Brandon Seng: Relationships are the Bomb

Brandon Seng of Michigan Farm to Freezer


We fail so often in what we do, and a lot of times what we're doing is tied to funding and tied to funders and we have to talk about the good stuff because that's what they want to hear, but in the back of the house we got a lot of stories of, ‘remember that time when.’ Now I can look back at those and tell them to a group like this, but in that time, you just want to cry, or give up but somehow, we persevere. I'm going to talk to you today about a relationship that we have, and a longstanding relationship we have with a school that really launched our enterprise.

I'm with Michigan Farm to Freezer. We started as a small batch processor in a school, and then about 6 years ago went a lot bigger in what we do. Our first big district that we brought on board was Traverse City Public Schools. So, I sat down in a room with T-Caps, and they committed to buying 20,000 pounds of asparagus, and that's how our company really got started. 

But, when you're in that room and in that relationship where this one person is holding the keys to whether you’re going to make it or not, whatever they ask you to do, you most often end up doing. When Tom would call and say, “I'd like you to bake some blueberry muffins for us”, we said, “Yes sir, we’ll bake those blueberry muffins.” When he called in and said, “We want a marinara sauce,” -  flash to the kitchen and marinara is like a murder scene. We’re just not cut out for it, but we're flying forward and learning as we go.

So, this one particular time, Tom called and said, “We wanted to use these local kohlrabi that they were bringing through Cherry Capital,” but their staff didn't have the capacity to process those kohlrabi, and we sell kohlrabi. Most often we’re buying the organic kohlrabi and the small varieties. We're talking to students about it, this is Mark in the classroom kind of sharing the story of how our crops are grown. But Cherry Capital shipped in the giant kohlrabi to us. You know, the ones that look like Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc.

Mark and I are scratching our heads looking at these things, and we said, “Alright, we’ll put them in the peeler and try it.” So, this is a peeler that typically peels 60 pounds of root vegetables for us, and six of these kohlrabi fit inside. We’re watching and this machine is just laboring. You know when something is about to break, and bang! It just blew the drive right out of the peeler. So, now we're standing there looking at these kohlrabi and we’re like, “Well, I guess it's a hand cut because these are shipping out tomorrow on a Cherry Capital truck to the school.” So, we’re pulling staff from everywhere, like out of the front office, and we're all cutting these incredibly dense cuts. And these are not calloused hands cutting these really hard vegetables.

We made our way through it and we packaged them in the same bags that we store frozen products in, because that’s what we had in our inventory. So, the truck leaves, and we all hug because we've made it through this saga of this kohlrabi.

Then a day later, Tom calls and says, “Brandon, I'm going to have to cite you for bringing contraband into our school.” Now my heart just drops  through the floor and I’m like, “Tom, what are you talking about?” Well, what we didn't know is that in our frozen product line, in a sealed bag, that kohlrabi does fine because it's frozen, but because it was fresh it started to off gas and those bags were literally blowing up in the coolers of every school in Grand Traverse County. If you can imagine the smell of an off-gassing kohlrabi, it wasn't a pretty situation. So, we ended up eating the cost on that whole adventure, but Tom just purchased 80 cases of product from us this week that we shipped up there, and occasionally, he will say, “Remember the time when you sent all those bombs into our schools?” That's my story of failure. We haven't done any fresh cut kohlrabi since that point. So, thanks to the network for the opportunity to get up and laugh a little bit about our failure, there’s plenty more.

Poster (Photo provided by Brandon Seng)