A month after the fire that destroyed a portion of the nation’s largest organic cooperative headquarters in La Farge, Organic Valley employees are scattered throughout southwestern Wisconsin.
Two hundred and fifty people are working from temporary offices, but CEO George Siemon is proud to say they still haven’t missed an order.
“We’re very pleased with our recovery,” he said. “We’re pleased with the staff’s response and the work that’s been done, and we’ve been touched by the community’s support.”
An agreement with Couleecap in Westby provided space for 65 employees, but most are still working from temporary trailers. OV set up a triple-wide in La Farge, two double-wides in Cashton and has two
more on the way, Siemon said.
The cooperative also is looking for another local rental to serve as temporary offices. Siemon said he considered setting up temporary facilities in La Crosse or Richland Center, but employees wanted to stay close together.
“We made a special effort to stay local,” he said.
Other employees set up temporary offices in community center in La Farge, empty classrooms at the Western Technical College campus and Pleasant Ridge School in Viroqua.
With the cafeteria lost, church groups from Viola have provided lunches and local co-ops have donated food as well. OV’s farmers have taken up a collection as well to help employees who lost personal items in the fire.
“We always try to be good citizens and help when we can, and it’s wonderful to see that come back,” Siemon said.
Plans for the rebuild are already underway, with the central section of the headquarters scheduled to be ready this fall and the west wing finished by next summer. Fire department officials are still investigating the official cause of the fire, but have ruled out arson, Siemon said.
“Electrical fire looks like the blame, but until the investigation is closed we won’t know,” he said.
Fire crews that battled the blaze into the night May 14 were hindered by the solar panels on the roof of the headquarters. The building was constructed in compliance with fire codes when it was built back 2004, but Siemon is considering an alternative site for the solar panels going into the rebuild.
“Very clearly, the solar units on the roof seem to have been part of the difficulty in addressing the fire,” he said. “We’re certainly trying to learn the lessons and make the building better fire-wise.”