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Hughson dairy plant celebrates 100 years of operation
Hughson dairy pic1
Mike Zanos, manager of Dairy Farmers of Americas Hughson plant, stands in front of the facilitys milk silos. Zanos remembers starting out at the plant in 1970 packing powder. The Hughson plant is celebrating 100 years of operation this year. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER / The Journal

One of the first things Mike Zanos did when he returned to the Dairy Farmers of America’s Hughson plant as its manager last month was to flip the switch back on to the plant’s steam buzzer.

Once again the sound of the buzzer could be heard throughout Hughson daily at 6 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.

“I immediately got phone calls from people who were excited about hearing the buzzer again,” Zanos said.

Zanos’ return to Hughson after a 22-year absence has coincided with the dairy plant’s 100-year anniversary; and who better to usher in the next century at DFA Hughson than a man who vividly remembers his first days packing milk powder as a recent Turlock High grad in 1970.

“I started out packing powder and running the turns and ended up working here for 15 years,” he said.

Zanos left Hughson in 1989 and proceeded to work for different dairy companies in California and New Mexico, before being asked to once again take the helm at DFA Hughson in August.

The Hughson facility is one of the cooperative’s 27 wholly-owned manufacturing facilities. The plant’s 41 employees produce cream, butter, condensed skim milk and nonfat dry milk.

Over the past 40 years Zanos has witnessed many changes in the facility, and the industry as a whole. But some things never change, just get upgraded. Zanos remembers when workers used a hand crank to speed up and slow down the milk evaporation process. Now a machine controls the process, with human operators monitoring the technology.

Modern technology is needed, however, to help the plant manage the 9.7 million pounds of milk that come in and out of the facility in a given week — quite a bit more than the plant handled when it opened in 1911.

H.E. Ross started the plant under the name Hughson Condensed Milk Company in 1911. As the area’s population increased, so did dairy demand. The facility’s location along a railroad was useful for shipping dairy, but proved to be disastrous when a railroad fire caused the plant to burn down in 1929. However, the facility was rebuilt shortly after. The plant changed owners and names nine times before becoming part of DFA in 1998.

Employees from the plant and DFA’s Western Area will celebrate the achievement with the community at the Hughson Harvest Festival and alumni football game this weekend.

“Our relationship with the community is incredibly important to us,” said Zanos. “The city and plant have grown together. It is truly a special opportunity to be able to celebrate a century of success with the people who helped make it possible.”

DFA’s Hughson plant will host a booth featuring dairy products, games and prizes at the Hughson Harvest Festival, providing community members the opportunity to learn more about the cooperative and the unique history of the Hughson facility. DFA also will be honored at the alumni football game with a special ceremony taking place prior to the game.

“The Hughson facility and its community have a deep connection,” said Glenn Wallace, chief operating officer of ingredients for DFA’s Global Dairy Products Group. “Community is one of DFA’s core values and it’s exciting to see the plant employees living out that value.”

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.