By Jeremy C. Nagel
For a dozen years or more, my office has been a collection point for all things related to Farm Bureau history. Every time a coworker, member or county Farm Bureau stumbled across vintage photos, documents or artifacts, it was only a matter of time before it ended up on my desk—sometimes with an explanatory note, sometimes not.
Years before our centennial planning got under way, a box arrived from Kalamazoo packed mostly with old county Farm Bureau documents and a few miscellaneous envelopes. It was exiled to the warehouse for years, but this week I’m returning it to its rightful home as Kalamazoo County’s Local History Team starts planning their celebration for next year.
Giving it a quick perusal first, I found a collection of items from an Ann DeForest of Katy, Texas. I’m sharing them here just as an example of the sort of fun treasures any county Farm Bureau is likely to come across in digging into their own history.
The items in Ms. DeForest’s collection all relate to the then-new Farm Bureau Services store that opened on the near-north side of Kalamazoo in 1946—and to which she had a special connection.
“In the 1940s, my dad was a manager for Farm Bureau. His name was Leon Young,” DeForest wrote in a 2004 email to Lisa Robb, Kalamazoo County Farm Bureau’s administrative manager. “He was the manager at the time the Kalamazoo elevator was being built.”
Farm Bureau Services announced its new facility with a full-page ad in the May 9, 1946 issue of the Kalamazoo Gazette. It details everything you might want to know about the store, the grand-opening event (and square dance!), and some of the merchandise and services such a facility provided area farmers in the wake of World War II.
The building complex itself is still there at 1003 Staples Ave., and doesn’t look much different today than it did in ’46. For some 30 years it appears to have been the home of a handsome garden, landscape and fencing business.
Among the merchandise for sale was the Skaboo Garden Cultivator (“pre-war quality at a pre-war price”), a Co-op brand loader for $235 (that’s $3,032 today), and no limit on 25-pound sacks of Robin Hood white flour. Come early.
There were several Farm Bureau-branded dusts available for pest control, three of which proudly contain DDT, which had only just become available to the public the previous year.
The bottom-left corner reveals the new store carried “the complete line of Milking Machines” from Co-Op Universal…
Medicines and Biologics
Co-Op Universal—now simply Universal—apparently offered quite a thorough training program for people marketing their products. Ms. DeForest identifies her father in a pair of group photos labeled “Universal Milkers School.”
You get a closer look at Leon in a shot of him (left) with building contractor Jim McMassis (right), apparently taken during construction.
There are several photos of the facility under construction. My personal favorite suggests some of the building crew may have been living on site in three trailers that would be the Kelly green envy of today’s vintage camper set.
Last but not least are a pair of photos taken inside Leon Young’s brand new store, illustrating the squeaky-clean, un-trafficked interior and virgin displays of hardware, pressure cookers, space heaters, percolators, Dr. Salsbury’s Medicines and Biologics, dog food, a product called Kill Rats!, mason jars, something called Kow-Kare and—as advertised!—Robin Hood-brand white flour.
Again: I share this here in hopes of whetting the appetites of counties in the early stages of surveying resources that may contribute to telling the story of your local farm community. The sooner your county’s History Team starts scratching the surface, the more exciting trails you’ll find to explore! To get involved with your Local History Team, contact your county Farm Bureau office or MFB Regional Representative.