News and Updates

Michigan Farm to Freezer, a Traverse City-based processor of fresh produce, is expanding to Detroit's Eastern Market.

The company has leased the long-vacant former Cattleman's Meat building at 1820 Mack Ave. near the Dequindre Cut and plans a $1 million investment to renovate and equip the space.

Eastern Market Corp. is contributing $400,000 of that cost in pass-through funding received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support strategies that enhance local job creation in the food sector and increase local food supplies.

Farm to Freezer will give local growers a new market to sell their fresh produce that isn't pretty enough to go into the retail market but is perfectly fine to be cleaned, processed and frozen for sale to retail and institutional customers such as schools, colleges/universities and hospitals, said Mike DiBernardo, Eastern Market's director of food innovation programs.

"When you look at most other places in the state, farmers are already taking their products to established food companies," he said, noting there's a lot more processing in the northern and western areas of the state than in Southeast Michigan.

Farm to Freezer will complement the other local processors here by bringing the additional ability to freeze fresh produce, he said.

President Brandon Seng said the Detroit operation will focus on processing and freezing crops including sweet potatoes, bell peppers, rhubarb, beets, rutabagas and parsnips. Those products will also be shipped north for sale to the company's customers there.

The new site, which is expected to create 32 jobs over the next five years, will also serve as a distribution site for the fresh fruits and vegetables the company processes and freezes at its northern Michigan operation, Seng said. Those include peaches, apples, blueberries, strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower and carrots and products it contracts other local companies to process for sale under its label, such as cherries.

"We're beginning to expand into Southeast Michigan in terms of sales; that's why this facility in Detroit means so much to us," Seng said.

Renovations to the Detroit building are set to launch in May and be completed by July/August. The company plans to bring the frozen warehouse part of the operation on line this year, Seng said, and add processing lines as it builds out a local customer base, likely in time for the 2018 growing season.

Michigan Farm to Freezer launched four years ago as a workforce development program of Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan. It spun off as a for-profit company in January, but Seng said it plans to convert to a benefit corporation if Michigan legalizes them.

Having the company move to Eastern Market is the first step toward the market's plan to expand food processing and distribution within the market's boundaries as part of its 2025 plan, DiBernardo said.

"While Michigan boasts some of the most diverse crop production of anywhere in the nation, we know that there are people in nearby neighborhoods with limited access to fresh produce," he said.

"Farm to Freezer's model directly aligns with (Eastern Market's) strategy to develop and support innovative businesses and programs ... that grow the food system and create employment and economic opportunities for our region."