November 15, 2018

Monday night fire destroys Zup's Food Market in Cook


At 8:47 p.m. Monday, Nov. 12, the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office received a report of a structure fire at Zup's Food Market in Cook. A Sheriff's Deputy arrived on the scene within a minute and observed smoke and flames coming from the rear of the store. The deputy immediately requested mutual aid from the surrounding fire agencies to assist in fighting the fire. Multiple fire crews arrived and battled the fire in temperatures around 8 degrees. They started pouring water on the fire around 9 p.m. The Cook Fire Department stopped pouring water on the fire at 4 a.m. after a long, freezing night fighting this fire. The Zup's building was apparently totally destroyed, making a hardship for Cook and the surrounding communities as it is the only grocery store or supermarket in Cook.
The firefighters from area fire departments had to wait for a backhoe to gain access to the building and the fire. State Patrol and County Deputies were soon on the scene as was the Cook Ambulance Squad. There were no reported injuries from the fire.
Throughout the night, residents of Cook and the surrounding area came and parked across Highway 53 as they watched their supermarket being destroyed. Huge clouds of smoke poured from the building and drifted east. There was concern that some tanks could explode, but that didn't happen.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the Sheriff's Office and is being assisted by the Minnesota State Fire Marshal's Office.
McDonald's Restaurant next to Zup's was virtually closed for business as the hose from the fire hydrant in the back of the restaurant's lot provided water to fight the fire. The drive-thru lane was blocked by the Sheriff's Deputies. McDonald's employees Michael and Jessica worked through the night providing coffee and food for the firefighters. They were still on duty when daylight came. Many of the 40 plus employees of Zup's congregated somberly in McDonald's Tuesday morning to talk of the fire, their futures, the loss of this business and what it would mean to Cook.
The store, which has been one of the busiest in the Zup's Food Market chain, will undoubtedly be rebuilt, but this could take six months to a year. So far, no word has been given on the future rebuilding.
The mood around Cook was somber as residents tried to figure how they would handle the loss of their supermarket. The Zup's Food Market in Tower is one answer for area residents. Customers are urged to go to that store to help Zup's as they rebuild. Pelican Bay Foods in Orr is another viable option as they are only 15 minutes or so away.
Orr can remember what it was like when they lost their store years ago before the present one was built. Many residents would do the shopping for their neighbors, especially elder citizens who couldn't get out. Ride sharing was prevalent and they survived. Cook area residents will have to look at doing things like this. Many said that they didn't realize how much they used their local supermarket.
In the meantime, Zup's manager Matt Zupancich and some of his staff will have their hands full, cleaning up the old store, designing a new one, getting a contractor and having it built. One thing is sure, those of us who live here are survivors and Cook and the surrounding area will survive this loss and look forward to the new store.
It is a sad time for the area.

The Gundersons are Growing Trees and Building High Tunnels

by Jennifer Faint

USDA-NRCS Ultima Contractor
1202 8th St. South, Virginia, MN
I recently had the opportunity to meet and interview Michelle Gunderson, one of our long-term USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) clients in Virginia. Michelle first started working with the NRCS around 20 years ago, back in the 1990s.
Her first project was a recommendation for a Forest Management Plan to be developed on her family's homestead. The project established 10,000 Norway Pines and White Spruce on former cropland, which are now 20-25 feet tall. When the trees were established and growing well on Michelle's family homestead, the Gundersons heard that the NRCS had partnered with the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) to improve forest habitats for early successional species such as Woodcock, Golden-winged Warbler, Ruffed Grouse, and Whitetail Deer. The Gundersons recognized the partnership as an opportunity to conduct some forest management at their home on Vic's family homestead. Through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) they conducted Aspen and Alder harvests following the prescriptions in their practice plan. The successful implementation of these practices has resulted in a noticeable increase in use by the early successional species targeted.
As they worked with NRCS they also established two small businesses: Organic Gold Black Dirt, and The Dirt Lady Gardens, Greenhouses and Treasures. Not only do they sell the "Black Gold," she also uses the nutrient-rich soil for her greenhouse plants. Both businesses have become successful. Michelle and husband Vic, always looking at ways to improve their businesses, decided that they wanted to expand their garden offerings by installing a High Tunnel System. In 2018, that became their latest NRCS project. They were awarded another EQIP contract and, with the help of builder Joe Stauty, constructed a 20x72' high tunnel.
The high tunnel was added to increase the growing season for fruits and vegetables; the hope is to extend the season on both ends, roughly May 1 through Nov. 1. In turn, the high tunnel will be able to produce more locally-grown vegetables and fruits for the area.
Michelle is excited to make her new high tunnel another key piece of the puzzle on her diverse operation. Her overall operation is a valuable asset to her community, and we here at NRCS are happy to have implemented another successful project.

Highway 53, Highway 1 intersections, passing lanes, project open house scheduled Dec. 6 in Cook

A public open house has been scheduled to provide information about intersection revision projects on Highway 53 and Highway 1 just north and south of Cook and construction of additional passing lanes between Cook and International Falls. Project layouts and other exhibits will be on display and MnDOT staff will be available to share details about the project and answer questions.
Location: Cook Community Center, 510 Gopher Drive, Cook, MN 55723
Date: Thursday, Dec. 6
Time: 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The construction project is scheduled to start in summer 2019.
Project website:


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