From Cow to Carton: The dairy farmers behind Bongards Creameries head South

A farming tradition spanning six generations continues to thrive through a sixth-generation dairy farmer taking part in the larger mission of Bongards Creameries, a cooperative expanding operations from Minnesota all the way to Humboldt, Tennessee.

Meet Christine Leonard, a dedicated Minnesota dairy farmer whose family has been tending the same land for over 150 years. Leonard is one of 300 dairy farmers that comprise Bongards Creameries, a cooperative founded in Bongards, Minnesota, in 1908. Now a well-established name in the dairy industry, Bongards Creameries produces a diverse range of cheese products sold across the United States and beyond.

At their family-owned farm, Leonard and her family milk 45 registered Holstein cows, contributing to their legacy of agricultural excellence. The milk produced on their farm embarks on a transformative journey that takes it from the rural fields of Minnesota to plates around the world.

“When the milk leaves our farm, it actually goes to Bongards Creameries, where it gets turned into cheese,” Leonard said.

According to Evan Carlson, vice president of marketing at Bongards Premium Cheese, the cooperative’s objective is to ensure a consistent market for the milk produced by farmers like Leonard.

“Our objective is, number one, to ensure that there’s a place for our farmers’ milk to go—making sure that they can always sell their product,” Carlson said.

Bongards Creameries expanded beyond its Minnesota roots in 2010, recognizing an opportunity in Humboldt, Tennessee. This small town, with a population of around 8,500, is nestled in the agriculture belt of West Tennessee and was the ideal location for the cooperative’s expansion.

At the Humboldt plant, milk from local farmer’s cows undergoes a remarkable transformation into cheese. The process can be as swift as 12 hours from milk arrival to cheese production. The facility primarily focuses on producing processed slice and loaf products, utilizing barrels of cheese from Bongards’ Perham plant in Minnesota.

As the cheese is processed, mixed, and pasteurized, it is distributed to a wide range of customers in the food service industry, including schools, restaurants, and popular chain restaurants that have likely featured Bongard’s cheese on their menus.

This expansion to Humboldt, Tennessee, not only brought a new commodity to the town but also offered a significant source of employment for the local community.

“It’s awesome to say, hey, there’s a bunch of people from Minnesota who wants to come down here and open a cheese plant up in Humboldt, Tennessee,” said Marvin, a Humbolt resident.

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