Festival Foods uses WholeTrees products

This rendering of the forthcoming Festival Foods store in Madison shows how ash trees from Madison and red pine trees from southwest Wisconsin will be used in the support structure of the store in place of steel. The store, in the 800 block of East Washington Avenue, is scheduled to open next August.

When Festival Foods opens next August on East Washington Avenue, shoppers will be introduced to a new grocer and a new way in which to build a store.

The ceiling joists of the 57,000-square-foot store will include red pine trees from the Wisconsin River Valley of southwest Wisconsin while the support columns will consist of 18-inch-diameter ash trees being removed from the city of Madison due to emerald ash borer disease.

The trees will not be cut into lumber. Instead, they will be stripped of bark and branches, treated and fabricated with patent-pending steel connections before being installed by Madison-based WholeTrees Architecture & Structures.

The project will be the first in which WholeTrees uses its expanded commercial product line after spending the last seven years in the residential and custom commercial market.

Amelia Baxter, co-founder and president of WholeTrees, said most round timber used in construction comes from Montana but the Festival Foods project will use 30 to 40 tons of Wisconsin trees.

In the past, red pine has been used for pulp for the paper-making industry, but markets for the trees have dwindled.

The majority of the ash trees are destined for a wood chipper.

The 295 parallel chord trusses and 34 support columns will use about 600 trees.

Most of the trees used at Festival Foods will range in size from 30 to 50 feet long, Baxter said from her office on Williamson Street.

“It is one of the point-to projects we’ve been looking for to help other building professionals see the potential of this material,” Baxter said. “There is no major Midwest structural round-timber industry. It’s one of the reasons our forests are so economically undermanaged. We have no higher markets coming out of the Midwestern forests. That’s what WholeTrees is proving — that there are emerging markets for structural round timber


The store is part of Gebhardt Development’s $65 million multiuse project on 4.5 acres that once was home to the Don Miller car dealership.

The first phase, located across North Paterson Street from Breese Stevens Field, includes 175 to 240 residential units and a 350-space parking garage.

The second phase has plans for 22 owner-occupied homes, 65,000 square feet of commercial/retail/office space and another 173 parking stalls.

Festival Foods, based in Onalaska, has 19 state supermarkets and will open a store in December in Mount Pleasant, near Racine.

The Madison store will be the company’s first in Dane County.

“As a company, we challenge ourselves to be different and make a difference in our communities,” said Mark Skogen, Festival Foods president and CEO. “By partnering with WholeTrees, we are not only being innovative grocers and setting ourselves apart but also reducing the carbon footprint of this


WholeTrees has 12 employees, but that is expected grow to 16 by the end of the year and to more than 35 by the end of 2016.

In November, the company will begin leasing a 10,000-square-foot production facility in Muscoda in Grant County for fabricating the bulk of its commercial product line.

It also has a 1,000-square-foot fabrication shed for custom work and a 1,000-square-foot office in Vernon County.

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