Farmington Farmers’ Union celebrates 100 years
FARMINGTON - In 1912, a handful of farmers got together at the local Grange Hall and, in a spirit of cooperation, formed what would become the Farmington Farmers' Union. Today, a different generation of farmers gathered to celebrate the Union's century mark with a few short speeches, hotdogs and some good memories to share.
The original organization was called the Maine Central Produce Exchange, incorporated with seven-member board of directors and a manager. The name changed came in 1917 to Farmers' Union Grain & Supplies, along with the addition of by-laws. In 1918, the board voted to raise capital stock to help fund the store from initially 1,000 shares at $10 each. Depending on yearly profits, each shareholder receives a dividend payout that has ranged from 2 to 14 percent over the years. Today there are 4,000 shares with nearly that many share holders.
The store carried feed grain, as it does now, along with groceries, clothing and gasoline, in true general store fashion. It was also the local John Deere tractor dealer for a while.
Bussie York of Sandy River Farms in Farmington, attending Saturday's celebration, pointed across the street to where the tractors were once sold.
"I bought my first tractor here," York said. He's been getting his supplies for 60 years at the Union and before him, his father, Linwood York, did too. Linwood York, along with George Luce of Luce Oil in West Farmington, put up $40,000 of their own money in the 1940s to save the Farmers' Union from financial ruin.
"They bailed out the store," York said. "You know, that was a lot of money back then." Looking back at the long, white clapboard-sided built along Front Street, he added, "It's quite an institution."
Grain was delivered by train to the depot across the street up until 1982, when the trains stopped coming to Farmington so the trucks began making the feed deliveries. That same year, the board of directors voted to join the True Value franchise to expand its hardware line and help keep its prices competitive. In 1993, the equipment rental shop across the street, Just Ask Rental, was added to the Union's services.
Commissioner Walter Whitcomb of the state's Department of Agriculture, said he remembers well "as a kid growing up in Chesterville, coming to the Union to get grain." He said the original intent of getting together as a cooperative to provide service to the community, is today a rarity in the midst of the nation's chain store trend. Later he told the assembled group "It's a challenging industry in a challenging year, he said of the wet start of summer. Then he read a letter by Gov. Paul LePage that congratulated the Farmers' Union on its 100 years.
Secretary of State Charlie Summers, said in the 100 years since the Union got started, "that it remains the one constant in this community is remarkable," he said and added, "It's a milestone for the state."