Produce Processing 7: Q+A with Mark Coe and Brandon Seng
Mark Coe is a local food advocate and currently is managing partner of Michigan Farm to Freezer, a business that processes and flash freezes local fruits and vegetables for wholesale to institutional and retail markets. Brandon Seng is also a local food advocate and before becoming a co-owner of Michigan Farm to Freezer founded the Manistee Community Kitchen in response to Manistee County’s obesity/hunger-related needs. Farm to Freezer started as a workforce development program of Goodwill Northern Michigan using a “live classroom” to provide vocational and food safety training for unemployed and underemployed individuals seeking employment in the local food economy.
1 What are the best words of advice you’ve received?
“Once, during a meeting with one of our mentors, a berry operation in Northern Michigan with large distribution, we asked if they thought we would be able to achieve our aims in growing our operations, or if we were just dreaming. They responded by saying, of course you’re dreaming; but that’s the entire point. Daily, we continue to dream about the opportunities that lay ahead, and how we can leverage them to advance agricultural opportunity across our state.”
2 What are your goals for the next 12 months?
“We will be completely reorganizing our packaging and distribution operations, which will free up both time and capital in our freezing program. This shift will allow us to double our existing capacity in freezing Michigan-grown produce.”
3 What do you do to relax?
“We are foodies, enjoying both the act of cooking and sharing, as well as the community that food seems to create. We cook, enjoy the outdoors and love to experience new places and flavors.”
4 What would you like to be your lasting legacy?
“That’s tough. We’re so immersed in the daily operations of our business and its growth, that it is often difficult to think about timelines that span decades or generations. But it feels like the legacy will lie not in a brand or book of business, but in the growth of a network of businesses that are willing to think differently about a local food economy.”
5 What are the top three things on your bucket list?
“Mark Coe: Take my wife to Bora Bora on a honeymoon, Snowmobile the Rocky Mountains, and retire healthy and pull a camper across the U.S. with my wife, dog and our grandkids! (Occasionally with our grandkids.)”
“Brandon Seng: Travel and eat in Italy, Spain and Greece with my wife. Take my family to Alaska. Own a seaplane.”
6 What work would you have pursued if you had not been in the fruit and vegetable industry?
“We do a lot of job training and experiential learning; and are clear with everyone that comes through the program – we still don’t know what we want to be when we grow up. It is hard to then say where we would have ended up, as we find ourselves passionate about a great many things. That passion has allowed us to find ourselves where we are now – and while we might not know where we’d be otherwise, we are confidant we’d be having fun at it.”
7 What is the one truth you’ve learned about the fruit and vegetable industry?
“There is a great network of individuals in this work across the state of Michigan. What has amazed us is that when we have questions, or are exploring opportunities, folks are willing to take time to talk with us about them. They will tell us what they think, and give us candid feedback and advice whether those conversations result in partnerships and new products or not. It has been amazing to feel a part of this network and community of businesses that all believe as we do – Michigan produce is incredible, and should be enjoyed year round.”