Milk Cover Art

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Milk Cover Art Maui, Hawaii

Agricultural Signifigance

Until 1984 not a single drop of milk was imported into the state of Hawaii. Hawaii was 100% milk independent and self-sustained.
At its industry peak (1965) Hawaii had close to 90 dairy farms across the state of Hawaii. By 2008, nearly all local dairies closed due to an increase in high operational expenses, agricultural land loss and the high cost of importing feed.

Now there are only 2 dairy farms located on the Big Island of Hawaii which together only produce 9% of the state's milk supply. 

Cultural Significance

In the 1920’s, during the plantation days of Hawaii, children collected "milk covers" (thin paper caps that sealed the tops of glass milk bottles) and in turn invented a new innovative game. The game of "milk caps" began in Maui in 1927 and it possibly originates from a 17th century Japanese card game called Menko. This resourceful and competitive game was played and enjoyed for generations. However as dairy farms disappeared and milk covers no longer served a necessary purpose for packaging milk, the "milk cap" game phased out in the 60's. It wasn't until thirty or so years later that the game reappeared as "Pogs" in the early 1990’s.

According to Wikipedia, the story behind POGS goes like this:  “The game of pogs was played on the Hawaiian island of Maui as early as 1927. The 1990s revival is credited to Blossom Galbiso, a teacher and guidance counselor who taught at Waialua Elementary School in Oahu.  In 1991, Galbiso introduced the game she had played as a little girl to a new generation of students, soon incorporating pogs into her fifth grade curriculum as a way of teaching math and as a nonviolent alternative to other popular schoolyard games, one of which involved throwing a ball at one’s opponent as hard as possible. The game quickly spread from Oahu’s North Shore, and by early 1992, STANPAC Inc., the small Canadian packaging company that had been manufacturing the milk caps distributed by Haleakala Dairy on Maui (the same caps that were collected by Galbiso for her class), was printing millions of pogs every week for shipment to the Hawaiian island chain. The game soon spread to the mainland, first surfacing in California, Texas, Oregon, and Washington before spreading to the rest of the country. By 1993, the previously obscure game of pogs, which had almost been forgotten, was now played throughout the world.


My Connection

I grew up playing milk caps at Paia Elementary School in the early 1990's. At recess we gathered barefoot under the cool shade of giant monkey pod trees and challenged each other to a game of milk caps. Every kid in my class had their favorite coveted "milk cover". I prized my red, yellow and green "Ikaika Warrior" cap along with my hot pink "Bad Boy" milk cap. To this day holding milk caps from my childhood collection brings back a flood of fond memories.

Growing up, I witnessed the fad and huge commercialization of milk caps in the 1990's. Almost every business on every block sold or gave away milk covers as a promotional tools. My Dad even got in on the action in 1994, creating a toy called "Moon Caster" a flying disc kit capable of flying milk covers up to 200 feet! Hawaii's homegrown milk cover game soon spread to the mainland as "Pog Mania".

My "Milk Cover" art series has many layers... Historically - it unfolds the truth that Hawaii's local dairy industry was once a thriving agricultural power of profit and sustainability, but today it has all but disappeared, monopolized by mainland companies, only leaving behind a trail of milk covers. This art is a reminder that we must continue to support our local farmers and thrive to achieve agricultural independence. Culturally - milk covers represent Hawaii, community, gathering, resourcefulness, and the coming together of people of all socioeconomic backgrounds to play and take part in good local fun. Personally this art reminds me of my childhood, my family and my beloved friends at Paia School.

100% Local Till 1984
Edition 2/22 - 30"x40"
100% Local Till 1984 Edition 2/22 - 30"x40"

For those interested in more history:

Brief History of the Hawaii Dairy Industry

A study funded by the State Department of Agriculture in Collaboration with the Dairy Industry.
Dairy Appendix B Part 1: Issues Related to Hawaii’s Dairy Industry

"The dairy industry in Hawaii began in 1793 when the first cattle were introduced into the islands. Records suggest that dairy cattle arrived in late 1800's and first commercial dairy was operated in 1869. By 1880, there were 5 dairy operations. During the Second World War, dairy farms played an important role in the health of the military as milk, a crucial item in the nutrition, was provided free to the injured military personnel. By 1955, the number of dairies recorded was 86 and the cow populations peaked in 1965 with 15,100 head (6). Another publication cited 90 dairy operations (14). The state's population then was 711,000 people. The growth in population resulted in the demand of milk and this was met by producers importing cows from mainland. In 1960, 2,495 head were imported. By 1965, 3,833 heads of replacement were shipped in (2).

Oahu had the largest concentration of dairy cows and operations. However, by 1974 as urbanization increased, the dairy operations began to decrease. Cows per farm continued to increase. By 1978, Hawaii dairy operations registered 500 milking cows per farm versus Wisconsin 30 cows per farm (6). Urbanization on Oahu resulted in dislocation and displaced operations. Dairies moved from Kapahulu, Kaimuki, Kahuku and Hawaii Kai to Waianae. This change in location brought new challenges as dairies which were on pasture were turned into dry lot operations in the hottest district of Oahu. It resulted in higher calf mortality, lower conceptions and seasonal depression in milk supply (which coincided with the start of the new school year). The state cow population began to decrease in 1980.

Until the Heptachlor incident in Hawaii in 1982, Hawaii was self-sufficient in milk (14). Not one drop of milk was imported until 1984. Safeway was the first to import processed milk into the market place. The industry saw periodic sparks of growth in the mid 80s and early 90s. However, in past dozen years, environmental issues, feed costs, transportation, milk prices to farmers, an aging ownership in the industry along with changing dynamics of the market place triggered the decline of the industry.

Most farms on Oahu were on 9-12 acres parcel. Current waste management regulations would make dairy operations with land restriction impossible. Today the survival of the industry hangs on thread. Government actions will be needed if it was to survive. We are at a crossroad. An industry that once was worth over $33.3 million at farmgate (1998) was valued at $18.3m in 2005. It saw a 45% decline in 7 years! Peak milk production was in 1988 where 160 million pounds were produced versus 57 million pounds in 2006; 64.4% drop in local milk production. The once mighty component of the diversified agriculture needs a ''transfusion" to ensure Hawaii's children have milk in event of a transportation disruption in today's heightened security due to global terrorism.

The rapid growth of dairy operations in the 1955-65 in the islands where there were limited processors was not without challenges. Discriminate purchasing practices and prices across the marketplace resulted in turmoil. The unrest was unmatched in the local livestock industries. At its peak, dairy producers' blockaded the state capital demanding action. Gun shots were fired and milk was dumped at the state capital. The turmoil was settled by the legislation that created the Milk Act whose intent was to ensure order in the market place. Hawaii Revised Statues Chapter 157 was passed in 1967 after the legislative body found that " ... that the dairy industry is a paramount agricultural industry of this state .... , milk is an enterprise that is of significance importance to the economy of the State and to the health of the consuming public, which ought to be safeguarded and protected in the public interest."(1). Records showed administrative rules regulations were adopted in November 1970 (10). This report reviewed issues that were identified within the Milk Act and other related items affecting the dairy industry."