Box after box of pre-cut, frozen produce line the shelves of Central Rivers Farmshed’s enormous freezer beside Executive Director, Layne Cozzolino’s office. Nearby, paid kitchen manager and previous restaurant owner, Jan Walter, peels and cuts butternut squash into large chunks. She then sends them through a hand-operated machine that creates smaller cubes—perfect for soups, stews, and more.
This is one of 10 locally grown, certified organic produce items available through the Stevens Point, Wisconsin nonprofit’s Frozen Assets CSA program. With a tag line, “Wisconsin summer, right in your freezer,” each CSA disbursement also includes cut and frozen broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, corn, green beans, French-fry-cut potatoes, sweet peppers, summer squash and whole tomatoes.
Opened in 2007 and staffed by volunteers until 2011, Farmshed’s diversified income streams include CSA share funds, Farmshed memberships, and donations. In addition the U.S. Department of Agriculture Local Food Promotion Program helped to fund the commercial kitchen—completed in 2015–2016—and create the Frozen Assets product line.
“[Our] goal is to grow a resilient local food community for organic farms,” Cozzolino says. “When we started this program, we decided to seek out CSA farms [that were already operating] and then we also looked for certified organic farms.” During summer 2018, local produce suppliers included Field Notes Farm and Whitefeather Organics LLC (Custer, WI), as well as Cattail Organics and Red Door Family Farm (Athens, WI).
Between November and March, CSA members pick up “shares” from Farmshed or from Family Natural Foods in Wisconsin Rapids. Full Shares feature 10 pounds of frozen vegetables, delivered every other week for US$500. Ten-pound Half Shares are available once per month, for US$250 (shareholders may also pick up all of their produce at once).
As each season launches, shareholders receive a book with 45 recipes; monthly newsletters include additional recipes. Shareholders may also receive US$10 back at the end of the season, for each volunteer shift they fill while helping to process produce. In 2017, 52 volunteers contributed 550 hours to the kitchen.
But Cozzolino believes cost can be a drawback for potential commercial clients. “And I think restaurants tend toward fresh versus frozen food, too.” However, Portage County Aging and Disability Resource Center purchased about 11 percent of Frozen Assets shares during 2017 and then utilized them in more than 3,700 senior meals. “We do sell Frozen Assets in stores and we have sold them at the farmer’s market, too,” Cozzolino says.
Previously a garden center, the Farmshed property also includes a 650 square-meter (7,000 square-foot) greenhouse. Each spring, approximately 60 Growing Cooperative members cultivate plant ‘starts’ for themselves, school gardens, and the community. An annual plant sale raises much needed funds too. Farmshed further reduces operational costs through its 9kW solar electric system with rooftop solar panels. Installed during 2012, it supplies about 70 percent of the organization’s energy needs.
Bringing community together is another Farmshed goal. Since 2007, the organization has created the Farm Fresh Atlas of Central Wisconsin. Part of a statewide initiative, “it’s so important for us because of that networking opportunity,” Cozzolino says. “There’s such a broad diversity of products that are created or made in our region, and businesses that support local food.”
Special events increase Farmshed’s visibility. Each November a Farmer Tribute Dinner draws Farm Fresh Atlas producers who dine on a locally sourced meal celebrating the harvest. Community members sponsor farmers’ meals, to honor their hard work. In February of every year, Farmshed’s Local Food Fair is the region’s largest local food celebration, bringing together producers, consumers, local businesses, and educators. In addition, the monthly, themed Community Potluck Series draws together community members for meals and conversation.
Frozen Assets has further increased Farmshed’s visibility. According to Cozzolino, “People have really appreciated that the produce is ready to go. One customer said, ‘It’s like having my own sous chef.’ The other thing we have found is people who have tried traditional CSAs felt guilty when they had waste and [these products] won’t go bad.”
Photos courtesy of Farmshed.