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Seal the Seasons finds the secret to offering year-round local produce

There is nothing quite like biting into a plump, sweet New Jersey blueberry. Ditto a South Carolina peach, or a Michigan cherry. But as any farmer knows, the seasons are fleeting with excellent local crops being available for only a few weeks each year, leading to market gluts, wasted product and other issues.12ozNYNJ BerryBlend

Officials at Seal the Seasons have solved these age-old dilemmas by working with small, local family-owned farms to freeze their product when it is in season at the peak of ripeness and then sell it year-round in local home-state supermarkets.

“We have great produce here in the United States, and we believe people should be able to get that as close to home as possible,” said Jonathan Mills, chief strategy and sales officer for Seal the Seasons, based in Chapel Hill, NC. “But if you have frozen fruit in your freezer, typically it might be coming from all over the world — Turkey, Egypt, Serbia, Mexico, Chile and Ecuador. So we work with farmers on a state-by-state and region-by-region basis to freeze their product and make local or regional produce available in that region.”

The company was founded in 2016, working with small family farmers in North Carolina to freeze their produce and take it to market. Today, Seal the Seasons has grown to encompass family farmers in five distinct geographic regions of the country. Blueberries, strawberries, and a berry blend from North Carolina, along with a Carolina blend from North and South Carolina, and peaches from South Carolina are sold throughout the Carolinas, Virginia, Tennessee and Maryland.

In the Northeast region of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland, Seal the Seasons offers New Jersey blueberries, New York cherries, and a berry blend and cherry-apple-berry Blend from farms in New York and New Jersey.

In the Midwest region encompassing Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Minnesota, Seal the Seasons has Michigan blueberries, peaches, cherry berry blend, dark sweet cherries, and mixed cherries, along with a berry blend and cherry-apple-berry blend from Michigan and Ohio farms.

In the Pacific Southwest of California, Arizona and Nevada, blueberries, strawberries, berry blend, smoothie blend, cherries and peaches, as well as a California-Oregon cherry berry blend are available.

In the Pacific Northwest of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, Seal the Seasons markets blueberries, strawberries and berry blend from Oregon, along with cherry berry blend from Oregon and Washington.

“We work with small to mid-size family farms, and typically with products that may not have access to the commodities market when the farms grow too much product,” Mills said. “The season for these products is typically very short. Strawberries, for example, often have a two- to eight-week season. The farmers can grow more — but they can’t sell more fresh strawberries.”

The Seal the Seasons model is more environmentally responsible and reduces the carbon footprint, Mills noted.

“You don’t need to be shipping food all over the world,” Mills said. “What we’ve done is change the model. Typically, in the frozen fruit industry you have a hub-and-spoke model, where there are a couple of hubs in the country and they have long spokes that ship out across the country. We have several micro hubs in individual regions or states with very short spokes, so we can sell local produce 365 days a year.”

Seal the Seasons does not operate its own processing plants.

“We’ll work with the largest family farm in an area, and they freeze for us their product, and we contract with them to freeze all of the other farmers’ product as well. Then we have a co-packer in each area that will co-pack locally,” Mills said.

Seal the Seasons continues to grow its concept.

“We’ll be adding vegetables and dry fruits next year,” Mills said. “We’ll have different products in different regions. We don’t sell our cherries in the Southern United States, for example, because there are no local cherries. Our product portfolio varies by region depending on availability.