A Lifetime Career
Life has a way of working itself out in some of the most unexpected ways. For Duane Farmer, his job out of high school turned into a lifelong career that’s recently culminated with being named 2022 Michigan Fieldperson of the Year.
While a 40-year career for the same organization could have been a direct straight path, Duane’s experience was anything but. His long-time supervisor, Gary Trimner, set most of the trajectory, but the chaos that would ensue began on Duane’s very first day at Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA) in 1983.
“On my first day, I went into the office and the clerical staff had gone on strike. It was crazy,” Duane recalled. “I remember walking out of the office with Gary Trimner that day to the strike line to help people get out safely.”
From there, Duane’s career never slowed. He spent the first two weeks training as a sample van driver, and after being turned lose for the first time in Detroit, he got lost.
“I got lost down on Grand River south of Eight Mile with the sample van,” Duane said. “It was a little nerve wracking for a small-town kid. I wasn’t sure where I was going and it took me awhile, but it worked out and I survived.”
The experiences Duane had under his belt just within six months of working at MMPA left him thinking that that was enough.
“I thought, ‘Six months in, that’s a long time…’” Duane said. “I’ll give Gary Trimner credit for why I never left. He was very good at finding roles or finding people for certain roles. He put people in a role that would really make them succeed. Here I am 40 years later.”
After realizing that being a sample van driver wasn’t for him, Trimner encouraged Duane to work in plant quality and then later pushed him to become a member representative.
“I really didn’t have any farm experience,” Duane said. “I grew up around farms, but other than shovel manure for somebody or putting up hay for people, I really didn’t have a lot of experience. Thankfully, I worked with some really good people and they taught me a lot.”
Duane’s experiences gained both in the plants and as a member representative, troubleshooting quality issues on the farm and familiarizing himself with equipment, set him up for success working with members in his current role at the Farm Supply Store.
“We do a lot of special orders, we make sure customers have product on time, and we try to make sure if members have questions, that we can answer them,” Duane said about the Farm Supply Store. “Sometimes they throw us oddball questions about mastitis and other stuff so we try to steer them to people that know more, but some of that we can answer too.”
When Duane started at the Farm Supply Store, it was referred to as MMPA’s merchandise program and it was at a warehouse in St. Louis, Michigan. He was promoted from Member Rep/Merchandise Coordinator to his current title, Member Merchandise Supervisor, and led the transition to the current My. Pleasant location two years later.
“My greatest accomplishment is the relationships I’ve built with the farms and with the people that we provide service to,” Duane said. “We make sure that we give everyone good service and that we’re friendly and not hard to get along with.”
His dedication to members is one of the many reasons Duane was recognized as the 2022 Michigan Fieldperson of the Year during the Michigan Dairy Industry Conference held in May 2022. Duane received one of two awards announced there. His wife, Teresa Farmer, received the other, the Industry Service Award. Now, as Duane approaches 40 years with MMPA next year, his career has come full circle and he has his sights set on retirement.
“I’ve had a nice career as far as how varied it was with working with different people. I didn’t expect to be here 40 years. When I started, I thought, ‘Okay, I can do that job for a few years and I’ll move to something else,’” Duane said. “So far, it’s worked out.”
Worked out, in fact.
This article was originally published in the November/December 2022 issue of the Milk Messenger. Subscribe »