Having provided 100 years of service to area farmers, the Garden City Cooperative celebrated its centennial Friday with a come-and-go reception at the main office in downtown Garden City.

It was the Capper-Volstead Act of 1922 that spelled out that persons engaged in the production of agricultural products as farmers, planters, ranchers, dairy workers and nut and fruit growers may act together in associations, corporate or otherwise, and with or without capital stock, in collectively processing, preparing for market, handling and marketing in interstate and foreign commerce. Such associations may make the necessary contracts and agreements to affect such purposes.

Thus, a farmers’ cooperative was born.


Change to remain vital

For Otis Molz, longtime Co-op board member and past president from Deerfield, the Co-op needs to continue to change to be truly beneficial to its members and continue to align itself with multinational companies through joint ventures.

Molz credits the Co-op’s successful longevity to excellent management and having knowledgeable and dedicated directors to fulfill the association’s goals even when it demands that they put aside their personal preferences for the greater good of the cooperative.

“We have to be vigilant in looking for better opportunities for our members,” Molz said. “We have become a major exporter of grains and saw the need to build a 100-car train loadout for the sake of the economy and the shipping of grains to the export stations. We are always looking for ways to be more efficient, to provide better marketing and more supplies needed to produce the best grains as well as bigger savings in fuel costs for our farmer members.”


Building the Cooperative

According to Trevor Hands, director of communications, the Cooperative initially began under the leadership of R.J. Ackley when he moved with his family to Garden City in 1906, all packed in a covered wagon from Osborne County. The first charter for the Garden City Farmers Cooperative Equity Exchange was signed on July 13, 1915, by Ackley, Thomas M. Jones, A.R. Towles, D.D. Moore and C.P. Hamilton, and contained the names of about 20 stockholders. L.A. Dockum was the first manager, followed by Charles Woodworth as general manager in 1916.

In 1917, the farmers voted to disband after Samuel E. Ball convinced them to invest in a chain store catalog business venture that turned out to be a scam.

“Crops had not been good during those years afterwards but many farmers had had luck with black amber cane seeds, selling it for dyestuff,” said Hands. “After it was discovered that the cane seed was being contracted to farmers through the non-co-op manager at $1.50 per hundredweight (cwt) — it was worth $7/cwt — farmers approached Ackley again and pleaded for him to start another cooperative. A new charter was signed on Aug. 16, 1919.”


A time of 'firsts'

The cooperative purchased its first wooden frame elevator on Aug. 15, 1919, from J.E. Kirk for $10,750. It had a 10,000-bushel capacity. Howard Everly became the first general manager under the new charter.

In 1920, the new Garden City Cooperative board of directors was elected and was comprised of Ackley as president, Charley E. Adams as secretary-treasurer, Thomas M. Jones and Henry Myers. It wasn’t until 1921 that Co-op contracted with the United States Grain Growers. In 1924, the co-op continued its acquisition growth by purchasing its second wooden elevator in Garden City from the Colorado Milling and Elevator Company that had a 60,000-bushel capacity.

In 1927, the Garden City co-op began handling cream and in 1929, the Co-op became one of the five cooperatives to invest in the Union Oil Company in Kansas City, Mo. Ackley had met with the owner, Howard Cowden, who had developed the concept of a regional wholesale cooperative. Union Oil became Consumers Cooperative Association in 1935 and then Farmland Industries on Sept. 1, 1966.

Co-op followed that venture with buying and operating its first gas station and feed store on April 17 for $1,150.


Growth continues through the ‘30s

According to Hands, the Pierceville Elevator was built in 1931 and was a wooden-frame structure that had an 18,000-bushel capacity and cost $12,519. In the same year, the Peterson Elevator that belonged to Howard Everly, of Everly Grain Company located 1.5 miles east of the current Wolf Elevator, was purchased.

In 1933, the 15,000-bushel wooden Tennis Elevator was bought for $12,870.58 from E.A. Tennis who was, at that time, the general manager of the Garden City Gulf and Northern Railroads. This now gave Co-op access to rail service.

“Growth through acquisition continued with the co-op buying yet another wooden elevator with a storage capacity of 15,000 bushels located at Lowe,” said Hands. “It cost $7,000.”

The first concrete elevator just south of the Garden City headquarters was built in 1947. Named Garden City “A”, the head house and west storage tanks had a storage capacity of 625,000 bushels. In 1948, another 700,000 bushels of storage was added to “A” for a total of 1,325,000 bushels. Declared to be the world’s largest country elevator, it received grain directly from farmers. Today, it has two 8,000 bushels per hour legs, one 10,000 bushel per hour leg and a 1,500 per hour dryer.

“This was also the same year our first wooden elevator we purchased in 1919 was sold,” said Hands. “That was followed by the Lowe Elevator burning down in October 1948. Still more firsts — mostly good.”

From the 1940s through 2018, the Co-op has made acquisitions, been involved in mergers and built new elevators and storage units that has now given it the capacity to store over 26 million bushels of grain. It has also added bulk oil and petroleum facilities, seven anhydrous ammonia plants, feed, chemical and dry fertilizer warehouses, fuel tanks and liquid nitrogen storage tanks.


Moving forward together

For Bob Almos, a 44-year veteran Co-op employee and grain merchandiser, the Co-op has provided a wide variety of experiences in working with great people.

“I began at the Co-op in 1971 when I was in high school,” Almos said. “I then joined the U.S. Navy, serving from 1973-77. I headed back to Co-op, where I also worked on my bachelor’s in business degree from St. Mary of the Plains College while running the Wolf Elevator. I was then moved to making farm visits and selling grains that ended up on containers headed to international ports from down around Houston.”

He said the growth rate at Garden City Cooperative has been a quick one, and the changing face of grain merchandising mirrors all of the other modifications taking place in the industry.

“I’ve enjoyed my 44 years working with farmers and other great people,” Almos said. “There is a certain good feeling you get when you have helped another farmer get a good deal on his grain. It really is moving forward together and it’s the best thing going.”