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.”


It was 1919 and the third largest industry in the United States was dairy and the newly formed Michigan Milk Producers Association was getting ready for their third annual meeting to be held in East Lansing at the Michigan Agricultural College.

The announcement of the meeting began with this:

Our vision of the battle front must change. It is not only with the local market, but it is in the halls of the Legislature and Congress.  We must forget that we are members of any political party; we must remember we are to protect the interests of our business and our homes with our voice and our vote.

This meeting was on the heels of the arrest of several Ohio dairymen who refused to sell their milk for under the cost of production.  They were arrested late at night, taken to a Cleveland jail and not allowed bond or a phone call. The crime for which they were indicted was simply that they refused collectively to sell the product of their labor for less than the cost of production. And this was not an isolated case, according to the 1919 Michigan Milk Messenger, this was happening coast to coast.

The program for the 1919 annual meeting included discussion of how the government should interact with an organized dairy industry, the problems that had cropped up in Ohio and the President of the National Holstein Friesian Association, D.D. Aitken, was slated to speak on collective bargaining and legislation needed in Michigan.

Clearly the early growing pains of a newly formed milk cooperative were being felt while dairymen from around the state were gaining a voice in marketing their milk. And when the annual meeting commenced there was a showing of over 650 people in attendance with every county in central and southern Michigan being represented.  Members wanted an active role in the association and visibly showed their desire to be heard.

The keynote of every address according to the Michigan Milk Messenger was a patriotic devotion to the well-being of the nation and a desire to stabilize food production so that in the years to come farmers ‘shall be able to supply the necessary food that will give physical and mental strength to this and coming generations.’

The 1930s arrived and milk consumption dropped like a rock.  Not only were they not drinking milk but consumers began using the new butter substitute: Oleo. With depressed commodity prices, farmers were struggling. Non MMPA members were selling their milk to markets below the cost of production and this was forcing the MMPA sales committee to sell milk at this cut-rate price as well. Being on the sales committee was a tough job through these years but the economy didn’t stop members from participating in the business of their cooperative.  The annual meeting in 1931 was well attended and President N.P. Hull didn’t pull any punches. He concluded his meeting address by saying:

“I have tried to lay before you the absolute truth of the situation as it prevails at the present time. These are dreadful times, but we are going to come out of them. Let us be wise and prayerful and try to bring agriculture out of these times in the best way we can and in doing that we will have done our duty as men, and that is all that angels can do.”

The optimistic attitude that initiated the cooperative in 1916 continued to drive the organization through the Great Depression and World War II.  Farmers were charged with the task of producing more and more food for a hungry world at war—and they did. While the young men left the farm to go to war, the families were left behind to expand the farm and increase production.  But post-war concerns surrounded how to use up the expanded milk production. Once again the membership showed up at their annual meeting and heard this from President Ivan Maystead:

“We are told that farmers will not stick together. The Michigan Milk Producers Association, entering the 30th year of its existence, gives the lie to this statement. True, the association has a constructive program and renders services, but the loyalty and support of its members are the backbone of its existence. Your continued loyalty and support will assure another 30 years of success.”

And it did.

By the 1950s, dairy farming was no longer a way of life but a business and the members of the cooperative wanted more out of their association.  Farmers knew how their milk was marketed but they wanted to know more about what the inner workings of the cooperative.  While MMPA was created as a bargaining association, it had expanded to become the owner of manufacturing plants, receiving stations and transportation facilities.

In 1959 milk marketed by the association, reached a new high of 2.3 billion pounds valued at about $95.5 million dollars. Production per member was up over 64 percent in the previous five years. The following year the annual meeting garnered nearly record attendance and President Jack Barns informed attendees that MMPA had achieved new records in practically every field in which it was active. Milk numbers were up three percent from the year before and the average dollar returns per member rose 7.5 percent. The following month milk hit $5.30/cwt, the highest in three years.

Through the 60s, 70s and 80s, milk plants were purchased, sold or closed.  Milk promotion exploded and milk marketing continued an ebb and flow in efforts to keep farmers profitable. The early 90s brought about a drastic drop in milk prices but increased a resiliency to continue through the difficult days.

Prices would fluctuate, but the dedication of the members to the association and the leaders to the members would continue to grind out a cooperative that would survive into a new millennium and on to celebrate 100 years of business.

Wars, the Depression, bank failures, consolidation, PBB, breaking up of the Superpool, skyrocketing interest rates, soaring commodity prices and the greatest homeland terrorist attack to date would not shake up a membership from meeting every year, without fail to conduct its business.

Dairymen met in 1916 on the campus of Michigan Agricultural College and on March 24, 2016, they will meet again just a few miles west of Michigan State University to ensure a stable, reliable and advantageous market necessary for producer profitability and required to continue to feed a hungry world.

From Farm to Table in 100 Years


Milk trucks are a fixture on the dirt roads and highways across the nation carrying a valuable, yet perishable product for farmers and consumers alike. Milk haulers are the link from the cow that produces that white, power packed nutritional punch to the consumer who enjoys it. Milk quality is unsurpassable in today’s market but it hasn’t always been that way and we have the evolution of milk transportation to thank for it.

A century ago, when MMPA was a budding cooperative, milk was picked up in cans and transported to the processing plants by truck or by rail. The cooling systems were crude involving cold water passing over a can of milk to cool it to 60 degrees. It wasn’t until the early 1920s when the Board of Health in various cities around the state demanded that their milk providers construct a milk house on their farm to ensure a higher quality product.  In an article in the Michigan Milk Messenger, August of 1920, authored by editor R.C. Reed, the following advice was given:

“One may build it [a milk house] cheaply or elaborately as desired. We have seen milk houses that answered every demand of the Board of Heath and which did not cost, for new material, more than fifteen dollars.  This was in a time when lumber was somewhat cheaper than it is now, but make the calculation for yourself. Use the same apparatus for cooling which you use now; put over it a little house seven feet wide by eight feet long, with the roof nine feet high on one side and seven feet on the other; paper it within, overhead and on the sides, with any kind of remnants that can be obtained of house paper, and if necessary cover it with roofing on the sides and top.

“If possible place it under a shade tree and this as a temporary structure, until the time comes when you can build a permanent one, will satisfy the demands of the Board of Health. I recently saw one of this kind which had been built by a man and his wife and it took the two but a little over a day and a half and they had a clean place, free from germs and dust, away from the heat of the sun, and had as nice a quality of milk as could have been produced or kept in a milk house costing one hundred times the amount this one cost.”

But by May of 1931, the Milk House Requirements for the Detroit markets were hard and fast for producers, requiring them to have a milk house that could be used year round and completely sealed on the inside.  If they did not satisfy these requirements, they would not be issued a permit.

While milk house rules were changing, the path from farm to the plant was the same. According to former MMPA leader Jack Barns the movement of milk went directly to processing plants in the secondary markets but almost all of the milk for the Detroit processors was delivered in cans to MMPA receiving stations scattered across southern Michigan. From the receiving stations, the milk was loaded into over-the-road tankers for shipment to the processing plant.

The first milk trucks had no cover or protection for the milk but that changed in the 1930s when insulated trucks came on the scene and cans were hauled by muscle bound milk men slinging eighty pound milk cans from the truck into the plant. It wasn’t until the 1950s that bulk trucks came on the scene and suddenly routes changed, more milk could be hauled by one truck and milk quality improved exponentially.


Because milk haulers frequented farms, they were almost like family to the farmer.  The same hauler came down the same routes, picking up the same farmers milk, sometimes for decades. Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, snow, rain, ice, sleet, the day didn’t matter because the milk had to be hauled.

The Traver family of Williamston was an example of this longevity. The Travers were in it for the long haul with four generations of milk haulers in the family.  Hailing from Williamston, George Traver hitched up his horse and buggy and began hauling milk in 1904. In 1927, George passed the route on to his son Marc Traver who experienced several decades of MMPA history.

When the Great Depression arrived, times were tough everywhere. Marc Traver and other milk haulers around the state had the responsibility of delivering milk checks to the producers. In one instance in 1933, the banks in Detroit closed before the farmers checks were delivered.  Traver had cashed his check in Fowlerville and when he delivered the ‘bad checks’ to the farmers he was able to give them each a small loan until their checks were cashed.  According to Traver, the milk checks backed by MMPA were always good.

From tornado trashed routes to snow drifts that made roads impassable, to muddied drives that required tractors for extrication from the farm yard, milk haulers continue to be an invaluable asset from farm to table.

A century of MMPA could only happen with a century of reliable transportation taking the farmers hard earned product to a broad population in need of the natures perfect nutrient-dense delicious delight: Milk.


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.