News Archive

Read how Community Hunger Solutions provides hunger relief region wide
March 5, 2024, Read More

Apply for the Main Street Bounce Back Grant for new and existing businesses
September 13, 2022, Read More

Attend the Winding Roads Art Tour, June 4 & 5, for self guided visits to studios in western Wisconsin
March 17, 2022, Read More

Read the December Economic Update
December 11, 2021, Read More

Apply for the Vernon County Microenterprise Business Grant for up to $5,000
December 11, 2021, Read More

Choosing the Right Structure for your Food Business
July 1, 2021, Read More

Read about Driftless Provisions as newest tenant in Food Enterprise Center
April 21, 2021, Read More

See a video of Community Hunger Solutions in action
February 22, 2021, Read More

Attend a workshop on employee ownership for business transitions
February 6, 2020, Read More

Read about Agricultural Opportunities with Hemp
January 9, 2019, Read More

Watch a profile of Fizzeology, a tenant in the Food Enterprise Center
September 17, 2018, Read More

FEC Tenants Win Big at Wisconsin State Fair
August 15, 2018, Read More

WWBIC award for work with entrepreneurs
September 12th, 2017, Read More

The Food Enterprise Center and Viroqua are featured in national
online Ozy news magazine
July 12th, 2017, Read More

Read national online news about the economy of local food in our region
July 12th, 2017, Read More

VEDA is celebrating their Tenth Anniversary
June 6th, 2017, Read More

Solar Energy Project at the Food Enterprise Center
August, 2015, Read More

Home Health Care Cooperative Study
September 10, 2014, Read More

Food Enterprise Center receives Top Rural Initiative award
May 2014 Read More

Vernon Electric Co-op constructs community-owned solar farm
April 2014 Read More

WEDA news features the Food Enterprise Center
November, 2013, Read More

New Business is Launched at Food Enterprise Center
July 22, 2013, Read More

Cooperatives met at White House Community Leaders Briefing 
May 4, 2012, Read More

U.S. Ag Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan visits the Food Enterprise Center
April 2, 2012, Read More

Executive Director receives White House Champions of Change recognition
July 2011, Read More

Fifth Season Co-op featured in national Rural Cooperatives publication
January 4, 2011, Read More

Governor Doyle announces EDA funding for Food Enterprise Center
September 22, 2010, Read More

Fifth Season Cooperative is Launched
August 10, 2010, Read More

Governor Doyle signs bill to help agriculture and Farm to School programs
May 12, 2010, Read More                  

Local Food Community Celebration in Viroqua
February 6, 2010, Read More

Local food initiative receives largest BLBW grant
January 19, 2010, Read More

VEDA acquires facility to create enterprise center
July 31, 2009, Read More

Doyle Announces $39 Million in Flood Relief
Tuesday, June 9, 2009, Read More 

Vernon County could be leader in local farm and food economy
May 25, 2009, Read More

Local food and farm economy presentation
May 21, 6:30-8:30 pm, Read more

Students attend Youth Entrepreneurship Day with speaker Ben Casnocha.
September 26, 2008, Read More

Attend a workshop on employee ownership for business transitions March 5
February 6, 2020

Are you looking for someone to buy your business? Would you like to attract a buyer to a business in your community? Finding buyers can be difficult. In rural communities, where many business owners are aging, business transition is an important issue.

For rural businesses with 10 to 100 employees, selling to employees may be an option. Employees are already invested in the local business, and current employees are less likely to buy and move the business to another location.  

Vernon Economic Development Association in partnership with University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives and Cooperative Development Services want to help rural businesses and communities consider employee ownership. They are co-hosting a workshop on March 5 to create awareness and knowledge about converting rural businesses to employee cooperatives. At the workshop, you will learn about: Selling a business to employees, case studies and data on employee business transitions, steps in the conversion process and resources you will need along the way.

This event would be beneficial for economic and business development officials, owners and managers of businesses, prospective employee-owners and business support professionals. It will be held on Thursday, March 5 at the Food Enterprise Center, 1201 North Main Street in Viroqua, from 3:00 until 4:30 p.m. There is no cost but space is limited so please register online at: if you wish to attend.

Everyone is welcome!

Back to the top

Read about Agricultural Opportunities with Hemp
January 9, 2019

By Kathy Neidert, VEDA Board Member

Local Growers of Hemp Flowers Needed

Can hemp become the cash crop tobacco once was in Vernon County? That's what Luke Zigovits posed as a possibility to a crowd of about 150 people attending his presentation "Opportunities with HempScience" at the January 9 Inventors and Entrepreneurs Club meeting at the Food Enterprise Center in Viroqua.

Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant species that is grown specifically for the industrial uses of its derived products. It is one of the fastest growing plants and was one of the first plants to be spun into usable fiber 10,000 years ago. It can be refined into a variety of commercial items including paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, and now phytonutrient products.

Although cannabis marijuana and industrial hemp both derive from the same species, Cannabis sativa, hemp contains 0.3% or less of the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). New hemp cultivars have been specifically bred to have lower concentrations of THC and higher concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD), which eliminates any risk of psychoactive effects.

Wisconsin was historically a major producer of industrial hemp for fiber until 1958. According to Zigovits, it still can be found growing feral in the county, for it escaped cultivation via wildlife and its desire to reproduce via male and female plants. A 2017 law has re-opened Wisconsin for hemp farming, allowing farmers to once again grow industrial hemp. In addition, the 2018 Farm Bill federally rescheduled hemp, which allows Wisconsin hemp to now cross state lines and is now considered an agricultural crop. Zigovits maintains that currently the most valuable returns for farmers in Vernon County is growing seedless female plants whose flowers will be used for the extraction of CBD. “Grain hemp poses a big threat to our farmers' well-being and their bottom line," he said. "Because of the risk of pollination of their crops, we discourage planning grain and fiber hemp in our community. Male plants are needed for grain production and will cause the involuntary formation of seeds in CBD hemp, which will significantly reduce farmer pay price and the percentage of extractable CBD for HempScience."

Zigovits, who lives in rural Viola with his family, has extensive experience in the organic farming and the hemp industry. He has worked with both organic food and organic animal feeds at Farmer Direct Co-op (FDC, a Canadian food company) and Organic Valley (our area organic dairy brand). While at Organic Valley, he created a crop grower pool to supply member dairy farms in times of high feed costs. He took sales from less than $1 million per year to $27 million per year within a five-year period. At FDC, he switched gears from high volume, low margin feed sales to high value organic and fair-trade human grade food grains. At the same time, he built a network of dedicated and talented organic family farmers to feed a national retail brand.

The local entrepreneur has been working with his business partner Jason Freeman and farmers in Canada to grow certified organic hemp seed since around 2002. Both men are experienced in organic hemp grain production, sourcing and trading. Their Canadian based companies sell bulk hemp oil, hulled hempseed, and protein meal through their own brand as well as to other food manufactures.

HempScience LLC

Now the CEO of North American Organic Trade Solutions (NAOTS), Zigovits co-founded HempScience LLC, a fully-owned Wisconsin-based subsidiary of NAOTS. HempScience is one of 22 entrepreneurial businesses currently leasing space at the Food Enterprise Center. Licensed for hemp processing, HempScience wants to develop a local hemp grower pool for a nationally distributed brand producing in Viroqua the world's first certified organic, fair trade, small producer and premium hemp phytonutrient products such as drops, capsules and topicals, which Zigovits said "People want these products because they know they work."

HempScience has an established network to provide profitability through significant retail, wholesale, and medical clinic sales. The company plans to set up its processing and manufacturing facilities in Viroqua this year. To accomplish its processing and manufacturing goals, HempScience needs a pool of reliable growers to produce the supply of quality certified organic hemp flowers. Building an ethical supply chain is an important goal of their company's mission, and all products will be 100% organic.

"We are offering full or partial production contracts for 2019," Zigovits said. There will be other opportunities for spot market contracts as well. Production on a quarter-acre to two-acre growing space is recommended, and a structure to dry the hemp flowers is needed, just like with tobacco. A state-issued license to grow the hemp is also required, and the deadline to apply for one is March 1.

Zigovits estimates HempScience initially needs 30-50 acres, or around 100,000 lbs., of CBD hemp flower production for this year, although much more may be needed for spot market contracts. "HempScience is looking to qualify quality growers for 2019 and beyond," he said.

The Viroqua-based company follows a small organic family farmer focused business model and offers direct contracts with local and regional farmers who in turn will have access to the many resources HempScience can provide. This includes agronomic support, access to quality transplants and a knowledgeable staff to discuss production and harvest. In addition, Zigovits and his team continue to do research and development on their certified organic farm in Vernon County. “Its important to find varieties that work for our region and much like tobacco, we may find that there needs to be a different cultivar for ridge top and valley farms”, said Zigovits.

In the HempScience model, creating a grower supplier pool will enable a stable market for farmers while establishing a consistent supply of raw material needed for the HempScience brand. Zigovits has worked alongside many world-renowned cannabis breeders and researchers and brings his extensive network and hands-on experience in organic agriculture to the organization. As the CEO and the Co-Founder of HempScience, he will oversee plant genetics, cultivation, manufacturing and processing of the certified organic hemp flower into a finished retail branded product.

HempScience offers interested individuals future opportunities as growers, employees or investors. Zigovits says farmers can expect to make a profit, and fulltime jobs will be created in harvesting and production among other related activities. Dedicated growers' meetings will be held once a grower pool of dedicated farmers is established in the near future.

For more information on becoming a grower of quality certified organic hemp flowers, contact Luke Zigovits at

Inventors & Entrepreneurs Club

The Inventors and Entrepreneurs Club meetings are held every month on the second Wednesday starting at 6:00 p.m. with a different topic and speaker each month. The Club provides a safe environment for creative people to explore their ideas, network with peers, and find resources to help.

No reservations are required and everyone is welcome. Whether you have an idea or just want to network with like-minded people, make plans to attend the club. For more information about the Club, contact Sue Noble, executive director of the Vernon Economic Development Association, at 608-638-8332 or email her at

Back to the top

FEC Tenants Win Big at Wisconsin State Fair
August 15, 2018

Milwaukee WI – Four local food innovators participated in the Wisconsin State Fair Grand Champion Eats & Treats Competition this past week.  Wisco Pop! Fizzeology, Nami Chips and B&E’s Trees all represented Vernon County small food businesses at the Wisconsin State Fair.  The Eats & Treats Competition judges Wisconsin-made foods based on the criteria of flavor, creativity, consistency and overall packaging.   

The Viroqua competitors are all local businesses started by creative entrepreneurs with small businesses revolving around food.  Wisco Pop brews organic sodas and sparkling water. Fizzeology creates a line of fermented foods from local organic vegetables. Nami Chips makes a variety of nutritious dehydrated vegetable chips.  B&E’s Trees crafts organic bourbon barrel aged maple syrup. 

After a long day of tasting, presentations, and tough competition from around the state, all of the contestants returned with ribbons in tow.  Fizzeology and Nami Chips both took home first place in their respective categories; Fizzeology’s Kickapoo Kimchi won a blue ribbon for best fermented food, and Nami’s Butternut Curry Chip won first place for best snack food.  Nami Chips also won best overall package for their exquisite hand stamped chip bags.  B&E’s Trees Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup was awarded Judge’s Choice for excellent flavor and unique design, and took third place in the sweets category.  Wisco Pop took third place in the snacks category for their organic grapefruit soda.

All four businesses operate out of the Food Enterprise Center in Viroqua, a multi-tenant facility that currently houses more than twenty local businesses and is owned and managed by Vernon Economic Development Association. “For a city the size of Viroqua to have so many spots at the state level is a remarkable; it really speaks to how robust the food culture is in our region and what strong support there is here for growing businesses,” said Bree Breckel of B&E’s Trees.  The food entrepreneurs were all proud to represent Viroqua at the Wisconsin State Fair, and hope Vernon County has an even bigger showing at next year’s fair.

Back to the top

WWBIC award for work with entrepreneurs
September 12th, 2017

Statewide Recognition

Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) recently recognized VEDA Executive Director Sue Noble for her collaboration and work on behalf of entrepreneurs in our state.  Sue's recognition is part of the statewide economic development organization's celebration of its 30th year of financially impacting Wisconsin business through education, lending, coaching, and entrepreneurship.

Sue is featured on WWBIC's website with the statements that she "has dedicated her career to ensuring that rural entrepreneurs have the opportunity and resources needed for business success...Sue has spearheaded efforts to foster community enterprise facilitation techniques, to create robust regional food systems, and to help launch a statewide network of local 'Inventors & Entrepreneurs' Clubs...It is not only Sue’s talent and energy that help ignite rural economic development; it is also her deep understanding of the ecosystem and her true care for people. That’s what makes her a WWBIC hero!"

To read more about WWBIC and Sue's recognition, go to

Back to the top

Solar Energy Project at the Food Enterprise Center
August, 2015

Kickapoo Coffee has gone solar! Eighty solar panels, recently installed outside the Food Enterprise Center near the entrance to the local coffee roaster, are providing Kickapoo Coffee with on-site renewable energy.  At their current usage, the solar panels are expected to produce more than 90 per cent of the electricity Kickapoo Coffee uses. In seven years the system is predicted to be fully paid for and producing free electricity for the coffee roaster.
Ethos Renewable Power of Viroqua developed the 25kW solar-powered project for Kickapoo Coffee and won a state Focus on Energy grant for 21 per cent of the cost of the project.  Sue Noble was successful in winning a USDA REAP grant, on behalf of Kickapoo Coffee as owners of the solar array, for 25% of the cost.  The remainder of the project will be paid for by local investors and a 30 per cent federal tax credit available to Kickapoo Coffee owners Caleb Nicholes and TJ Semanchin.

Back to the top

Home Health Care Cooperative Study
September, 2014

Starting a cooperative business specifically designed for home health care in the Vernon County region is a possibility that is being explored. Representatives from the health care community in Vernon County began meeting early last year to identify existing resources and services, gaps, and needs in home care services in our area. This activity was part of a feasibility study on forming a cooperative to share services, retain a pool of quality home care/personal care workers, and provide shared training to home care workers as a way to address re-admission to hospital issues, shortage of skilled workers, and job retention in the home care sector. The goal of such a venture is to enhance, assist, and catalyze services and projects that will aid clients in Vernon County without duplicating what currently exists, especially as an aging population increases and needs become more acute.

 Consultant Jim Gage, who coordinated the feasibility study, recently released his final report on the process and the research he has done on home care issues. In his report, Gage identified possible ways the cooperative could help in the continuum of home health care, including assisting with implementation issues of the Affordable Care Act for patients and collaborating with all parties involved in care transition between home and health care settings. In addition, he included specific operational functions and services, partnerships, and start-up and long-term costs and financing for such a cooperative business along with marketing and staffing possibilities. Also addressed in the report is the career ladder that’s needed for home health care professionals and their salary advancement to encourage home health care as a career choice.

This feasibility process has been made possible by a USDA grant and co-facilitated by VEDA and the Vernon County Unit on Aging with assistance from the UW Center for Cooperatives and the Cooperative Development Foundation. Funding has also been provided by Vernon Telephone Cooperative, Wisconsin Farmers Union Foundation, Dairyland Power Cooperative and a United Way Venture grant.

If you are interested in being part of the discussion and potential follow up, please contact Sue Noble at 608-638-8332 or

Case Study

Back to the top

Food Enterprise Center receives Top Rural Initiative award
May 2014

Food Enterprise Center receives Top Rural Development Initiative Award

Wisconsin Rural Partners, Inc. awarded the Top Rural Development Initiatives for 2014 at a ceremony during the Wisconsin Rural Summit in Stevens Point on Friday, May 2, 2014. The Food Enterprise Center in Viroqua, owned by Vernon Economic Development Association, was among the seven projects honored along with projects based in Waunakee, Whitewater, Bayfield, Door County, Hayward and Rockland. The award recognizes projects that demonstrate the spirit of partnership and collaboration in creating positive community impacts. Wisconsin Rural Partners (WRP) is a statewide non-profit organization that develops rural networks and leaders, and provides a voice for rural Wisconsin. WRP is the federally-recognized State Rural Development Council for Wisconsin.

WRP declared the Food Enterprise Center as a Top Rural Development Initiative for creating amazing opportunities for food entrepreneurs and social investors by providing infrastructure for innovative food and wellness/exercise-related businesses to start and expand.

In July 2009, through the work of Executive Director Sue Noble, Vernon Economic Development Association acquired a vacant 100,000 square-foot manufacturing facility and established a multi-tenant aggregation, storage, processing and distribution center to expand business capacity, increase revenue for area producers and create food cluster industry jobs.

The center welcomed its first tenant in 2010 and today houses more than 10 food and wellness-related businesses which employ at least 45 people. Approximately 40,000 square feet of space is still available and can be designed and built to fit the needs of businesses. Some space is ready to move into with coolers, warehouse, kitchen and dock infrastructure. Businesses benefit from sharing common areas, on-site technical assistance, one-to-one business counseling, access to resources, peer mentoring and the synergy of co-locating with like-minded people.

After three years of operation, the Food Enterprise Center has nurtured an innovative, entrepreneurial environment and has built wealth in the region. This is an economic development strategy based on community development. Noble said, “We’re turning the food movement into action. We’ve created a facility and a network that welcomes investors, grows food businesses and attracts entrepreneurs to a convenient and innovative place to locate a business.”

According to Wisconsin Rural Partners, “The very premise of setting small companies in a position to cohabitate and work together demonstrates the spirit of collaboration. These independent businesses build relationships and create partnerships to process, market and distribute locally made products. One of the most ingenious factors of this concept is utilizing an empty building within the community, retrofitting it to house local entrepreneurs who create local products, and turning that empty structure into increased jobs, community wealth, health, and new opportunities within the community. Developing local business in small rural communities helps strengthen local economies and builds interest in rural towns, making them more attractive to businesses.”

This is the fourteenth year that WRP has recognized Wisconsin’s Top Rural Development Initiatives. The program is designed to identify, highlight, and share innovative models, practices and programs that have a positive impact on rural Wisconsin communities. WRP created the program to provide a mechanism for rural communities to learn from each other.

Back to the top

Vernon Electric Co-op constructs community-owned solar farm
April 2014

Model opens solar ownership to 10,000 member-owners.

Vernon Electric Cooperative (VEC) is bringing community-owned solar to Wisconsin. In partnership with national community solar developer Clean Energy Collective (CEC), VEC will provide any member in its service territory the opportunity to own individual panels in a new locally-sited, utility-scale solar PV array. This is the first community-owned solar facility under construction in the state of Wisconsin.

The Vernon Electric Community Solar Farm, a 305 kW, 1001-panel clean power facility is being built at VEC’s headquarters in Westby. Through CEC’s model, any member of VEC can purchase panels from the shared farm—as few as one or enough to completely offset the energy demands of a home or business. Credit for the power produced will be provided directly on their monthly utility bills.

“We are excited to have begun construction of the first community-owned solar program in the state of Wisconsin,” said Vernon Electric’s CEO, Joe McDonald. “We know this will be a valuable local energy solution for our members.”

VEC, in partnership with CEC, broke ground in April and the solar farm is expected to be operational by early summer. The project was announced at Vernon Electric’s Annual Meeting on March 22nd, and all the solar panels were fully reserved two weeks later. This shows the interest for this type of project is high in our area.

“CEC is privileged to be Vernon Electric’s partner for this project, and we’re enthusiastic about helping solar grow in Wisconsin in a way that makes sense to members and the Cooperative,” said Paul Spencer, CEC’s founder and president.

About Clean Energy Collective
Colorado-based Clean Energy Collective (CEC) is the nation’s leading developer of community solar solutions. CEC pioneered the model of delivering clean power-generation through large-scale facilities that are collectively owned by participating utility customers.  Since establishing the first community-owned solar garden in the country in 2010 near El Jebel, Colorado, CEC has built or has under development 33 community solar projects with 13 utility partners across 6 states, representing 17.8 MW of community solar capacity.

About Vernon Electric Cooperative
Vernon Electric Cooperative provides electricity and other services to approximately 10,000 members in Vernon and parts of surrounding counties. Its mission is to provide reliable electricity to members and communities through superior member service and innovative energy solutions, at fair and reasonable prices.

For more information regarding the Vernon Electric Community Solar Farm please call CEC at 800-646-0323, or VEC at 800-447-5051 or 608-634-7475.

Back to the top

WEDA Best Practices: Food Enterprise Center
November 22, 2013 

The Food Enterprise Center in Viroqua creates amazing opportunities for food entrepreneurs and social investors by providing infrastructure for innovative food and wellness/exercise-related businesses to startup and expand.

In July 2009, Vernon Economic Development Association acquired a vacant 100,000 square-foot manufacturing facility and established a multi-tenant aggregation, storage, processing and distribution center to expand business capacity, increase revenue for area producers and create at least 85 food cluster industry jobs in the Vernon County region.

The center welcomed its first tenant in 2010 and today houses more than 10 food and wellness-related businesses which employ at least 45 people. Businesses include Kickapoo Coffee, LuSa Organics, Driftless Co-Option, EZ Farming, Sole Expressions Dance Studio Cooperative and the Gleaned Food Project. Tenant Fifth Season Cooperative provides coordination infrastructure by moving local foods and value-added food products to institutional markets through Reinhart Food Service distribution. Businesses such as Wisco Pop, Scoville Unlimited and Fizzeology create value-added food products in the two commercial kitchens that are available on a scheduled basis.
Approximately 40,000 square feet of space is still available in this state-of-the-art facility. Space can be designed and built to fit the needs of the business, or some space is ready to move into with coolers, warehouse and dock infrastructure.

Businesses benefit from sharing common areas, on-site technical assistance, one-to-one business counseling, access to resources, peer mentoring and the synergy of co-locating with like-minded people.

After three years of operation, the Food Enterprise Center is nurturing an innovative, entrepreneurial environment and building wealth in the region. It is an economic development strategy based on community development. The Center's goal is to turn the food movement into action. It is creating a facility and a network that welcomes investors, grows food businesses and attracts entrepreneurs to a very cool place to locate a business!

More information is available by contacting Executive Director Sue Noble at 608-638-8332 or

Back to the top

New Business is Launched at Food Enterprise Center
July 22, 2013

A new Worker Cooperative is joining the list of tenants at the Food Enterprise Center in Viroqua under the “food or wellness” criteria for the facility. With help from Vernon Economic Development Association, Kris Bergdahl, Heidi Hamilton, Abbey Lehmann and Lisa Vatland have launched their own business, Sole Expressions Dance Studio Cooperative as a worker owned cooperative. They want to provide high quality, local opportunities for creativity, health and wellness that are accessible to everyone in the community. 

The four women are teachers in the Westby school district during the day and enjoy teaching dance in the evenings.  They have been teaching the Youth Dance program to children ages three to eighteen at Vernon Memorial Healthcare for the past eight years.  According to Heidi Hamilton, “We are excited to be fulfilling our dream of building and operating a new dance facility and will continue to provide a quality program with a variety of dance styles including ballet, jazz, hip hop, tap, and pointe.”

As class instructors, they form the membership of the worker co-op and therefore own, operate and manage the business.  When their tenant space is built out it will include three dance studios with mounted mirrors and barres, two bathrooms, a spacious lobby, and plenty of parking in a convenient location.  Construction is expected to start in early August and will be completed for the next session of classes in September.

Information regarding news, classes, schedules, registration, tuition, recital, policies and cancellations due to weather is available on their website at   Registration for upcoming classes will be held on July 29th for returning families and 31st for new families at the Food Enterprise Center’s main conference room. Classes are open to all individuals three years and older.

The women agree, “We thank Vernon Memorial Healthcare for eight seasons of dance and look forward to moving into our first season as Sole Expressions Dance Studio!”

Back to the top

Cooperatives met at White House Community Leaders Briefing 
May 4, 2012

One hundred fifty cooperative leaders from all sectors of the economy and across the nation met with top policymakers at the White House on May 4th to discuss how their organizations spur economic recovery through job creation and ongoing investments in their local communities. 
“Every day cooperatives around the U.S. are stimulating the economy and we are pleased to have the opportunity to discuss our successes in job creation and ways to use the cooperative model to continue to strengthen communities large and small,” said Liz Bailey, interim president and chief executive officer of the National Cooperative Business Association. “Two million jobs are generated each year as a direct result of cooperatives, which illustrates the incredible impact that these organizations have on local economies.”

The event began with a briefing by senior Obama Administration officials followed by breakout sessions where cooperative leaders met with members of the Administration to discuss small business development, job creation, innovative agriculture programs and financial cooperatives.  Diane Chapeta, Operations Manager for Fifth Season Cooperative and Sue Noble, Executive Director of Vernon Economic Development Association attended the briefing through an invitation from the National Cooperative Business Association. Jerry Mc George, Director of Cooperative Affairs at CROPP/Organic Valley also attended as a board member of NCBA.  

There are currently 29,000 cooperative businesses nationwide spanning most industries, including agriculture utilities, dairy, energy, financial services and credit unions, food distribution, healthcare, housing, retail and business services. Fifth Season Cooperative was one of fifteen co-ops highlighted nationally as a case study for its unique multi-stakeholder business structure. The cooperative aggregates food to institutions and food service buyers from farms and regional processors through their distribution member Reinhart FoodService. Fifth Season supports sustainable practices and fair pricing for small and mid-sized growers and processors.

The White House Community Leaders Briefing is a weekly program that provides a unique opportunity for community leaders to have a dialogue with the White House about issues that are affecting their communities as well as to ensure that they are well informed about government policies and programs and how they can use or maximize these resources.

Back to the top

U.S. Ag Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan visits the Food Enterprise Center
April 2, 2012

On Monday April 2, 2012 U.S. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan toured the Food Enterprise Center and visited with the three tenant businesses:  Keewaydin Organics, LuSa Organics and Fifth Season Cooperative.  Afterwards, she held a brief news conference highlighted in the links below.  VEDA Executive Director, Sue Noble also coordinated a two hour roundtable discussion attended by 20 agriculture related businesses in the region to convey concerns and successes to the Deputy Secretary while she and her staff were at the center. 

Deputy Ag Secretary tours region
LaCrosse Tribune

USDA Official Visits Viroqua, Tours Thriving Farm Business

USDA Deputy Secretary Visits

Creating food hubs is important to developing locally-grown products
Vernon County Broadcaster

WDRT Community Radio includes Merrigan’s visit in the news

Photos by Bjorn Bergman

Back to the top

Fifth Season Co-op featured in national Rural Cooperatives publication
January 4, 2011

The Fifth Season Cooperative is a multi-stakeholder co-op formed to develop a sustainable local food system in the 7 Rivers region.  It provides the missing link of coordination between producers of local food and institutional market buyers. The Wisconsin DATCP Buy Local Buy Wisconsin program funded the initial planning with a $40,000 grant to Vernon Economic Development Association.  See pages 26 through 29 of the Rural Cooperatives publication.

Back to the top

Governor Doyle announces EDA funding for Food Enterprise Center
September 22, 2010

Governor Jim Doyle announces that the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) is funding a $2 million EDA grant to the City of Viroqua and the Vernon Economic Development Association in Vernon County. The funding will help turn an empty manufacturing plant into a local food hub.

“I am proud of the work we have all done together – the local government, the state and the federal government - to find solutions that will help the economy in Viroqua and the 7 Rivers Region.” Governor Doyle said. “This project will support small farmers and entrepreneurs and helps create a stronger economic future for the state.”

The project includes renovating the 100,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing plant into a food processing and distribution center. Available space is for local businesses either looking to start or expand a business. In addition, EDA funds will help to purchase equipment for the facility and hire a consultant to develop a marketing strategy. The Wisconsin Department of Commerce worked with the EDA to help the City of Viroqua access this grant in partnership with the Vernon Economic Development Association. Total project cost is $2,946,700.  Susan Noble, Executive Director of Vernon Economic Development Association explains, “This facility is a tremendous resource to the agricultural industry in our region.  It provides the aggregation, processing and distribution infrastructure to help small producers increase their market opportunities and business capacity.  We’re creating jobs, increasing the tax base and engaging our own local entrepreneurs to grow the economy.”

EDA is an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce that partners with distressed communities throughout the United States to foster economic growth and job creation. This year marks EDA’s 45 years of public service, with its mission to lead the federal economic development agenda by promoting innovation and competitiveness and preparing American regions for growth and success in the global economy. For additional information on how EDA investments help distressed communities and create a positive and sustainable economic future, visit

Back to the top

Fifth Season Cooperative is Launched
August 10, 2010

Local food producers and institutional food buyers recently received a new way of coordinating access to locally grown food.  The Fifth Season Cooperative was officially launched as board members signed the articles of incorporation on August 10, 2010.  This new business will connect producers of locally grown produce, meat and dairy, with institutional markets who want to buy local food for their cafeterias or restaurants.  It is the result of months of planning and collaboration initiated through a Buy Local Buy Wisconsin Grant from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection that was awarded to the Vernon Economic Development Association in January, 2010.  

 “Many small to mid-sized family farms in the region have considerable capacity to produce high-quality foods, but lack access to local markets.  We’re excited that the Fifth Season Cooperative will establish the structured coordination and processing, marketing and distribution infrastructure necessary to bring local fresh and value-added food products to area consumers.  It will also create more income for our local producers by responding to new markets,” notes Sue Noble, Executive Director of Vernon Economic Development Association.

The seven-member interim board, which will oversee operations until elections are held in early 2011, represents the diversity of the food and agriculture industry in the 7 Rivers Region.  Its members include Terry Hoyum, co-owner and manager of Premier Meats; Mark Hutson, administrative director of nutrition services for Gundersen Lutheran; Pete Kondrup, general manger of Westby Co-op Creamery; Nicole Penick, Buy Local Coordinator for Fifth Season Cooperative; Larry Ringgenberg, director of student centers at UW-La Crosse; Marilyn Volden, food service director for Viroqua Public Schools; and Brian Wickert, owner of EZ Farming.  All seven members are committed to the cooperative’s mission to produce, process and market healthy, local foods in our region by supporting the values of environmental, social and economic fairness for all.

In a 2008 study of the western Wisconsin region by the Crossroads Resource Center, renowned economist Ken Meters revealed that each year consumers in Western Wisconsin spend $208 million buying food from outside the region.  This, in conjunction with the $33 million farmers lose each year producing food commodities, results in a total annual loss of $376 million of potential wealth in the area.  A lack of infrastructure and structured coordination between producers, processors, and purchasers creates a barrier to selling and purchasing local food in western Wisconsin.  If the region’s consumers were to purchase 25% of their food directly from farmers, it would produce $33 million of new farm income each year – enough to offset current farm production losses.  The Fifth Season Cooperative fills this gap by providing the coordination and infrastructure required for local producers to process and store fresh and value-added food products and distribute them to large-scale institutions in the 7 Rivers Region.
The Cooperative will be comprised of six unique member classes: producers, producer groups, food processors, distributors, buyers, and workers of the cooperative. With six member classes, the Fifth Season Cooperative is one of the first of its kind in the United States. There are very few multi-stakeholder cooperatives in the United States and many in the business field see them as too challenging.  USDA cooperative development specialist Margaret Bau, however, has a different take.  “For systems that are as precious and complex as local foods, the metaphor of the invisible hand of the market has too many flaws.  When rebuilding local food systems, you need to have diverse interests at the table and in an ongoing relationship of equals (as fellow members).  This is an ongoing learning relationship, and what better way to foster that then to have a co-equal ownership stake.” 

Businesses and institutions from across the region have already expressed a strong interest in buying and selling local meat, produce, dairy and value-added products through the cooperative.  So far, the list of potential buyers includes Western Technical College, Three Rivers Waldorf School, The Root Note Restaurant, UW-La Crosse, Gundersen Lutheran, Viroqua Public Schools, Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School, and Vernon Memorial Hospital.  On the producer side, Driftless Organics, EZ Farming, Harmony Valley Farm, Harvest Moon Farm, Keewaydin Organics, Noble Organics, Organic Valley, Premier Meats, and Westby Co-op Creamery have all shown interest in joining the cooperative.

For now, the Cooperative’s goal is to help increase the purchase of local food by a minimum of 3% for medium-scale institutions and 10% for large-scale institutions by the end of 2011.  According to Nicole Penick, the Cooperative’s first staff member, the long-term goals are even more ambitious than that.  “Our vision is to help facilitate a regional food system that provides nutritious food for the local population, economic prosperity for the region’s farms and businesses, and a healthy environment for all.”

For more information or to learn how to become a member contact Sue Noble, Executive Director of Vernon Economic Development Association at 608-637-5396 or Nicole Penick, Buy Local Coordinator at 608-637-3615.

Back to the top

Local Food Community Celebration and Viroqua Movie Premier of “FRESH”
February 6, 2010

Join in on a winter celebration of local food and farmers on Saturday, February 6th from 3:00-6:00 p.m. at the Greenman Music Hall, downtown Viroqua. A local, light dinner with dessert will be served at 3:00 p.m. followed by the Viroqua premier of the critically acclaimed movie FRESH.  FRESH celebrates the farmers, thinkers and business people across America who are re-inventing our food system. Each has witnessed the rapid transformation of agriculture into an industrial model, and confronted the consequences: food contamination, environmental pollution, depletion of natural resources, and morbid obesity.  Forging healthier, sustainable alternatives, they offer a practical vision for a future of our food and our planet.

Following the 72-minute movie will be a FRESH Endeavors presentation. Come listen to local FRESH entrepreneurs and volunteers who are working on several exciting food system projects sure to change the way we as local eaters think about our food system. You will surely be inspired by all the good work taking place here in our community!

Back to the top

Local food initiative receives largest BLBW grant
January 19, 2010, by Gregg Hoffmann

The regional Local Food Initiative received a big boost Tuesday, January 19, when state Secretary of Agriculture Rod Nilsestuen announced Vernon Economic Development Association has received a $40,000 grant, the largest of nine given to initiatives around the state from DATCP’s Buy Local Buy Wisconsin program. Nilsestuen made the announcement while cutting the ribbon at Premier Meats, a new meat processing company between Viroqua and Westby.

The grant will impact Vernon, Crawford, Richland, Monroe and La Crosse counties. VEDA will coordinate the effort designed to increase the purchase of local food by providing a coordinator to communicate between producers and institutional markets. A multi-stakeholder cooperative also will serve as the structure for the program with memberships by producers, processors and institutions in western Wisconsin.  LFI will increase capacity to access markets by establishing critical infrastructure to overcome production, processing, marketing and distribution hurdles currently faced by local food producers. Some of that infrastructure will be a food processing and distribution center to be developed and housed in the former NCR building in Viroqua, now owned by VEDA.  Local producers such as Keewaydin Organics, Harvest Moon Farms, Organic Valley, Z&E Farming and Harmony Valley Farm, among others, will use the facility.  VEDA is targeting the center to be ready by this May. Potential markets for food coming from the center include Western Technical College, UW-La Crosse, Vernon Memorial Hospital, Three Rivers Waldorf School, Viroqua Area Schools, Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School and other institutions, which could purchase more local food. The second year of the grant will focus on including care facilities, restaurants and grocery stores.

“No one turns out better produce, dairy, meat and other foods than our Wisconsin producers,” Nilsestuen said at the ribbon cutting ceremony. “We’re here today to support local efforts to keep high quality local food in Wisconsin communities. You’re providing top quality, fresh food to families, supporting farmers and growing your own local economy and the state economy.”  Nilsestuen praised VEDA and other partners in the development of the LFI.  “Community, local, quality, networks are the key words,” Nilsestuen said. “You’ve done a great job of putting this together.”  Eight other initiatives around the state received grants. For a story on all the recipients, go to  

In accepting the grant, VEDA executive director Sue Noble said, “The virtues of local food are well known, and our area has been in the forefront of the local foods movement, with all of our organic vegetable growers and the headquarters for Organic Valley. Between Premier’s opening and the Local Foods Initiative, we expect a tremendous economic ripple effect.”

For more coverage see The Country Today at

The Vernon County Broadcaster at

The La Crosse Tribune at

Back to the top

VEDA acquires facility to create enterprise center
July 31, 2009

Vernon Economic Development Association (VEDA) announces the acquisition of the 100,000 square foot former NCR manufacturing facility, and its fifteen acres of land at 1201 North Main Street, Viroqua.  This business development association plans to establish an enterprise center to house and support a variety of businesses under one roof. 

“When VEDA approached NCR earlier this year to consider a negotiation to help revitalize the region with new businesses, they responded very generously,” tells Sue Noble, Executive Director, VEDA.  “Many recently displaced workers are considering starting their own businesses or are looking for employment which the new center can provide.”  The facility renovation, business recruitment and fundraising will occur throughout 2009 with plans to re-open the facility by mid to late 2010. 

“We have been working in partnership over the past several months with many local, regional, state and federal organizations to lay the foundation of support and funding for this project,” says Noble.  “Our attention now focuses on locating and working with regional businesses, farmers, producers, processors, manufacturers and community members interested in participating in this innovative, multi-business facility.” 

"I commend the efforts of Vernon Economic Development Association to expand this center," said Rep. Ron Kind.  “The opportunity will facilitate business growth and job creation, ensuring the success of our communities which are critical to the economy in southwest Wisconsin."  To find out more about the opportunities available at the facility for businesses development contact Sue Noble at the VEDA office.

Back to the top

Doyle Announces $39 Million in Flood Relief
Tuesday, June 9, 2009 

Governor Jim Doyle today announced that 34 communities would share $39,220,410 in federal supplemental funds under the Community Development Block Grant Program.  These funds will help the communities recover from damage sustained during the 2008 floods.  Projects in Vernon County include:

Vernon County   $4,030,000
Vernon County was subjected to flooding that exceeded an estimated 500 year flood event, resulting in damage to 16 dams. The damages ranged from relatively minor repairs to gabion structures to major repairs in the dam abutements. Two of the dams have high hazard dwellings associated with them. Vernon County is proposing to move the high hazard dwellings and make repairs to the Priority One dams.

Village of Viola   $200,000
In June of 2008, the Village of Viola was subjected to flooding when heavy rains caused the Kickapoo River to crest two feet higher than previous records. The Village’s Lift Station #1 suffered damage to the pumps by sand and grit entering the sewers during the flooding. Sand and grit was also discharged to the treatment ponds and is inhibiting proper treatment.
The Village of Viola project includes:

  • The inspection of manholes and collection sewers below flood elevation
  • Manholes and sewers found to be deficient with be lined.
  • Conversion of the existing dry pit-wet well into a duplex submersible pump station. Installation of new grit resistant pumps.
  • Replacement of pump power supple, control and recording equipment
  • Replacement of 250 feet of 4-inch pipe with 6-inch pipe

Much of this is deferred maintenance as the application itself states and the Village is saving its G.O. capacity for emergencies.

Back to the top

Vernon County could be leader in local farm and food economy
By Gregg Hoffmann

Vernon County is off to a good start in developing a local farm and food economy. In fact, it could have the potential to become a leader in what is developing into a nationwide movement.  Ken Meter, economist and president of the Crossroads Resource Center, based in Minneapolis, emphasized those points in presenting “An Update on the Southwest Wisconsin Local Farm and Food Economy” Thursday, May 21, at the Vernon Memorial Hospital community conference facility.  Eighty seven community members attended from across the region to hear his report and participate in the discussion.

Meter developed his report for Vernon, Crawford, Monroe and Richland counties through funding by the Valley Stewardship Network’s Food & Farm Initiative in cooperation with the Vernon Economic Development Association and the Crawford County UW Extension Office.  “The discussion here has been one of the more advanced discussions I’ve had on local food anywhere in the country,” said Meter, who has done reports in 38 regions of 18 states. “With the success of CROPP in this county, and other organizations and people, you have a lot of foundation to work with.”

Meter is working with VSN in assessing how a food system that emphasizes more direct sales from local farmers to local consumers and institutions can be developed. Such a system requires a “collaborative network that integrates sustainable food production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste management in order to enhance the environmental, economic and social health of a particular place.”

VSN formed its Food & Farm Initiative in 2007 to respond to local food security issues. The Initiative’s seven-member Steering Committee is putting the finishing touches on an assessment and will soon make it available to the public.  Jessica Luhning, Projects Coordinator for VSN, gave a brief overview of the assessment before introducing Meter. Look for more on the VSN Initiative in the June Business Profile on the VEDA site.

Meter gave a rather sobering look at the farm and food economy in the four-county region and nation as a whole. “Most studies have been good at looking at commodities, but not looking as much as where the food is produced, and by who, and where it is eaten,” Meter said of conventional research into farm and food systems.

He said a local farm and food economy should build health, wealth, connections and capacity. The current system fails to accomplish these goals and instead often separates people from those who produce the food, and creates wealth for some and not for others, Meter emphasized.  Farmers in the four-county region that was studied have been losing income for years, Meter said. They have experienced negative cash flow from 1994 to 2007.

They are not alone. Income for U.S. farmers in 2008, considered a decent year for farm incomes, was lower than it was in 1929 when adjusted for inflation. Wisconsin farmers ranked as the fourth biggest losers of income in the country.  Rising costs, such as fuel, labor and other factors, have contributed to those losses, but the overall structure of the farm and food industry has flaws that have hurt farmers in the region and nation, Meter contends.  Lending institutions, and to some degree the government, have encouraged farmers to get bigger, borrow more and ship their products farther. The average American lives at least 1500miles away from the sources for much of his food.

Much like the recent problems in the housing industry, a farm and food system based on “bigger always is better” cannot be sustained because of high debt and other factors, Meter said.  The quality of food from such a system also cannot be guaranteed. Large farming operations also often create concerns about environmental impact and health, Meter said. So does food imported from China, Mexico, Chile and other countries.

Under the current system, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that the U.S. could soon become a net food importer, Meter said.  A local farm and food economic system can change this, Meter contended. For example, consumers in Southwest Wisconsin spend $208 billion on food from outside the region. If those consumers would purchase 25% of their food directly from local farmers, it would produce $33 million of new farm income every year -- enough to offset current farm production losses.  Small farmers also could benefit from a local farm and food economic system, and 58% of the farmers in the region sell less than $10,000 of goods per year. Only 11% sell more than $100,000, according to Meter’s studies.  Direct sales in the region range around 0.8% of overall sales. As small as that is, it is twice the national figure, Meter said.

The VSN Initiative already has some of the building blocks in place for a local system. Five schools currently buy food from local farmers for lunch programs. There are 13 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, through which local residents pay annual fees and get weekly boxes of produce from local farmers. More than 60 farmers sell products locally in Vernon County.  Meter praised the efforts in the region and added that he believes “local food may be the best path toward economic recovery.”

Back to the top

Local food and farm economy report
Thursday, May 21, 6:30-8:30 pm

Mark your calendars for a special presentation on our local food and farm economy on Thursday, May 21st from 6:30-8:30 pm at the Vernon Memorial Hospital (medical office building) Community Conference Rooms. Ken Meter, Economist and President of the Crossroads Resource Center will present “An Update on the Southwest Wisconsin Local Farm and Food Economy” including highlights from a new report regarding the Southwest Wisconsin's Local Farm and Food Economy compiled for Vernon, Crawford, Monroe and Richland Counties.

Did you know that consumers in southwest Wisconsin spend $208 million buying food from outside the region every year? As local eaters, if we purchased 25% of our food directly from farmers, it would produce $33 million of new farm income every year.  That’s enough to offset current farm production losses, revitalize Main Street, ensure adequate funding for our schools, keep small family farms viable...the possibilities are endless.

 Ken is the creator of "Finding Food in Farm Country" studies. He examines food systems and creates reports using hard economic data to demonstrate the importance of developing local, sustainable food systems. His reports have been adopted in 38 regions in 18 states. These reports have transformed the discussion of farm and food economics, and launched a national discussion on local foods as economic development.  Ken has made over 150 presentations nationally on local food systems. He has conducted state-wide analyses in Minnesota, Iowa, California and Hawaii to document economic losses suffered in America’s farm communities.  He paints a picture of local food systems that can inspire people to take action to improve their own economies. Read more about Ken’s work at

The Southwest Wisconsin Local Farm & Food Economy Report was funded by the Valley Stewardship Network’s Food and Farm Initiative in a cooperative effort with Vernon Economic Development Association and the Crawford County UW Extension office.  There is no charge to attend but donations are encouraged. Local beverages and snacks will be served.  We hope to see you there!

Back to the top


Plan to attend the next I&E Club meeting on July 10th for the topic “Financial Basics for You and Your Business”. The speakers will be Trish and Eric Evenstad, owners of Evenstad Tax & Financial Services, Inc. Whether you have an idea or just like to think business, join us to network with lots of creative people. Networking starts at 5:30, the program begins at 6:00 p.m at the Food Enterprise Center, 1201 North Main Street in Viroqua. Everyone is welcome!

Click here for more info on the I&E Club

Quick VEDA Contact Info

Susan Noble
Executive Director, Vernon Economic Development Association
1201 North Main Street,
Suite 6, Viroqua WI 54665