Farms join forces to bring local meat directly to locals

The meat in the freezers of Frozen Farms Company in Calumet is not only locally sourced, pasture-fed and drug-free — the beef cattle and sheep have a view of Lake Superior from their pasture that tourists would envy.

“We’re for a niche market, people who want locally raised, humanely raised meat,” says Jean McParlan, one of the owners of the new company. “We’re not a competition for the grocery stores, nor do we want to be.”

The company: Two families within six miles of Calumet have joined forces to provide healthy, local, grass-fed beef, pork and lamb to this Upper Peninsula community. What started as a meat market in a downtown storefront a year ago now offers a variety of Michigan-grown food products, such as spices, marinades, sauces and dip mixes, in addition to eco-friendly serving containers, kitchen products and gifts.

How the company began: Neither Jean and Nathan McParlan nor Taryn and Trevor Hodges grew  up farming, but both families had long dreamed of getting into the business of raising animals, Jean McParlan says. “For us, it was just a hobby that grew,” she says.  The two oldest McParlan children showed a pig and a lamb at the local county fair one year, “and then it just grew from there,” she notes.

That was 12 years ago, but “for the longest time, we'd just been selling animals to the commodity market,” she says, because processing meat can be a challenge when the nearest USDA approved processor is in Escanaba, more than three hours away. “So this was the idea we came up with,” McParlan says — “to have a storefront, fill a freezer for anyone to have locally sourced USDA-approved meat available locally.”

McParlan says they began selling their meats at the Calumet Farmers Market in July 2021 and opened the store the following month.  

How the company expanded: What started as a meat shop quickly expanded, McParlan says, offering an array of Michigan-produced food items as well as the meat. “We've been nicely received by the community and tourists and we're working on getting known more outside of just the Calumet area,” she says.

“We'd really like to reach people who are in Houghton, especially Michigan Tech professors and people who have come from other places in the world who are more used to eating lamb because lamb is one of the things that we sell.”

Although McParlan says they do not consider their business to be in competition with grocery stores, since they do not carry dairy or poultry products or a full line of groceries, Frozen Farms Co. does try to keep its prices competitive. “Many times our prices are actually cheaper than the grocery stores,” she says, “and we do have a couple of customers that used to be Butcherbox (custom meat delivery) customers that now buy their meat from us.”

What resources did you use to get started? Frozen Farms Co got lots of good advice from Main Street Calumet Inc., a nonprofit working to revitalize the city’s downtown, about setting up and running the store, and also benefited from the relationships with other vendors at the Calumet Farmers Market

What issues did you face? Livestock farming in Northern Michigan can be cold, hard work, no doubt about that, McParlan says. “I mean, we do get animals escaping at random times, finding them down the road,” she says. “We have five kids and they all have had their fair share of farm chores,” she laughs. “The boys are not professionals at putting up fences but for how much they've done and how many hours they've done it I think they could qualify.”

Another issue for Jean McParlan was the learning curve she hit as she left the farm. While Nathan McParlan and the Hodges focus on raising livestock, Jean McParlan minds the store. “I was a stay-at-home mom for 23  years,” she says. “This is my first endeavor back into the working world.

What’s next: Heartened by both the enthusiasm of their customers and the revitalization of Calumet, where other businesses are starting, expanding or upgrading, the McParlans have purchased two more store fronts next to the downtown Frozen Farms store, she says. The historic building adjacent to the store needs a lot of work, she says, but they are getting guidance and grant help from the state because of its historic background. When it is finished, the meat store will either expand into the new area or the space may be rented to another business, she says. Two doors down from the meat store, McParlans will open an ice cream parlor next spring.

“Calumet really seems to be coming alive again. I do feel like we're on the forefront of that with some of these other people,” she says. “It's great, it's really neat to see. It just seems like there's momentum going on up there right now.”

Frozen Farms Co, 320 5th St., Calumet Township, is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, and closed Monday and Tuesday.
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