July 19, 2021 - 3:11 pm

Local Innovator: Cherry Capital Foods & Tamarack Holdings

By 20Fathoms

Take a short drive in any direction from Traverse City and you’ll soon pass roadside produce stands, U-pick farms, farmers markets, and stores advertising local produce. While our area may be most famous for cherries, the variety of farm-fresh food in the Grand Traverse Region reflects the agricultural diversity throughout the state. (Fun fact: Michigan is second only to California in agricultural diversity according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development.)

For the past 15 years, Traverse City-based Cherry Capital Foods and their family of companies under the Tamarack Holdings umbrella have been local food industry leaders. Under the direction of John “Chip” Hoagland, Tamarack Holdings is well-known for developing innovative programs to connect small farmers and other local food producers with customers including grocery stores, restaurants, schools, and hospitals. Services include distribution, marketing, and sales to ensure that Michigan-grown products are broadly available to the consumers who want them.  

We recently talked to Mike Lahti, Managing Director of Tamarack Holdings, to get the latest on the company’s work.

Tamarack Holdings logo

Lessening the Gap from Farm to Table

Historically, individual farmers managed their own distribution, sales, and marketing. Cherry Capital Foods improved on that model by providing a suite of services that removed this time-consuming work from the plates of busy farmers while at the same time expanding their customer base to a broad network of customers. In turn, customers benefit by one-stop-shopping access to Michigan-grown food products and increased reliability, accessibility, transparency, and safety. In short, Cherry Capital Foods utilized the economy of scale to lessen the gap from farm to table.

Now, the team is focused on more efficient distribution. They are developing a system that would connect food producers and customers throughout the state. This will provide real-time inventory data, respond to immediate needs for products, and reduce food transportation miles. Ultimately, the goal is to get products to market faster which meets both consumer demand and increases sales for food producers.

Reducing Food Waste

Cherry Capital Foods is working with partners throughout the state on a grant-funded project to analyze and develop solutions to food waste. They intend to use technology to align supply chain management with consumption, providing neither too much nor too little food. Key project partners include Michigan State University, Groundwork Center, SEEDs, and Northwestern Michigan College.

Packing School Lunches With Michigan Produce

Cherry Capital Foods works with 65 (and growing!) Michigan school districts to provide local fruits and vegetables for school lunches. The program helps schools improve their nutritional offerings while farmers benefit through bulk purchasing contracts.  

Creating New Products

As consumer preferences evolve, the Tamarack team is quick to respond. The company’s Food for Thought brand produces small-batch, artisanal preserves, salsas, sauces, and condiments. In response to changing tastes, they recently added hot sauces and gourmet ketchups, as well as new items produced with local partners Short’s Brewing Company and Grand Traverse Distillery.

Focusing on Small Producers

Tamarack Holdings specializes in working with small farmers and food producers, as well as newcomers to the industry. This in and of itself is innovative, although it’s nothing new for Tamarack. “We work with our partners to incubate new ideas, coming alongside them and helping them grow their ideas and bring their products to market,” said Mike. Incubation support includes developing planting strategies, crop purchasing commitments, overcoming packaging challenges, and building brand awareness.