Michigan Farm Bureau Centennial | Powell photos document dry bean trade, Elevator Exchange
Michigan Farm Bureau centennial site celebrating 100 years of Michigan Farm Bureau.
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Powell photos document dry bean trade, Elevator Exchange

By Jeremy C. Nagel

In the middle decades of the 20th century a throwback parade float meant Michigan Elevator Exchange had to nod toward an era predating its own existence—in this case, a distant yesteryear of horse-drawn wagons. This is on Huron Avenue in downtown Port Huron. See more in the online gallery

There are several silver linings to our human-nature tendency to collect things. It benefits those looking to document the past in that people’s collections of personal memorabilia often contain deep inventories of paths into history—sometimes narrow, overgrown paths we’ve lost track of over time.

Such is the case with Ed Powell, with whom we were first reunited last winter via a chance conversation at MFB’s annual meeting. A quick phone conversation with Ed a couple days later led to this brief sketch of his history with Michigan Elevator Exchange, the grain and bean broker long allied with Farm Bureau Services and thereby Michigan Farm Bureau.

It was a quick conversation because Ed and his wife Donna were headed for warmer climes the very next day, but we pledged to reconnect upon their return in the spring. He checked in last month and I paid him and Donna a visit at their beautiful farmhouse in Ionia County.

We spent a couple hours sifting through Ed’s photo collection, including a personal photo album, the scrapbook his coworkers compiled upon his retirement, a shoebox full of sorted and bundled photo prints, and a few file folders that looked like they could’ve been pulled from his work desk 30 or 40 years ago.

The collection provides a deep look inside the Michigan Elevator Exchange, which at its peak in the 1960s and ‘70s was the largest grain and bean handler in the state. There is particular emphasis on the bean side of things, with on-farm images of production techniques over time, and photos documenting the subsequent steps of processing, packaging and transshipment.

There’s also a gallery of several of the local co-op elevators that served as primary aggregation points feeding into MEE’s network of bean and grain network.

We’re sharing the best of his collection in this online photo gallery. Enjoy!

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