THURMONT, Md. - Kevin Donnelly, general manager for the Thurmont Cooperative, sees the Jan. 1 fire that damaged the co-op mill not as a disaster but as an opportunity to rebuild in a way to serve customers better.
"This is an opportunity to look at what we're doing and make changes for the good," Donnelly said.
A former employee allegedly set the New Year's Day fire at the cooperative causing $200,000 in damage to offices, storage areas and some grinding equipment.
The fire occurred on a Sunday and, "We actually opened for business Monday or Tuesday," said Bob Black with Catoctin Mountain Orchard and a member of the Frederick County Agriculture Business Council.
Now in front of the mill is a large trailer that serves as the temporary office. The mill itself still shows missing windows and burn marks as a reminder of the fire.
"We're not quite back to normal," said Donnelly. "We're still working with the insurance company to settle things."
Black said he was surprised at first to hear that the co-op was having such trouble getting an insurance settlement.
"Then someone told me most of the insurance adjusters were down South trying to straighten things out down there and the ones that are still here have other priorities like houses," Black said.
Colby Ferguson with the Frederick County Office of Business and Economic Development said co-op representatives contacted the county about grants that might help with the reconstruction. Ferguson said none were available, but he told the representatives about options for low-interest loans.
Donnelly said he is planning to rebuild the co-op with a bigger showroom and a cleaner look. What hasn't been decided is whether this will entail rehabbing or leveling the current mill.
"We have a couple of options available and we hope to start construction in about a month," Donnelly said.
His goal is to make the new co-op more customer friendly because it is the local farmers who actually run and support it.
"Their primary job is to take in local grain and produce complete feed and mixtures," Ferguson said. "The farmer pays for the processing and doesn't have processing on any product they supply."
While large farming operations can buy feed by the trailer load, the co-op allows small farmers who can't justify a truckload to get feed at a reasonable cost.
"The Thurmont Co-op is one of the few feed mills left in the county," Ferguson said.
Black said there are still a lot of small farms in the north county area that support the co-op and keep it viable.