LITCHFIELD, Minn. — Since 1921, cows and milk have been an integral part of the landscape in Litchfield.

As the host home to the First District Association, an independent dairy cooperative, Litchfield has watched as the once small dairy processor steadily grew into a massive, state-of-the-art facility that produces cheese, whey protein and lactose sold around the world.

First District is putting the finishing touches on a two-year expansion project expected to increase the plant’s milk processing capacity from 5.8 million pounds a day to 7.5 million pounds a day.

It's expected the new system will go on-line in September — just in time for First District’s 100th anniversary.

To mark the milestone, First District worked with the Litchfield Downtown Council on a project called Downtown Cowtown that celebrates cows, dairy farmers, art and the people of Litchfield.

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It’s a unique project that again puts cows in the Litchfield landscape — this time with a big dash of fun and philanthropy.

Eight life-size fiberglass dairy cow statues and 10 plastic calves were painted by local nonprofit organizations this spring and placed throughout town last week.

Some of the statues were painted in a blaze of color and some were painted with symbols and messages reflecting the organizations, such as 4-H, Scouts, Legion Auxiliary, day cares and senior citizen groups.

The uniquely decorated cows and calves can be seen all summer at different outdoor locations, including the city park, fire and rescue hall, library and a number of businesses.

On Aug. 26 the cows will be herded to Central Park and auctioned off, with proceeds going to the organizations that painted them. The auction will begin at 5:30 p.m., followed by a free outdoor concert.

“In a way to give back to the community, we decided to let nonprofits paint the cows, and then when we have the auction in August. All that money goes back to the nonprofits,” said Troy Gassman, engineering project manager with First District. “So whatever they sell the cows for, they get to keep the money.”

A dozen contractors who worked on the First District expansion project donated the $20,000 to purchase the unpainted fiberglass statues, which were made in the Philippines, got “stuck in the Suez Canal” and were then held up in New Jersey waiting for land transportation — delaying their arrival to Litchfield, said Darlene Kotelnicki, from the Litchfield Downtown Council.

Instead of having the statutes in April and May to paint, most organizations got them the first of June.

Gassmann is thrilled with the artistic results.

“I think people did a wonderful job,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement and there’s already people asking about purchasing them and how they go about buying one, so I think it’ll do well.”

After experiencing the constraints of the pandemic for the last year, Gassman said people were “excited to do something” and eagerly embraced the Downtown Cowtown project.

With Kotelnicki providing direction about which decorated cow went to each specific location, Gassman and a crew from the city of Litchfield Public Works Department carried cows and calves across streets and parking lots to their temporary homes.

The statues were anchored in the ground with long spikes on each hoof to make sure they didn't walk away and placards were placed by each cow describing the organization that painted it and the businesses where the cows are located.

The community response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“People love them,” said Kotelnicki. “They are the talk of the town.”