Sunday, March 31, 2013

Another American Tragedy - The Closing of the Bovina Center Co-op Creamery

It was 40 years ago today on March 31, 1973 that the Bovina Center Co-op Creamery closed, after being in existence for 72 years.  This was reported in several local papers.  Here's the article from the front page of the Walton Reporter from April 5, 1973.  [See the blog entry for January 26, 2012 for some photos taken by Mrs. William Elliott on the last day the creamery operated.]

Bovina Center Co-op Closing Is Blow to Town and Farmers

     An era has ended.  After 73 years of operation, the Bovina Center Co-op Dairy is bowing to "progress" and closing its doors.
     It was the last plant in the county to handle exclusively canned milk, this out of an undetermined number over 50 which once operated.  It is known that nearly every village and hamlet in the county once had at least one creamery and some of the larger communities had four or more. 
     A twinge of sadness comes to one's heart when it is realized that anything is becoming extinct, but a special touch of remorse in this case is felt by anyone who grew up hearing the clanging sound of the cans.  The saddest thing of all, though, is that fact that it cannot help but adversely effet the small farmer, who must either convert to expensive bulk equipment or go out of business, if they do not desire to haul their milk to the Dellwood plant at Fraser. 
     It must be noted, of course, that New York State as a whole is declining in influence as a dairy producer, as its market is now controlled by Midwestern prices, a further blow to the little guy.

Had Long History

     The closing of the co-op means that the Town of Bovina, for the first time since its founding over 150 years ago, is now without an industry (other than tourism).  This is a blow to the town and to Bovina Center village which will be hard put to recover for a while. 
     The Bovina Center Co-op was banded together in 1901 by a group of 48 farmers and was, at the time of its demise last Saturday, reported to be the oldest existing co-op in the country, if not the world.  The original farmers had been coming together to make butter for a year or more, but realized need for some sort of organization to benefit them all, hence the co-op.  
     The plant produced exclusively butter until 1906, when a milk sugar-making process was installed.  Shortly thereafter, Bovina became one of the early producers in the United States of powdered milk.  Smaller rollers than one normally would think did the job - they were sometimes no more than two feet in length. 

Operations Change Often

     In 1922, the creamery switched to a drying box and the spray process for the milk and were pioneers at this also.  Skim powder was made until World War II, when they fulfilled a goverment contract (as did many other area plants) to make dried eggs.  
      Early power there, as in all such enterprises, was a team engine, but in 1924 they converted to electricity.  One of those who wired the plant was current county historian Fletcher Davidson (who lives just outside the village and who made a living doing electrical work on area creameris as well as providing much of the historical info herein). 
     The old wooden plant was razed and the present one built, primarily for its wartime contract, in 1942.  The operation of late has been carried out by four people, chief of them being Miss Beatrice Thomson.  Miss Thomson has been at the plant for 25 years and its manager for the last 10. 
     Floyd Aitkens has been a co-op empolyee since the dry milk days of World War II.  Marvin Archibald has been at the plant for about 15 years and Herman Archibald about 10.  

Served Wide Area

     Before the Mar. 31 closing, the co-op at Bovina Center served 43 farmers directly, several of whom may opt to close rather than to adapt to bulk operations or cart their milk all the way to Fraser.  
     One of the producing and hauling farmers is Roscoe Brink, who has been hauling milk everyday from the area of Durham, near the Albany-Greene-Schoharie county border and who serves several other farmers.  He has come to Bovina for a year, since the closing of a similar plant in Blenheim, Schoharie county and will now have to truck to either Worcester or Cobleskill with his load.  
     Most of the Bovina producers will be able to haul their milk to the Dellwood plant, which is the only plant now in the county to handle cans (most of its business comes from the bulk milker but it will accept all can dairies which meet its quality standards).  They will take cans at Fraser only so long as it is profitable for them to do so, but David Jones of the Dellwood operation added that closing of their can operation and deck will not be in the immediate future. 

Vote Near Unanimous

     The 43 farmers in attendance at the Friday night meeting voted with only one dissension for closing.  Thirty-three of the group also voted to dissolve the co-op and the board of directors was designated to do as they saw fit along these lines.  Charles McIntosh Sr. is president of the board, which also includes Jack Hilson and Millard Russell Jr. 
     All parties concerned are still wondering what can be done about saving the small farmer, who once was the backbone of the country, but is now being pushed out of existence by financial and other woes.
     It is another American tragedy. 

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