Fifth Season Cooperative | La Crosse, WI

Fifth Season Cooperative | La Crosse, WI

Extending the Harvest for La Crosse

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Spring has sprung, and so has another season of growing wonderful things to eat across the land. In Viroqua, Wisconsin, not far from the Reinhart La Crosse Division, the folks at Fifth Season Cooperative are fulfilling orders as expeditiously as possible from restaurants and other foodservice institutions in the neighborhood. The term “fifth season” historically refers to the various ways people have preserved food to extend the harvest well beyond the growing season, especially in northern climes. The cooperative’s founders adopted the name for their new venture because it described their objectives to a tee. Fifth Season was founded in August 2010 with a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture to provide the infrastructure and coordination needed to connect producers with buyers in the region. The venture has been a great success, and Reinhart customers in the region are the beneficiaries because Reinhart is the Fifth Season distributor partner. All of the product sold through the cooperative comes from within a 150-mile radius of Viroqua, and all members must adhere to stringent quality standards and practices.

In just seven years, the cooperative has attracted 50 grower members, which refers to fresh growers of vegetables and fruit, and 30 processor members, whose products run the gamut from frozen fruits and vegetables under the Sno-Pac brand, to honey, maple syrup, cheeses, pastas, organic dairy products, meats and dry goods — at least 130 locally grown and sustainably produced items.  Most of the products are organic, with the remainder grown with the same requirements as organics while growers work toward certification. No chemicals are used in the growing process, and no hormones are used in meat production. Each member of the cooperative shares the common goal of maintaining the health and welfare of people, animals and the earth.

Jamie Deaver, who has managed Fifth Season’s office operations for nearly four years, is as optimistic as springtime when discussing the enterprise. "Asparagus is the hot ticket item right now,” she said. “Our sales are up 30 percent over last year. Our products are being delivered to restaurants, hospitals, public schools and healthcare facilities all over the area. Sustainability and buying local are definitely here to stay.

Deaver went on to explain that the cooperative has recently ventured into aquaponics, in which romaine and other lettuces and herbs are grown in pouches, their roots extending down into water. Another cooperative sustainability trend is the increased utilization of hoop houses and hot houses for winter production.

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