It’s going to be even easier for schools, grocery stores, community feeding programs and restaurants to get, and keep, fresh foods from local farmers at Eastern Market.

The market announced this week a partnership with Michigan Farm to Freezer, a community-based processor of fruits and vegetables in Northern Michigan that is expanding operations to Detroit.

It takes produce sourced and purchased from local farmers, flash-freezes it to preserve nutrients and flavors and packages it for purchase by schools, grocery stores, community feeding programs and restaurants.

Brandon Seng and Mark Coe launched Farm to Freezer in 2013 and managed operations in Traverse City while working for Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan.

“The Farm to Freezer concept is simple and is one that generations before us put into practice … when produce was abundant, they saved and stored it for use when it wasn’t as readily available.” says Seng. “Our expansion to Detroit will help increase access to nutritious food by connecting our state’s fruit and vegetable resources with some of our community’s most pressing needs – nutritious food and jobs.”

The business will lease and renovate a 14,000-square-foot freezer facility located at 1820 Mack Ave., which has been vacant for the past 10 years and formerly occupied by Cattleman’s Meat. Construction is expected to be completed by July. The facility will employ about 25 people at full capacity.

Eastern Market (EMC) was awarded an $800,000 grant from the Department of Health and Human Services under the Community Economic Development Healthy Food Financing Initiatives for strategies reconnecting the local food system. A portion of this grant will be used to help Farm to Freezer with the renovations.

“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,” says Mike DiBernardo, director of Food Innovation Programs for Eastern Market “Farm to Freezer’s model directly aligns with EMC’s strategy to develop and support innovative businesses and programs within Eastern Market that grow the food system and create employment and economic opportunities for our region.”

Eastern Market has launched several programs aimed at bring more fresh good to Detroiters.

  • Each year, it hires about 15 Food & Health Fellows to run the Food Assistance operations, Farm Stand program, Tasting Stations, and other market initiatives. The Fellowship program incubates participants in Michigan’s regional food system and engages them with food justice issues in Detroit.
  • Each week from June through September it operates more than 20 mobile pop-up Farm Stands offering fresh produce and pantry items at sites all around metro Detroit.
  • It has partnered with several Detroit-based independent grocery stores to set up “Tasting Stations” inside their stores near the produce department to promote healthy eating by offering samples and recipe cards. It also connects grocery stores with its Wholesale Market.
  • It supports Detroit Community Markets, a network of neighborhood farmers’ markets and alternative food distribution programs that work to improve healthy food access in the underserved areas in Detroit. You can learn more at the Detroit Community Markets website.
  • It makes the Bridge Card easy to use at public farmers markets. In addition, its Double Up Food Bucks program matches Bridge Card purchases dollar-for-dollar (up to $20 per day), giving people an additional free $20 to spend on Michigan fresh fruits and vegetables. This program runs annually June through December.

“It is incredible to be a part of such a broad group of innovative food-based businesses in the Eastern Market District,” says Seng. “The energy and creativity that is happening there has captured our program.  We look forward to building relationships with neighboring businesses that leverage our frozen capacity and move the District’s vision forward.”

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