• WisBusiness

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

GreenBiz: Wide-ranging Fifth Season Co-op to start growth this spring


By Gregg Hoffmann
After months of planning and organizing, the Fifth Season Cooperative is ready to start operation with this coming growing season.

“We are planning on starting with a select number of vegetables and then developing from there,” said Sue Noble, executive director of the Vernon County Economic Development Association and a catalyst to the co-op formation.

Fifth Season has drawn interest regionally, statewide and even nationwide because of its somewhat unique structure. It is a multi-stakeholder cooperative that includes membership classes of producers, producer groups, food processors, distributors, buyers and co-op workers.

“This represents all of the key players in the food system at the local level,” reads a promotional brochure for Fifth Season. “The goal is to keep local dollars circulating in the community and to develop long term relationships between the institutional buyers and the farmers in order to ensure a fair price for everyone.”

Members so far in the co-op include organic and conventional farmers, Organic Valley, Westby Coop Creamery, Premier Meats and other producers and processors and Gundersen Lutheran, Vernon Memorial Healthcare, UW-La Crosse, Western Technical College, Viroqua Area School District and other institutional buyers.

Fifth Season also has drawn interest because it received the largest Buy Local Wisconsin Grant in 2010, a $40,000 grant for starting up.

Long range plans -- as co-op sales and activity scale up -- call for housing Fifth Season storage, processing and distribution in the Western Wisconsin Food Enterprise Center, a remodeled former manufacturing building in Viroqua. That renovation project received a $2 million grant in September from U.S. Economic Development Administration and is in the planning and early stages of development. VEDA and the City of Viroqua received the EDA grant.

Fifth Season was recently featured in the USDA’s Rural Cooperatives publication posted on the Rural Development web site and has received other media attention regionally.

The coop grew from an 18-month food assessment in the Vernon County region. That assessment was undertaken in part because of concerns about large quantities of food leaving the region for larger cities such as Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago and the Twin Cities without economic benefits to the businesses in the county and Driftless region.

From the assessment, potential projects and policies to move toward a more sustainable food system were identified. Goals were set.

The Valley Stewardship Network, which works on several projects in the Kickapoo Valley and beyond, launched a Food and Farm Initiative (FFI) to encourage the development of a sustainable, equitable local food system.

“The work of VSN and other groups in the assessment and early stages of developing a food system has proven to be invaluable,” Noble said. “It gave us a foundation to start bringing people together for the cooperative effort.”

Fifth Season was incorporated in August of last year. Signers of the incorporation papers include Brian Wickert of EZ Farming, Marilyn Volden, food service director for Viroqua Public Schools, Terry Hoyum, owner and manager of Premier Meats, Peter Kondrup, general manager of the Westby Co-op Creamery, Larry Ringgenberg, director of student centers at UW-La Crosse, Mark Hutson, food services director for Gundersen Lutheran, and Nicole Penick, a co-op employee and the Buy Local Development Coordinator.

“This co-op is one of a handful of multi-stakeholder cooperatives in the United States,” Penick recently wrote in Pea Soup, a newsletter of the Viroqua Food Cooperative. “The Fifth Season Co-op Board is currently in its initial planning stages, working to connect the dots between generating a fair price for produce, meat and dairy products and the tight budgets of our area’s hospitals, schools and college food service departments.”

Penick also said that the co-op is now accepting investments from the community to raise capital. Shares are available for a minimum investment of $500. The co-op will pay an annual dividend of 5 percent.

Fifth Season’s mission statement reads: “To produce, process and market healthy, local foods in our region by supporting the values of environmental, social and economic fairness for all.”

This vision has been evident for quite some time in Vernon County -- which has the most organic farms in the state -- and elsewhere in the Driftless Area. In part, it is driven by the terrain and geology of the area, which does not lend itself to vast farms that produce huge volumes of food.

Instead, small farms producing quality food has been emphasized. Organic Valley and Westby Co-op Creamery have brought that approach to dairy and developed it into markets regionally and around the country. It’s been more of a challenge with produce, meat, eggs and other farm products.

Many of the small farms bring their produce to farmers markets in the region and to Madison, Chicago and Twin Cities, but there has not been an integrated system in place for them to distribute to those cities and closer to home.

“Many producers will continue to supply those markets individually,” Noble said. “Fifth Season’s coordination helps these businesses scale up and distribute their products to area schools and institutions, and other new markets.”

-- Hoffmann has written on a variety of topics for WisPolitics.com and WisBusiness.com. He writes the GreenBiz feature column monthly.

Labels:


Comments: 1

At January 3, 2014 at 5:50 PM, OpenID hokonas said...

Any educator can chance to find basic concepts of modern days culture, using cognition as well as imagination. But anyone at every university expects to get immediate help from papersmart.net term paper service as soon as possible he or she can use this creative writing company for students from any country they live in. As learning formations are getting more demanding every year, majority of them, including me, would like to get the task completed on schedule.

 

Post a Comment

Back to BizOpinion main page

: See newer blog items : : See older blog items :

BizOpinion site feed
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

wisbusiness.com Social News

Follow Us

Site Sponsors

ARCHIVE

· January 2009
· February 2009
· March 2009
· April 2009
· May 2009
· June 2009
· July 2009
· August 2009
· September 2009
· October 2009
· November 2009
· December 2009
· January 2010
· February 2010
· March 2010
· April 2010
· May 2010
· June 2010
· July 2010
· August 2010
· September 2010
· October 2010
· November 2010
· December 2010
· January 2011
· February 2011
· March 2011
· April 2011
· May 2011
· June 2011
· July 2011
· August 2011
· September 2011
· October 2011
· November 2011
· December 2011
· January 2012
· February 2012
· March 2012
· April 2012
· May 2012
· June 2012
· July 2012
· August 2012
· September 2012
· October 2012
· November 2012
· December 2012
· January 2013
· February 2013
· March 2013
· April 2013
· May 2013
· June 2013
· July 2013
· August 2013
· September 2013
· October 2013
· November 2013
· December 2013
· January 2014
· February 2014
· March 2014
· April 2014
· May 2014
· June 2014
· July 2014
· August 2014
· September 2014
· October 2014
· November 2014
· December 2014
· January 2015
· February 2015
· March 2015
· April 2015
· May 2015
· June 2015
· July 2015
· August 2015
· September 2015
· October 2015
· November 2015
· December 2015
· January 2016
· February 2016
· March 2016
· April 2016
· May 2016
· July 2016
· August 2016
· October 2016
· December 2016
Copyright ©2013 WisBusiness.com All rights reserved. | WisOpinion.com | WisPolitics.com  |  Website development by wisnet.com LLC  | Website design by Makin’ Hey Communications