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Freezing is a logical way to expand the number and variety of local and regionally grown products available in the off-season. Locally produced and frozen fruits and vegetables offer a convenient product while extending the season of “locally grown” produce for interested consumers. Frozen products may be especially attractive to institutional buyers, who are using frozen products year-round for reasons of convenience and price. Some CSA growers are also adding frozen products to their winter CSA shares.
Many growers in our region sell direct to consumers in order to get the best price and provide fresh, high quality produce. While viable market niches for frozen produce may be developed, aggregating sufficient produce for volume freezing and finding a price point that works for growers, processor, and buyers will present challenges.
CISA conducted our research in cooperation with the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center (FPC) at the Franklin County CDC. This work was funded by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and the USDA through the Federal State Marketing Improvement Program.
CISA and the FPC both assessed market demand for frozen produce, using interviews and a small survey. See the FPC report for information about their conversations with institutional buyers and the Neighboring Food Cooperative Association.
A summary of information gained through CISA’s survey and interviews with small grocers is available here.
Winter CSA Shares: Some growers are adding frozen products to their winter CSA shares. The tremendous growth in winter market opportunities means that this market is still very much in flux, with both growers and consumers learning what works for them.
The Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center completed a pilot freezing project in 2010, freezing broccoli for a local public school district. The FPC report describes the challenges and potential solutions identified in the course of the 2010 Extended Season Farm to Institution pilot project. It examines crop supply, product demand, equipment and processing options, contractual relationships, storage and distribution, and project management, and provides a cost analysis and recommendations for next steps. In 2011, the FPC continued and expanded this project.
The Vermont Agency of Agriculture built a mobile freezing unit in 2008. It was designed to freeze produce which does not require blanching before freezing and is best suited for berries. During late 2008 and the summer of 2009, the unit was available for use on individual farms. In 2010, it was docked at Green Mountain College and used primarily by the college for freezing produce for later use. From 2011-2013 it was leased by Green Mountain College, and in 2015 it was transferred to the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center in Middlebury, Vermont.