Bridging the Opportunity Divide

What Do You Get When You Combine Those In Need of a Job with Local Food?

October 28, 2014
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What Do You Get When You Combine Those In Need of a Job with Local Food?
Farm to Freezer provides training and jobs for the unemployed, as well as frozen local food to the community. Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images
Hint: Something that improves not just diets, but lives, too.

Most of us know Goodwill as a place to find affordable donated household products and clothing. But Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan (GINM) has something edible up their sleeves.

It’s called Farm to Freezer, and since 2013, this initiative has been providing training and jobs for the unemployed, as well as frozen local food to the community. It’s pretty much a win-win-win: farmers are able to extend their growing season, unemployed or underemployed people gain food skills and the community has more healthy food options.

The process starts with GINM buying food — including asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, apples, strawberries, cherries, Kohlrabi, Romanesco broccoli and saskatoons — from local farms and growers. The produce is then taken to a communal kitchen where trainees process and freeze it using a blast freezer. Once frozen, it’s put into cold storage where it can be sold to retail outlets, restaurants and industrial buyers. Currently, Farm to Freezer works with 16 farms (a jump from just four last year) and sells its product at 19 retail locations and nine school districts.

Participants of the GINM training program include those living in the Goodwill Inn homeless shelter and people recovering from addiction treatment. This year, the program has 21 trainees, some of whom have already found jobs through Farm to Freezer or are currently working with the organization, an increase from last year’s group of 15.

Mark Coe was working at Calvin Lutz Farm in Kavlevo, Mich. when the idea struck him that Goodwill should add local food to its repertoire. Now, he’s head of Farm to Freezer. “Farm to Freezer is a stepping stone to gainful employment,” Coe tells Sustainable Cities Collective. “We start with a ServSafe training class. It is a two-week program and when the trainees finish the class they have the opportunity to come into Farm To Freezer as an apprentice to learn the processing and freezing of locally purchased fruits and vegetables.”

With that, Goodwill is showing that it has an adept green thumb at growing not just produce, but jobs, too.

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