Last Wednesday, just as spring plantings were ramping up, an enormous fire devastated three major buildings at Geneva Lakes Produce in Burlington, WI. The farm, owned by the Koster family, has been a mainstay at the Oak Park Farmers Market for the past three decades.
The local fire department responded quickly. But even with their hook and ladder truck and firefighters on all sides of the buildings, they could not save the structures, said Scott Koster, who owns the farm with his wife Jackie and sons Corban and Jordan.
Oak Parkers have delighted in connecting with Scott Koster for the past three decades, as well as his daughter, Priscilla, 19, who has managed operations for the past two years and has been helping at the Oak Park market since she was a little girl. Geneva Lakes Produce has anchored the southeast corner of the local market, selling a full array of vegetables and plants throughout the season. Scott Koster’s booming voice and friendly banter has greeted market goers from 7 a.m. when the market opens till his crew packs up at 1 p.m.
Scott Koster developed Geneva Lakes Produce, building by building and field by field, starting 30 years ago when he bought the land. When the green houses went up in flames, Corban Koster and Tyler Schallert, a long-term employee, climbed onto the roof with hoses to try to save the buildings and the plants inside, as well as the adjacent structures. Corban Koster was injured but is recuperating.
Despite their efforts, most of their supplies used at farmers markets, including their tents, tables, coolers, forklifts, scales and bins, were burned up in the main supply barn. And 30 years of tools and spare parts amassed to service their many machines were melted in the fire’s intense heat.
Response from their family, friends, church community, farming community, and Community Supported Agriculture members and customers from across the Midwest has been extremely moving to the Koster family. People have brought them everything from food, to wood to heat their greenhouses, to a pair of new boots.
Though this was an overwhelming loss, Koster and his team are determined to rebuild. They have plants and equipment that they need to get their crops in the ground and up to harvest and are strategizing to replace the thousands of other items that are now gone that assisted them in this process. To get updates about the situation on the farm and opportunities to volunteer, a Facebook group, “Rebuild Geneva Lakes Produce Team” has been started by the family.