Kunstleben retires from dairy promotion efforts

By Melissa Mussman

PAYNESVILLE, Minn. — After 21 years in to dairy promotion, Mel Kunstleben has retired from the Minnesota Division Board of the Midwest Dairy Association.

"I won’t really miss the traveling and the hotel stays," said Kunstleben. "However, I will miss the people that I worked with and met along the way. We have a wonderful and dedicated staff, and I am proud to say that I worked with them."

As chairman of the state and corporate board, he was responsible for chairing the meeting and set up small committees. He also worked with the staff on agendas.


Mel got started with the Midwest Dairy Association when he served on the Associated Milk producers board.

"I was appointed as a representative for AMPI to serve on the Minnesota American Dairy Association," said Kunstleben. "When I got started, we had billboards and media as our ways of promotion. Then we had ‘got milk’ and now the direction is going toward innovation."

Kunstleben said taste and convenience is important for consumers.

He also is excited about the many newer programs that MDA is working with.

"People Behind the Product is a great program," said Kunstleben. "So many people are not connected to the dairy farm, so we as dairy farmers have to deliver that message to our consumers. This program is a great stepping stone to do that."

Kunstleben also knew where his checkoff money was spent.

"If I wouldn’t have served on the state dairy board, I wouldn’t have known where it was being utilized," said Kunstleben. "I have been able to see where it goes, and that is an education in itself. I believe that the money is very well spent."

Mel is happy to see checkoff dollars spent to counter the message delivered by some activist groups.


"Our work with schools is also very impressive and so important," said Kunstleben. "The implementation of the plastic jugs of milk is so important because again it comes down to convenience."

After being apart of the state dairy board for so many years, he has been exposed to the dairy princess program as well.

"The dairy princess program is an excellent program, and a long standing tradition here in Minnesota," said Kunstleben. "However, the work that Midwest Dairy Association and the Minnesota Division Board do is more than just the dairy princess program. There are a lot of other things as well."

As busy as Mel has been with the Midwest Dairy Association, he has always found time to be with the cows as well on his farm near Paynesville.

After Mel graduated from school he worked at several jobs in the Twin Cities before returning to farm with his brother Marvin. They milked 100 cows in partnership before a fire took the barn.

"After the fire, my brother did not want to return to dairying, so my wife, Veronica, and I started to milk 50 Holstein cows in a tie-stall barn in 1967," said Kunstleben. "Now my son is milking 111 Holsteins in a tie-stall barn."

Mel and Veronica have raised two sons Dean and Eric and daughter Sheela on the farm.

"There is no better place to raise a family than a farm...they get the work ethic," said Kunstleben. "My son Dean and his wife and four children are now living on the dairy farm, and hopefully will be involved in promotion later on.


"I am not sorry I took those years in the cities to work because I won’t have the thought that the grass is greener on the other side," he said. "I am glad to come back to the dairy farm, promote the product we have been producing."

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