“I believe in co-operation, being fair with everybody, the consumer as well as the workers. Putting out better products, better working conditions and a living wage for all.” — A.K., employee of Franklin Co-operative Creamery Association (FCCA) in 1922 responding to the question why work at FCCA.
The Seward Co-op Creamery Café is located in “the old creamery building,” a historically important landmark for co-ops, local food, and the food networks they create.
Built in 1920 as a dairy production plant, the building was originally home to the Franklin Co-op Creamery Association, a milk and delivery co-op that would come to produce 80 percent of the Twin Cities’ milk supply in its heyday.
The co-op that dominated the local food scene began as a group with just 13 members. They belonged to the Milk Wagon Drivers’ Union, Local 471. These union members were tired of the striking and wanted to improve the lives of all dairy workers who worked seven days a week for unsustainably low wages. Believing in the power of co-ops, those founders incorporated themselves as “The Franklin Co-operative Creamery Association” in 1919. They raised capital among their supporters and opened in 1920. With a focus on cooperative ownership, fair prices and quality control, the co-op grew rapidly from the moment it opened.
In March, 1921, “the Franklin” needed only 18 horse-drawn milk wagons to serve its customers, but by the end of its first year, its fleet had grown to 71. This extraordinary production served notice to its corporate competitors that the new co-op was a real economic force. By 1923, the co-op had 6,000 members, 381 employees making and delivering milk, butter, cheese, and ice cream to 35,000 households. It was the largest milk processor west of Chicago.
By the early ’30s, the Franklin co-op was producing and delivering 80 percent of the Twin Cities’ milk. It was the hub of the community. Its profits were used to support many social activities. Most notably it was the primary funder of the youth baseball leagues of Minneapolis parks throughout the years of the Great Depression and World War II.
But in the post-war years, large corporate supermarkets came to dominate the U.S. food landscape, taking huge shares out of local food systems. By 1960, America’s food-buying habits had changed so dramatically that the creamery began to falter, and the co-op’s home delivery of milk ended altogether. Not long after that, Franklin Co-operative Creamery voted to become a corporation and merged with a creamery in Duluth, Minn.
Today, Seward Co-op brings a cooperative restaurant and local food production facility back to the Creamery building. We’re proud to honor those original cooperators who had a vision for local democratic ownership and excellent food for everyone in Minneapolis. We hope you’ll raise a glass to their vision while you enjoy yourself at the Co-op Creamery.
Read more about the history of the Franklin Creamery in “A Remedy Invented by Labor,” by Steven Keillor.