Since 1927, Van Ooteghem Farms in Essexville, Michigan, has been a family-owned source of produce for Mid-Michigan families.
Over the past three years, their partnership with the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan has allowed the Food Bank to increase the amount of fresh produce it is able to provide for families in the 22 counties it serves while helping Van Ooteghem Farms decrease the amount of produce that gets wasted.
“We hate wasting good food,” said Mike Van Ooteghem, who operates the farm in partnership with his mother and father. “It’s frustrating to waste, because it takes a lot of effort to grow food and get it out of the field. Now with decreasing waste, we don’t have to see that anymore.”
The Food Bank is able to purchase “seconds” — produce that is healthy but not able to be sold retail — at deeply reduced prices. The partnership has allowed the Food Bank to pursue its goal of supplying 11 million pounds of fresh produce to people it serves through a network of partner agencies each year.
Over the past two years, the Food Bank has purchased nearly 400,000 pounds of produce from Van Ooteghem Farms at deeply discounted prices. That produce has been used to feed families all over the state of Michigan rather than going to waste.
“I can recall years where we’ve had a lot of seconds and would waste thousands of pounds of food,” Van Ooteghem said. “Now that we’ve found a secondary stream for it with the Food Bank, that’s awesome.”
Mike Van Ooteghem is the fifth generation of his family to operate the farm, which also includes a greenhouse and nursery operation in the spring.
Van Ooteghem Farms was recognized with the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan’s Fresh Leadership Award at the Food Bank’s Annual Meeting on April 10. The Fresh Leadership Award recognizes true “hunger advocates” that embody the Food Bank’s mission to provide healthy and nutritious food to those in need. That mission also complements Van Ooteghem Farms’ desire to produce healthy food for families.
“Farming is a demanding and difficult job,” Van Ooteghem said. “Seeing something grow from a small seed to an end product and knowing that it will help feed someone … that’s cool!”