By Kayla Sosa
In 2015, Ross Bremer and his brothers started a family business selling unwanted produce from local commercial farms that’s still good but not qualified to go to a grocery store – because it’s too small or a funny shape.
“I guess we started out of just seeing food waste, specifically at farms,” Bremer said. “We just saw this large amount of waste and were like, ‘This is too good to throw away.’”
“Grade 1” produce is “what’s fit to go to your retailers,” Bremer said. At their local roadside stands, you’ll see mostly “Grade 2” produce, which might be too big, too small or have a small scratch on it. Farms would otherwise throw this food away, until the Bremers came in to make a profit off of it.
“Nutritional value is still the exact same, but it might have a blemish in the appearance of that product,” Bremer said.
Squash – summer and winter – is the main vegetable they sell in West Michigan and others that have a relatively long shelf life, like pumpkins, potatoes, gourds and zucchini.
Bremer’s brother is a manager at a farm, so they really got an inside look at the process of separating produce. Now, they are partnered with a few farms in the area and know where to go to find the rejected veggies.
Not just any random person can go to a farm and ask for their rejected produce. Because Bremer and his brothers have an established business and take truckloads of produce, they end up doing a favor for the farms rather than making more work.
“There’s this disconnect between perfect product going out and then there’s also some stuff that’s clearly not fit and it should not be sold and should not be eaten,” he said. “But there’s this middle ground where it’s like, this is still good.”
“When we walk into, say, Meijer or Walmart, we want to be impressed. We see all these colorful vegetables and it’s like, it’s great but it’s not super practical.”
Right now, the main stand for Bremer Produce can be found on the corner of 48th Street and Baldwin Avenue in Hudsonville. What’s unique about farming in Michigan, though, are the seasons, so the peak months for selling produce are July through November.
“Early July, there’d be fresh cut flowers, maybe zucchini, tomatoes,” Bremer said. “And then we transition into your typical fall produce to pumpkins, squash, your Indian corn, your gourds.”
Bremer’s grandpa used to own a farm, so the knowledge runs in the family.
“My dad grew up on a farm,” he said. “Since me and my siblings were really little we grew pumpkins, like five acres just for fun. It started with a couple plants, and then it ramped up and now we’re growing consistently five acres. We’re familiar with squash, pumpkins and everything and had roadside stands since I was a baby. But then it took it next level once we started partnering with farms … that grow hundreds of acres of these things, that realistically we could never grow on our own.”
“It’s a unique partnership, for sure, of us being familiar with the farming industry but us not necessarily farming it all ourselves.”
Bremer is a student at Grand Valley State University majoring in Finance and International Business and minoring in Spanish. Recently, he won first place in the GVSU Idea Pitch Competition hosted by CEO, an entrepreneurial student club. As the produce season comes to a close, Bremer said he doesn’t want to spend his newly won prize money on just anything, yet.
“I don’t want to just spend it to spend it,” he said. “I can talk to my brother and we’re thinking of just a practical, cool way to be thankful to Grand Valley and the CEO club and use it in a cool way.”