In 1890, the Danish American community in Clarks Grove established one of the first cooperative creameries in Minnesota. The Clarks Grove Cooperative Creamery used new technology and a well-organized cooperative system. It became a model for the Minnesota dairy industry. Ten years later, there were more than 550 cooperative creameries in the state.
In the 1870s and 1880s, farmers in southern Minnesota were turning their wheat fields into dairy farms. Yet making butter on the farm was difficult. It required a lot of labor, mostly done by women. And many people did not like farm butter, because it took on the flavors of other food from the farmer's kitchen.
After an 1884 visit to Denmark, farmer Hans Peter Jensen came back to Minnesota with the idea for a cooperative creamery. In Denmark, Jensen learned about innovations in butter-making that could transform the dairy industry in Minnesota. But these new technologies would be difficult for individual farmers to access. Minnesota farmers typically owned only a dozen cows and small dairy farms were not very profitable.
Cooperatives, or "coops," helped by pooling farmers' resources. Farmers brought their milk to the coop. At the coop, butter was made in large batches using the new technology of cream separation. Cooperative farmers benefited from the efficiency of the factory, and they shared the profits and losses with each other rather than investors.
The Clarks Grove Cooperative Creamery became a model for the rest of the state. It was made famous by Theophilus Levi (T.L.) Haecker. Haecker was a dairy science professor at the University of Minnesota, and he was known as the "Father of Minnesota Dairying."
In 1892, Haecker traveled around the state to inspect creameries. He was disappointed by the poor conditions that he found. But when Haecker found the Clarks Grove creamery, he was impressed. He spoke across the state and told farmers about the creamery's principles. In 1894, he published a popular bulletin that showed farmers how to found a cooperative creamery. The bulletin was based on the constitution and bylaws of the coop in Clarks Grove.
With Clarks Grove as a model, cooperative dairying in Minnesota grew. By 1898, more than 550 cooperative creameries existed in Minnesota. The state became known for its butter and for its cooperative agriculture system. In 1928, nearly half of the cooperative creameries in the United States were in Minnesota. These included important cooperative associations like the Minnesota Co-Operative Dairies Association (founded in 1911) and Land O'Lakes, Incorporated (founded in 1921).
The Clarks Grove creamery was also important for the local area. It was the first building and the first business in the Clarks Grove community. In the early 1900s, the cooperative expanded, adding a cooperative elevator, a general store, and a lumber yard. For decades, the creamery was a community center. It hosted talks, meetings, and school recitals. In 1956, it became a temporary school after the local schoolhouse burned down.
In 1996, the Clarks Grove Cooperative Creamery closed. As dairy farmers retired, there was no longer a need for the coop. However, as of 2011, the 1927 fireproof brick building—built after a fire destroyed the original structure—still stands.
Blegen, Theodore C. Minnesota: A History of the State. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1975.
Clarks Grove Area Heritage Society. A History in Story and Picture of the Clarks Grove Area. Clarks Grove, MN: Clarks Grove Area Heritage Society, 2006.
Keillor, Steven J. Cooperative Commonwealth: Co-ops in Rural Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000.
McGuire, A.J. "The First Cooperative Creameries in Minnesota." The Farmer 39, (October 8, 1921): 1395, 1401.
Swain, Mary C. "Early Co-operative Creameries in Minnesota." Term paper, University of Minnesota, 1930.
The Story of Clark's Grove, 1913
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: A short history of the Clarks Grove Creamery by T.L. Haecker.
In 1892, Theophilus Levi (T.L.) Haecker, known as the "Father of Minnesota Dairying," discovers the well-run Clarks Grove Cooperative Creamery and promotes it as the model for creamery operations throughout the state.
Hans Peter Jensen visits his native Denmark and learns about cooperative agriculture and cream separator technology.
Jensen and other community leaders establish the Clarks Grove Cooperative Creamery and recruit farmers to contribute their cows' milk.
The University of Minnesota hires Theophilus Levi (T.L.) Haecker and asks him to start a dairy school like the one he worked for at the University of Wisconsin.
T.L. Haecker inspects creameries around the state and is encouraged by the conditions at Clarks Grove. He speaks around the state suggesting farmers use Clarks Grove as a model for cooperative creameries.
Haecker publishes a bulletin outlining the Clarks Grove principles and cooperative model.
In ten years, since 1890, Minnesota goes from having four creameries to having 550.
After a fire destroys it, the creamery is rebuilt with fireproof brick.
The creamery closes its doors after years of decreased business and the retirement of many dairy farmers in the area.