Women have been influential from the beginning of time.  Eve influenced Adam to take a bite of the forbidden fruit and the world as they knew it was turned upside down.

Just as the diversification of women’s roles have evolved through history, the farmwife has woven her way into every level of leadership in the 100-year existence of Michigan Milk Producers Association. The woman on the farm in 2016 paints an entirely different portrait than her comrade of 1916. But the tenacity, passion and determination that frame her soul are the same last century and today.

In 1916, the challenges were different.  Faced with few modern conveniences on the farm, her daily chores took longer than the daily activity today. Add the cooking on a woodstove and harvesting and canning to feed the family, she was also expected to take up the slack in the fields and the barn.  The lure of the big city was not unique to the most recent generation of farm kids.  In the early 20th century, the bright lights of the big city and promise of employment led young men off the farm leaving the younger children and the farm wife to keep all the plates spinning.

Jennifer Lewis, wife of Bruce Lewis of Pleasant View Dairy of Jonesville, a longtime member of MMPA, paints the picture of the early century farm wife,

“Women of that era were educators, doctors and magicians. They could do just about anything and there were times they had to do everything. Our farm has been in the Lewis family for 75 years this year. Bruce’s Grandmother, Vivian, went to college to be a teacher, graduating from OSU in 1928 (one of just a handful). When she wasn’t teaching, she did it all. They had a few cows, sheep, chickens and hogs. She milked, fed, scattered and slopped.”

The role of women on the farm was central to success and MMPA discovered their value early on during the Depression.  Milk prices were low, feed prices were high and spirits were hopeless. In April of 1935 the first “Home Page” appeared in the Michigan Milk Messenger and women’s credibility was spelled out by writer Margaret Sheehy.

“The Messenger has long appreciated the influence of the woman in Association affairs. It is generally conceded that women are concerned over the family income. They naturally are interested in producing milk of such a quality that it will net the most money for the product.  There is too, a universal accepted fact that women possess a keen sense of understanding. The producer husbands and sons, members of this organization, were imbued with a sense of appreciation of cooperative principles—yet we believe that it was the intuition on the part of the wives and mothers that helped them to interpret the contract and know that the Association was their business organization. “

In 1936 women were invited for the first time to meet with the Sales Committee and Dairy Council. And ten years later, Mrs. Martin Montgomery posed the question in an article for the Michigan Milk Messenger, “How Active Should Women Be in the MMPA?”

She wrote:

“So long as she is such an important cog in the wheel of farm management and since milk is the most important source of income on our farms today, why shouldn’t she have an active part in the association that controls the farmer’s income?”

But it wasn’t until 1975 that the Imlay City MMPA Local would trust their voice to a woman, Joan Beatty as the first female delegate to the MMPA annual meeting. Joan and her husband Ron moved from the Detroit suburbs to Imlay City start a farm in 1970.  While she had a lot to learn about running a farm, she said she had never been afraid to take on something new.

That ‘no-fear’ factor surfaced again in 1986 in the first female board of director Deanna Stamp from Marlette.  With a long MMPA family history, Deanna and her husband were in partnership with her brother when she realized the importance of the cooperative structure and milk marketing. She had the opportunity to run and was elected to the board. She commented, “Maybe I was naive but I think I stepped into that role feeling as an equal and I was treated as an equal.” Serving from 1986 – 2009 she said, “It was an easy transition for me, I felt like I was a part of the board and it was a great experience.”

Today the role of women on the farm reflects the educational importance they have layered on top of their determination and desire to produce a quality product out of a livelihood they were created for. And her zeal for leadership roles within the 100-year-old milk cooperative is even stronger.

Cami Martz-Evans, wife of Carlton Evans on the three generation MMPA member family farm in Litchfield summed a woman’s role today: “She will struggle in the heat, freeze in the cold, spit out bugs, inhale dust, and keep going during harvest.   She will raise her child and worry about their grades, their future, and what they need to be successful like every other woman has for 100 years.  She will be a dairy farmer ‘with MMPA’. Which means she’ll be a DIVA on a dirt road in her world. Just like 100 years of women before her.”

Leaders’ Conference 2015

Kicking off 2015-2016 Local Meetings, the 2015 Leaders’ Conference brought together MMPA leaders from all facets of the cooperative to the Michigan State University Kellogg Center in East Lansing on November 23.

In addition to presentations by MMPA General Manager Joe Diglio and President Ken Nobis, MMPA welcomed Joel Mergler from Select Sires, Kelly Millenbah from the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and Bill Creal from Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Members listened and asked questions about dairy market conditions, MSU CANR initiatives, water quality issues and the global dairy industry.

Nobis first addressed the group of leaders, providing a positive outlook after a challenging year. “Our cooperative and the dairy industry are still in a good position and the future is still positive. Consumers demand a high quality protein source and dairy fits that need beautifully,” Nobis said.

His presentation also included updates on the impact of the global dairy industry, programs related to MMPA’s involvement in the Agricultural Leaders of Michigan and how the Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) has assisted marketing members’ milk.

In his overview of MMPA operations and current market conditions, Diglio presented to members a year in review snapshot of the activities and changes. “In 2015, we saw massive market volatility and the market was very competitive when seeking new customers. Despite the distressed price, the assets you’ve invested in—our processing plants—are performing very well and we continue to pursue new opportunities for the future,” Diglio explained to the conference attendees.

Diglio also highlighted MMPA accomplishments over the last fiscal year, including attaining Level 3 Safe Quality Foods (SQF) Certification in the two processing plants, realizing a net savings of $6 million and paying out $24.4 million in producer incentive premiums to members. Diglio also commended members for producing milk with historic low levels of somatic cell counts, leading customers to covet MMPA’s high quality milk.

Mergler, the Vice President International Development for Select Sires, brought his expertise in international market development to share his insight on global dairy markets to MMPA leaders. Mergler strives to assist global customers breed better dairy cows, especially in countries with a growing middle class. “We are breeding for the global population,” Mergler said.

Yet he noted many countries are unable to meet their domestic demand for demand for dairy and U.S. producers are at a distinct advantage.  “You are no longer just a milk producer in Michigan, you need to have a global perspective and understand the world dairy market,” Mergler relayed.

2015 Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperators (OYDC) Shawn and Beth VanDrie lead the luncheon program, which included honoring the MMPA MSU Scholarship recipients. MMPA awarded 10 scholarships to the children and employees of MMPA members attending the MSU Institute of Agricultural Technology. The VanDries also introduced their fellow 2015 Top Ten OYDCs and raffled off two free registrations for the 2016 Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference.

The couple welcomed CANR Associate Dean Millenbah during the luncheon, who provided updates on CANR, MSU Extension, AgBioResearch and the CANR dean search. Incumbent CANR Dean Fred Poston retired in December and Millenbah announced Douglas Buhler will begin serving as interim dean on Jan. 1 until a successor is named.

In the afternoon, Creal provided insights on water quality issues through the lens of DEQ, including the algae bloom in Lake Erie. Following his presentation, Nobis and Diglio returned to the stage, opening up the floor for questions and comments from members.

The conference offered to members a forum to hear from MMPA management and learn industry perspectives as a lead into the following months of local and district meetings and the 100th Annual State Delegate Meeting.


One hundred years.  A century. Transforming from one millennium to the next.

This time span can encompass several generations and engulf iconic changes in a civilization.

From 1916 to 2016 that’s exactly what happened.  Generations passed, a new century was turned and changes in the landscape of the dairy industry went from slow and steady to quick and intense.

On one end, dairymen were milking ten cows by hand. On the other end, thousands of cows are being milked by robots. In the beginning, milk was lucky to make it from farm to creamery with reasonable quality. Today, milk is extracted from the cow and put into a bottle, churned into butter or processed into a dairy product within hours. Automation has changed the industry from farm to table and every step of the process in between.

As technological developments have driven the change of an entire industry and made it more streamline and convenient, one cog in this wheel has stayed as slow and steady as the dairy cow itself: the dairy farmer.

MMPA is embarking on a year of celebration as the entire cooperative from members to leadership take a moment to enjoy 100 years of existence.  MMPA pioneered the milk cooperative movement in Michigan out of sheer desire for dairymen to make a profit.

In an article from the August 1919 issue of the Michigan Milk Messenger, editor R.C. Reed writes:

“The Michigan Milk Producers Association is a corporate body under the laws of the State of Michigan. The purpose expressed: To promote in all legal ways the interests of the milk producers of Michigan by mutual co-operation in producing, buying, selling and marketing all milk and dairy products within the State of Michigan.”

In short, MMPA existed for dairymen and women to sell their milk for a profit, envisioning they would be better, together.

MMPA was birthed in Livingston County with early members ringing familiar names like Munsell, Bamber, McPherson, Nixon, Wrigglesworth and Carr.  Influential men in their communities, they started down the untraveled road of a milk cooperative formation and laid a firm foundation from which to build decade after decade of success.

As the first ones through the brick wall, they found themselves, bloodied, tested and tried but took their position seriously as cooperators and providers of a wholesome food to a hungry nation.

A different spirit than ever before pervades the social, moral and commercial interests of the world. In fact, we think that mankind is being dominated by higher and holier impulses than in any other decade in the world’s history. This spirit is pervading every part of our body politic. The peace table across the water is possibly the highest attainment and the nearest to the idea of all the efforts that have been made for raising the level of common humanity up to a constructive basis upon which to build the great structure for the common brotherhood of man.

This principle so manifest in the establishment of the League of Nations is the same as dominated the officers of the Michigan Milk Producers Association in their effort to do the most conscientious, careful, and constructive work for the stabilizing of this great industry upon which depends so much of the moral, mental and physical being of the people of this nation in the years to come.

We feel the responsibility of the obligation we are assuming most keenly. We must not be derelict of duty nor recreant to the trust imposed in the opportunity given us to help to mold and fashion the thought and purpose of the food producers of this great commonwealth. As feeble as it may be, we must do our best. And we invite your cooperation.” –R.C. Reed, Michigan Milk Messenger

In 1915, the average price of milk paid to the producer in the Detroit market was $1.60 per hundredweight. In 1916, a group of men met on the campus of Michigan Agricultural College and forged the framework of MMPA. In 1917, the average price of milk paid to the producer was $2.24. Month after month, year after year, from 1916 to 2016, the price that producers were paid for their milk was and still is the most important result of all activities of the MMPA.

Put aside all the advances in technology, the promotion explosion and number and variety of dairy products that have been developed in 100 years and zero in on what has driven the longevity of MMPA: the integrity and dedication of its leadership to the members.

From the very first president, N.P. Hull to today’s leader, Ken Nobis, and every president in between, these leaders were dairymen willing to dedicate their time and offer their abilities to guide and direct a membership of independent thinking dairy producers from Michigan’s coast to coast. Along the way they faced opposition and questioning, collaborated with national agricultural leaders and had the ear of those inside the beltway including several U.S. Presidents.

The leadership has been unparalleled, the dedication has been unequaled and the result has been a century of trust, commitment and strength.

It’s now 2016 and the year of celebration of the 100th anniversary begins. As MMPA celebrates their long history they will continue to work together toward tomorrow.