The shorter Michigan growing season makes local produce hard to come by in the winter months. But Brandon Seng, Mark Coe and their team at Michigan Farm to Freezer are working to change that, bite by bite!
By Kelly Lam, Ecology Center Farm to Institution Intern
Michigan Farm to Freezer has been working to meet the demand for Michigan fruits and veggies in the off-season by flash freezing produce before shipping it out to retailers, schools and other institutions. They currently source thirty-one different conventional and organic products from twenty-seven Michigan farms. Fruits and vegetables are picked at "peak freshness" when the product has the best flavor profile and is most nutrient dense. Then, to prevent foods from clumping into frozen blocks, individual pieces of food are separated and flash frozen — or individually quick frozen (IQF)1 — to preserve freshness and nutrients.
The idea for Farm to Freezer began in 2013, when Mark Coe, a former farm manager and the current Farm to Freezer manager, suggested it to his friend, Brandon Seng, then the director of food programs for Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan. Since 2013, Michigan Farm to Freezer has provided training and employment to fifty people, and has grown in sales from 12,000 pounds and $3000 to 100,000 pounds and $139,000 in 2015. In 2016, Mark and Brandon transformed Michigan Farm to Freezer into an independent business and sought opportunities for expansion into Southeast Michigan with hopes of going statewide.
Through this business model, fresh food access goes hand in hand with community empowerment and new economic opportunities. Seng calls Michigan Farm to Freezer a “win-win-win program” because it provides a new market for local farmers, job training for unemployed people, and fresh and nutritious food for the consumer. Michigan Farm to Freezer, in collaboration with Eastern Market Corporation in Detroit, is currently finishing up its first facilities expansion into Southeast Michigan. The new facility will support approximately twenty-five new jobs at full capacity, while expanding fresh food access in Detroit.
Recently, members of the Michigan Farm to Instution Network Advisory Committee were treated to a tour of the Michigan Farm to Freezer Facility in Traverse City.
1 Alfaro, D. (2016) “IQF (Individually Quick Frozen)” The Spruce. Retrieved from https://www.thespruce.com/what-does-iqf-mean-995719