October 17, 2012
L?IMA — Dairymen once would bring their goods to market, sell them, and go home. By the 1920s, Lima’s farmers had grasped hold of the unionization idea that was going around the country and started the Farmers’ Equity Union Creamery Co.
According to a historical booklet published by this group, 1,000 farmers joined together on July 29, 1923.
“They were determined to throw off the yoke of the grasping chain creameries that bound them down to the old-line marketing system which levied tribute from them larger than King George III ever laid upon the Colonies,” it stated.
This new company would give them more power and better profits, essentially. Farmers sold their goods at market but were also paid by being stockholders in this company, so they saw a share of the profits from the products their goods were made into — like butter and ice cream. And farmers didn’t need to be shareholders, as anyone could sell their goods to this company if they agreed to the price.
The company organized farmers within a 50-mile radius, and Lima was its headquarters. A Lima creamery was built at 169 Grove Ave. in 1923. The first branch was in 1928 in Fort Recovery. Another branch was in 1931 in Bellefontaine.
“Pure milk is one of the essentials of the human diet. Butter is likewise standard for every American table. These products, thanks to laws safeguarding the public, are available to everybody,” a newspaper reported Nov. 15, 1926.
Equity’s advertising campaign focused on being the best quality. It must have been a competetive time, with many dairies and creameries operating around Lima then.
A news item published March 14, 1927, reported the company processed 1.5 million pounds of milk yearly. Ice cream is made on the same day the milk is delivered to the plant to guarantee freshness. It also made powdered milk so as to not waste any excess milk supplies that came in.
By 1930, ice cream was a focus. And by 1938, the company had four retail stores in town — each featuring an ice cream parlor atmosphere, although they also sold milk, nuts and deli items.
By 1941, Equity Dairy Stories Inc. had four stores here and stores in Wapakoneta, Celina, Spencerville, St. Marys, Columbus Grove, Troy, Delphos, Hillsboro, Miamisburg, Portland, Ind., West Union, Decatur, Van Wert, Geneva, Ind., Defiance, Payne and Fort Recovery — and four stores in Dayton.
But the owners put a hold on milk and butter production when World War II came. It sold its milk routes — where milkmen would deliver milk in glass bottles — to Shelley-Townsend Co. to focus on doing powdered milk, evaporated milk and cheese to send to the troops overseas.
An advertisement published Jan. 2, 1949, claims Equity Dairies Inc. had 5,000 stockholders and was celebrating 25 years. Just three years later, it had increased to 7,000 stockolder. It reported it processed 113 million pounds of milk, 4 million pounds of powdered milk, 4.25 million pounds of cheese, 1 million pounds of butter and 250,000 gallons of ice cream in 1952.
A “Grade A” milk processing plant was started in 1957, a sign of an attempt to control the types of milk on the market. It would offer pasteurization and homogenization. And, for the first time, the plant would package milk in glass containers either a gallon or half gallon in size. Equity was taking a hard look at the “cash-and-carry” model, as trends were moving away from milk delivered via milkmen. The original plant was still working away, making condensed milk, powedered milk, cottage cheese and ice cream.
In 1964, the company announced the Bellefontaine cheese plant would close for financial reasons. At the same time, Equity rolled out a new carton in half-gallon sizes. A special introductory price was three cartons for $1, and it was 2 percent “skim milk.”
A news item published April 4, 1966, reported Equity bought more than $2.5 million of milk the year before.
In 1967, the National Farmers Organization picketed Lima. The militant group tried to protest low milk prices by manipulating the market. They bought milk and literally dumped it. There were also reports they poisoned milk tanks. Locally, they bought a lot of the supply, but farmers from Auglaize and Mercer counties just brought more to market and ruined the plan.
The era of the local creamery was coming to a close. Equity was acquired in the mid 1960s by Prairie Farms, and the brand was gone by the 1970s.