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Frozen Farms succeeding with local, sustainable focus

JEAN McPARLAN

Frozen Farms features attractive displays of unique kitchen-themed items.

CALUMET — In business terms, vertical integration is an arrangement by which a company controls different stages along the supply chain. Frozen Farms Company, headquartered in the village of Calumet, has achieved this.

Rather than relying on external suppliers like grocery distributors, husband and wife team, Jean and Nathan McParlan, strive to bring naturally grown meat and other products from their farm to market through their retail store at 320 Fifth Street in Calumet. Theirs is a two-pronged business approach: While Nathan manages the farm, Jean manages the store.

“Vertical Integration,” said Jean. “That’s a key word for us; vertical integration.”

Vertical integration in agriculture refers to various states of food production, from farming to sale, under a company or organization. The McParlans have achieved this, too, and wherever possible, from local sources.

“All our businesses are farm-based,” Jean said. “I would say 75% of the beef is from our farm. The other meats are from local farms; the lamb is from our farm; neighbors and friends have raised the pigs. Any of the produce we sell is locally grown produce from CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) or farms. Some is from my garden, but it’s all homegrown, and it’s all local.”

Frozen Farms in Calumet offers a wide variety of locally sourced foods and kitchen wares.

When the store opened three years ago, Jean said the ultimate goal of the new venture was to be two-fold: to reduce local reliance on national food distribution by offering products not tied in any way to national markets or agricultural futures; and to encourage the expansion of local agricultural production to create a sustainable, healthy food availability that will also positively benefit the local economy.

Frozen Farms has come a long way in just a few years. It started out with raising bees, then raising a few animals. The McParlan children showed livestock in the county fair. It continued to grow, to expand, until they decided to create a market for their own farm-raised products.

“The inspiration for the store,” she said, “partially came from Five Marys Farms, a family effort in California, of making their farm profitable in diversified ways.”

Jean said she and her family have been involved in agritourism for more than 10 years. Seeing how other producers functioned helped them shape their vision.

“Anytime we travel,” Jean said, “we go to farms, gardens, ranches, botanical gardens, farm-to-table restaurants, and stores featuring locally sourced products.”

Bethany Jones/Daily Mining Gazette Jean McParlan greets her Frozen Farms customers with a smile.

The store got off the ground, she explained, with help from many neighbors and friends. Other people who were helpful and influential were other small business owners in the area, many owned and operated by women.

“They gave me knowledge and encouragement that I could do this,” Jean said, “and just tidbits on how Square (a point-of-sale system) worked to ordering product. They were just very encouraging from small details to practical details.”

Jean said among the challenges she’s faced was making the transition from 20 years working from home to running a business.

“My foray back into working was after 20 years of being a stay-at-home mom was working at the Calumet Visitor Center. Just having the self-confidence that I could do something out of the home. I worked from home for 20 years, but that’s a big step, and that job at the Calumet Visitor Center — again — I worked at the front desk, interacting with customers and people, learning how to use a point of sale, which is the one I now use, simply because it’s what I learned.”

Increasing her computer skills was another challenge for her, she said. It has been paying off.

Listing her accomplishments, she said, happily: “That we’re still here as a small business in a small community.

“We’ve been well-received. Word is getting out,” she continued. “I had a customer from Downstate who said she was told that when they came to visit Calumet, this is one of the places they had to come visit.”

Jean is very hands-on in what she makes available to her customers, which brings us right back to the McParlans and their vertical integration. She personally picks the other products she sells.

“The meat is local,” she said. “I try to have other local products.”

For those items she can’t find locally sourced, she strives to restrict purchases to those made or resourced in the United States. For those few that come from outside the U.S., they must be sustainable, reusable-type products.

“And everything relates to the kitchen or cooking,” she said, “even the meats. So, everything has that common denominator.”

Sustainable and reusable. That could even be applied to the building that houses the Frozen Farms store.

According to Keweenaw National Historical Park, the building was built before 1884. In that year, it was occupied by a saloon called The Fashion owned by Martin G. Messner. The Fashion sold wine, liquor and cigars – “everything after the latest fashion.” By 1903, the website says, William Jones was the proprietor of the saloon and had renamed it. The Ivy Saloon operated until at least 1916. By 1930, Albert Ford had purchased the business, changing the menu to soft drinks during the prohibition era. By 1948, prohibition was long over, and the name of the business had changed once again to Wheeler’s Tavern, as bars were known at the time. Wheeler’s was in business until at least 1957.

A repurposed building now houses a sustainable business founded on sustainable, natural, local agriculture.

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