Security Health Plan: Invests in non-profit working to boost Central Wisconsin food economy

CONTACT:  Rebecca Normington, 715-221-9726, [email protected]

STEVENS POINT – “Every time we make a food choice, we are choosing between a detrimental process or a beneficial process,” said Laura Zelenak, manager of Community Health at Marshfield Clinic Health System’s Center Community Health Advancement. “I think it is easy to forget the impact food has on our life. Obviously, people eat it every day. However, there are so many layers to it. When you think about the entire process, there is so much more to food than that. On the grand scheme, Central Rivers Farmshed works to build awareness of the true value of food and inform the community of the bigger impact of their food choices. I think what Farmshed does to build a community around that and create awareness around it is so important.”

Security Health Plan of Wisconsin, Inc., will invest $1,000 in Central Rivers Farmshed as part of its Employee-Driven Corporate Giving grant program. Each month Security Health Plan awards a $1,000 grant to a different charity or organization that is nominated by a Marshfield Clinic Health System employee. Employees are encouraged to nominate organizations making a positive difference in the community.

Central Rivers Farmshed is a non-profit that works to grow the local food economy in 12 Central Wisconsin counties. It started in 2007 and officially became a non-profit organization in 2009.

Zelenak nominated Farmshed for the grant and said, “There’s a social part of preparing and eating food together – in daily routines and for celebrations. There are also those who grow some of their own food, even if it’s just a pot of basil outside the door, they participate in the environmental process of tending and harvesting food. This process helps people learn how food affects both the physical and economic environment, as well as the health of the community.”

Central Rivers Farmshed Executive Director Layne Cozzolino said to put it simply, Farmshed works to promote farms that grow and sell food within Central Wisconsin through farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) and directly to local restaurants and small grocery stores.

“At Farmshed, we envision a bustling local food economy of sustainable producers, social entrepreneurs, businesses, organizations and impassioned eaters working together to preserve agricultural heritage, protect natural resources, ensure the health of our communities, understand the true value of food, provide fair compensation for meaningful work and recognize that collaboration is necessary to maintain a viable food system,” Cozzolino said.

Zelenak, who is a member of Farmshed, said, “We believe food should be grown in a sustainable manner, that people should know how to buy, grow, harvest, preserve and prepare local foods; that the public should know local farmers and that farmers should know who eats their food.”

Farmshed organizes a variety of activities to help support the local food economy. One main feature is the Central Wisconsin Farm Fresh Atlas. This is an annual publication that showcases local farms and food in Central Wisconsin. This free year-round guide to local food can be viewed online at or picked up at a variety of locations throughout Central Wisconsin.

Farmshed also has a Frozen Assets program, which is essentially a winter CSA. They partner with local farms to grow vegetables throughout the summer. They then process the vegetables in their kitchen in Stevens Point and freeze them. The frozen vegetables are sold as part of a CSA share. This frozen assets CSA provides members with locally-produced, organic frozen vegetables throughout the winter. Another aspect of the organization is the Growing Collective. This is a group of Farmshed members that work cooperatively to grow seedlings. These seedlings are used in their personal gardens, shared with community and school gardens, and sold at the annual plant sale, which is one of the Farmshed’s fundraisers.

This year’s plant sale will be held Thursday, May 23, through Saturday, May 25, at Farmshed’s greenhouse in Stevens Point. Fruit, vegetable and herb plants will be available. There will be a member exclusive presale on Wednesday, May 22, and memberships can be purchased at the door.

“These are not your run-of-the-mill vegetable starts,” Zelenak said. “They tend to have interesting stuff, lots of varieties proven to grow well in this area.”

Farmshed also hosts activities like monthly community potlucks, a farmer tribute dinner, chef on the square demonstrations, tours, presentations and educational workshops on a variety of topics like making kombucha, container gardening and pasta making.

While Zelenak said she has enjoyed many of those workshops, the greatest benefit she has found with Farmshed is their willingness to help. She said as a health educator at Marshfield Clinic Health System she works with community gardens and local food events. She said if she ever has a question, or needs information about a topic she reaches out to Farmshed for help. 

“They’re the only people to call to find a farmer that does this or knows that,” she said. “They’ve done a really good job of creating a network of information around food and agriculture in Central Wisconsin.”

Cozzolino said the organization is funded in a multitude of ways from donations, Farmshed memberships, program and event income, grants and corporate sponsorships. 

“We are thankful to Security Health Plan for offering a grant program like this, and to Laura (Zelenak) for suggesting Farmshed as a recipient of the grant,” Cozzolino said. “The work we do is about connection; helping people connect to the food they eat, the people who grow it, the way it interacts with our environmental resources, and how it supports the communities we live in. These systems interact at the most basic and complex levels to contribute to our overall health. We are grateful that supporting work on local food systems aligns with the priorities of Marshfield Clinic Health Systems and Security Health Plan.” 

To learn more about Farmshed and the events they host visit, find them on Facebook or follow them on Instagram. To get involved and volunteer visit