The Fifth Season Cooperative, founded in August 2010, is co-owned by farmers, distributors, buyers, producer groups, workers, and processors within a 150-mile radius of Viroqua, and organizers are calling its first year of operation a success.
The cooperative produces and distributes locally grown produce, meats, dairy and value-added food products to institutional and foodservice buyers from farms and regional processors through its distribution member, Reinhart FoodService.
Fifth Season requires sustainable practices and provides fair pricing for small and mid-sized growers and processors.
The cooperative also works together with businesses and organizations to provide education on and increased exposure to locally produced foods.
Current membership includes 14 independent farms, three farmer cooperatives, seven processors, and one distributor. Thirty-five hundred foodservice buyers have access to Fifth Season's products through Reinhart, located in La Crosse.
"It's gratifying to see how Fifth Season is already contributing to the health of our region's children by supplying fresh foods to area schools," says Marilyn Volden, Fifth Season Board member and Food/Nutrition Program Supervisor for the Viroqua Area School District.
Fifth Season Cooperative has launched "Help Us Grow," a capital campaign with an offering of Class B Series 1 preferred stock to Wisconsin residents.
Citing its relationship with Reinhart FoodService as a key to its increase in sales, Fifth Season announced it has met its infrastructure and membership goals and seeks investors to build on that success.
The "Help Us Grow" campaign is intended to attract investors who are interested in supporting Fifth Season's regional model and the businesses and communities it serves.
The campaign brochure outlines the development necessary for the co-op to achieve a level of sales that is profitable and sustainable, including a broader product portfolio, more robust infrastructure and logistics, and marketing and staffing support.
"We're fortunate to have visionary partners and customers who are vested in the growth of the Fifth Season system, even though it's still in its infancy," said Mike Dvorak, Fifth Season Board member and Division President at Reinhart FoodService.
In the past, the foods now produced and sold through Fifth Season were shipped directly to major markets such as Minneapolis and Chicago, bypassing foodservice buyers within this region.
Today, Fifth Season's local production and distribution model gives those buyers the opportunity to buy fresh, whole foods that have been shipped fewer miles and offer superior taste and freshness.
"The demand for local foods in foodservice is strong," said Diane Chapeta, Fifth Season's Operations manager, "and we've connected our pipeline with theirs."
Chapeta went on to say that the co-op's greatest accomplishment in 2012 has been to build on its new relationship with Reinhart and successfully develop and serve key accounts with Reinhart as distributor. "We've proven that it works, and we now need support to scale the system to meet the demand," she said.
Mark Hutson, Fifth Season Board member and Administrative Director of Nutrition Services at Gundersen Lutheran Health System added, "The demand is there, and customers are willing to pay a little more for something local and fresh. More support for Fifth Season will make this model a big success for the whole region."
For information about helping us grow by investing in Fifth Season's Class B Series 1 preferred stock, Wisconsin residents may contact Diane Chapeta at firstname.lastname@example.org