Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan (GINM) (Traverse City) recently garnered national attention for its community-based job training program, Farm to Freezer, that flash freezes produce from local farms in Northern Michigan. Current program leader, Mark Coe, who originally worked for a nearby farm, came up with the idea in 2013.
“I pitched the idea of a local branded product line of fruits and vegetables to Director of Food Services Brandon Seng,” Coe told Seedstock. “He added the job training aspect to it, and ran with the idea. He then talked me into coming on board and managing the program.”
The Goodwill begins by purchasing food from local farms and growers. Trainees then process and freeze the produce in a commercial kitchen with a blast freezer. The product sells as a specialized local frozen product line to various retail outlets, restaurants and buyers. A wide range of fruits and vegetables are offered, in addition to more difficult-to-find crops, such as Romanesco broccoli.
Program participants include unemployed and underemployed residents, as well as tenants from the agency’s Goodwill Inn homeless shelter and those participating in an addiction treatment program. This year, 21 people were trained and have either found job placement through Farm to Freezer or currently work with the program, an increase from 15 last year.
Farm to Freezer partners with 16 different farms while selling products at 19 retail locations and nine school districts.