tCombining flash freezing equipment from Forgotten Harvest in Oak Park with fresh fruits and vegetables from area growers, Eastern Market in Detroit has launched the Michigan Fresh Food pilot program.
t“The program encourages people to buy local during the winter, allowing us to continue to support our local farmers during the ‘off-season,’ ” says Christine Quane, Eastern Market’s wholesale market coordinator. “Michigan’s (agri-food industry) is the second economic driver of this state. This program not only supports the economy, it supports local growers, many of whom are multigenerational growers.”
tOver the summer, the market secured approximately 4,000 pounds of produce from local farmers, including peaches grown by Farmers on the Move; blueberries from Barbara Norman Blueberry Farm; corn from Cheryl Gaier and Rudich Farms; and broccoli from NW Kaltz Farms. The market then turned to Forgotten Harvest — which acquired flash freezing equipment through a $200,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development and a donation from Garden Fresh Salsa Inc. in Ferndale — to have the produce frozen for later sales.
tPayment for processing the frozen foods directly supports Forgotten Harvest, which also freezes more than 600,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables mostly to support its core emergency food distribution services. The process allows the nonprofit to reduce waste and improve nutrition, says Tom Cihonski, COO of Forgotten Harvest.
t“The ability to process and freeze significant quantities of fruits and vegetables, particularly when local supplies are in surplus, allows us to ‘store’ that nutritional value and distribute it to the needy during the winter, a time when fruits and vegetables are more difficult and expensive to procure,” Cihonski says.
tWhile the program started off slowly, Quane says sales continue to grow. “It’s hard to buy frozen stuff when you feel cold, but we’re working on it. The things that have been really moving are the blueberries and the peaches. I think people are psyched to buy those for smoothies,” she says.
tAs part of the program, Eastern Market has partnered with MSU Extension, which educates the public of the nutritional integrity of freezing produce.