then, in a two-story brick and stone building at the corner of Tyler and First streets. In early March, 1913, the co-op sold 50 shares and had 592 cows pledged, according to newspaper articles at the time. F.T. Liddle was the first president of the board, and the first plant manager was C.O. Henry. By July of 1913, there were 70 stockholders with about 1,000 cows producing back then. Butter bound for outside markets was sent in 63-pound tubs, and it was put into pound prints or small jars for local sales. The week of the plant's opening, it churned 1,500 pounds of butter. There were just five delivery routes.
In 1920, the creamery spent $3,500 on bottling equipment and started bottling milk, and an ice box and cool room were purchased 1923. Chocolate milk bottling began in 1935. A new butter churn purchase in 1936 satisfied the co-op's desire for larger equipment and a more uniformly good product.
It wasn't until 1948 that the co-op started working on securing a new facility. A building fund was established, and patrons were asked to raise money by selling stock - about $50,000 worth. By June of 1949, the co-op went ahead with plans to build a new plant. It bought a 50- by 150-foot lot at the corner of 17th and Vermillion streets for $650 and awarded a construction contract to Bonander Construction, a Minneapolis company. The building cost $42,695.
Ground broke on the current building in June of 1950. The co-op held its grand opening the week of July 8, 1951, after being delayed by extremely wet weather. One article read that 4,000 people showed up for the event.
Also in 1951 was the opening of the "Dari-Bar," a store with all the facilities of a short order lunch, according to one article, but that sold dairy products. The store opened Sept. 28, 1951.
The new plant was only a small bottling operation when it started. A later account from an employee stated that early on, the co-op only had four trucks to deliver milk door-to-door. Milk from the farms was delivered in 10-gallon cans and had to be dumped by hand into processing. At first, the plant produced about 25 gallons of milk every minute.
By 1962, it had grown about five times as large, requiring an addition to the original plant and warehouse. The addition was put on in 1963. Other additions were put on in 1954 and 1967, according to a brief history of the creamery prepared for its 75th anniversary. The co-op purchased the Conzemius Dairy operation in 1953.
1962 also saw the installation of a paper cartoning system. That year, the plant packed about 14,000 pounds of milk each hour. 1964 was the year that the plant became automated, using machines to stack and move cases of milk in the coolers.
In the 1970s, bottling operations in the state were declining. There were only 42 bottling plants in all of Minnesota in 1976, and the Hastings Co-op Creamery was the only one in Dakota county. By that time also, nearly all the equipment in the plant had been replaced. Butterfat was being taken to Ellsworth to be made into butter and cheese.
A fire in 1996 caused some damage to the building. It was reported by an employee at 9:05 p.m. in mid-August. The fire was started by a refrigerator fan motor in the southwest corner of the building and damaged the shipping and receiving area. It also dislodged a bar joist in one wall, causing the roof to sag as much as a foot and a half in one spot.
For the co-op's 75th anniversary, its former manager, John Cook, wrote that the creamery would see 100 years with good management. He was right. The business has been holding steady, Zwart said, and is looking at opportunities to grow into the future. The co-op is considering some new products and also sees potential for acquiring other companies or agricultural ventures in the next 10 years. With 100 years under its belt, the co-op isn't going anywhere.
"We see ourselves sticking around for another hundred years," Zwart said.
Currently, the co-op employs 40 people in full- and part-time positions. The board members are Ray Deutsch, president; Roger Ballstadt, vice president; Lanette Harsdorf, treasurer and secretary; Roger Peterson; James Boles; Dave Buck; and Mel Pittman.