As Innovative, Inclusive Approach to Creating a More Robust Local Food System
While Southwest Wisconsin features a wealth of agricultural resources that produce large quantities of high quality food, much of that food leaves the region for larger markets like Madison, Chicago and the Twin Cities. As a result, concerns have emerged in recent years regarding the region’s food security.
The Fifth Season Cooperative is a multistakeholder cooperative made up of producers, producer groups, food processors, distributors and buyers from the 7 Rivers Region. With members representing all of the key players in the local food system, Fifth Season is working to build a robust regional food system that supports a healthy environment, a strong economy and thriving communities. A commitment to sustainable farming in particular has been at the forefront of the co-op’s activities.
Fifth Season’s members include organic and conventional farmers; processors such as Organic Valley, Westby Coop Creamery and Premier Meats; and a variety of institutional purchasers including Gundersen Lutheran, Vernon Memorial Healthcare, UW-La Crosse, Western Technical College and Viroqua Area School District. Fifth Season was helped with a $40,000 business development grant, the largest issued in 2010, through the state’s Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin program, an initiative that has been valuable in creating local food networks during the economic recession.