By KEVIN WALKER
COOPERSVILLE, Mich. — The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) handed out awards earlier this month honoring its employees for outstanding teamwork, leadership and other qualities.
“MDARD employees step up every day to be problem-solvers for our food and agriculture businesses to foster expansion,” said Jamie Clover Adams, department director. “It is both an honor and a privilege to work to count this high-caliber group of state employees among my colleagues.”
MDARD’s Continental Dairy Team won the award for teamwork this year. MDARD employees spent countless hours helping Continental Dairy of Coopersville getting its new plant going.
“We started looking at plans in December 2008,” said Brandon Verhougstraete, team leader. Continental Dairy General Manager Steve Cooper “showed up with a truck full of plans. We had to look at design, equipment; a lot of things. It just took so much more time than we thought.
“It was a heck of a couple of years. We had to train all the milk inspectors and then make sure they could do it right.”
Verhougstraete said the agency is approached frequently from people about the possibility of starting a plant, and usually such calls don’t go anywhere. Continental Dairy is owned by a company called C.S. Facilities. The Continental Dairy building used to be a General Motors Delphi plant, located in the small town west of Grand Rapids, near the shores of Lake Michigan.
C.S. Facilities bought the plant, refurbished it and now uses much of it to store milk powder and other things the company needs for milk production. Verhougstraete said the town has been transformed.
“I don’t know what happened before Delphi shut down,” he said. “Everything went crazy with GM and they shut the plant down.” He described the addition to the building as “state-of-the-art.” Also, the company is building a second addition so the firm can make another product called Core Power, which is a shelf-stable milk.
“They’re basically putting up the walls right now,” Verhougstraete said of the second addition. “They’re going to use the same receiving base for both products. It’s just crazy because Coopersville is just this small farm town. It’s like this plant has changed the whole landscape. It’s like it’s turned into this milk metropolis.
“I think the other businesses there are ecstatic. There’s so much more business there now.”
Other employees who were part of Verhougstraete’s team and also received the teamwork award were Amy Brown, Shari Blonde, Paula Dankert, Beth Swank, Dennis Hunt, Karen McNamara and Michele Crook.
“It was surprising to get the award,” Verhougstraete said. “It was neat to be recognized together for our efforts.”
Other awards were handed out at the recent MDARD ceremony. Those include the Leadership Award, which was given to Rich Harlow, MDARD’s farmland preservation program manager, and the Everyday Hero Award, given to Cathy Lenda of Millington. Lenda is a department technician who helps support a variety of programs in the animal industry division.
The Front Line Ambassador Award was given to Carrie Andrich of Bad Axe, a lead agricultural products inspector.