Say yah to da U.P. eh!

Way up North, where the winds would blow, and the wolves would howl.

So was the start to many a story my wife’s grandfather would tell from his childhood growing up in a logging camp in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was only after childhood that most of the children and grandchildren realized that Silly Papa’s tales of Dangerous Dan McGrew were tall tales. The families connection to the U.P. would be further strengthened when we started spending a week each summer on a lake near Iron River, MI.

But other than our yearly family trip north, my experience with the U.P. was fairly limited. This is until I took at trip in late September to visit some of the men and women who catch the fish that we distribute through Jake’s. I’ve been trying to find a time to make the trip north ever since I started working for Jake’s full time, but the timing never worked out. So finally I felt compelled to make the time and trip over the bridge to the great white north!

HMWT chalk

To make the most of my trip I decided to take a short detour and visit a couple of our partners in Traverse City. We work closely with Cherry Capital Foods, a Michigan focused food hub, whose headquarters is located in Traverse City. Because of this connection we have a number of customers who we don’t really have much direct contact with.

One of our longest connections through Cherry Capital is the fantastic restaurant – The Franklin. While enjoying a terrific Cubano {always my go-to} I was able to chat with their head butcher, James. Gotta love a restaurant with a head butcher. It was really good to connect with him and learn more about how they use Jake’s and the differences he sees between our product and others.

 

I also made time to stop at Raduno. A newly opened deli, run by a former contact at Cherry Capital. And, finally, whenever I’m in a new town and they have a food coop I feel compelled to visit. Oryana Community Co-op did not disappoint.

 

After a day of connecting in Traverse City {a town I need to return to soon!} I continued my travels north and finally over the bridge. The Mighty Mac. 

 

The next morning, after answering some urgent and important emails about all things meat related, I was able to connect with my tour guide Mark. Mark has worked on the lakes for years and is currently helping connect the fisheries with wholesale distributors.

Our first stop was at Massey Fish Company and their processing facility. It was there I learned Jamie had started his company many moons ago with just a canoe and a dream. It was quite impressive to see where they had grown from their humble beginnings, and just like Jake’s it was great to see the entire family involved. I met both his brothers, one of which is in charge of the smoked fish and the other runs the processing floor.

 

One thing that I have come away impressed with after visiting all of our processors – pork, chicken, and now fish – is how clean they are and how everyone working there understands how important their job is and takes safety and cleanliness seriously.

Earlier, while having lunch with Mark, I was in awe of the amount of knowledge he had about the lakes, the fish, and their relationship. It was the same feeling I had after working with Farmer Nate the first year at the Downers Grove farmers market. This depth and breadth of information is something we are often missing from the food system.

Next we took a trip to Mackinac Straights Fish Company. This may have included the highlight of the entire trip when I was able to sample a menominee straight from the smoker. Still warm. So salty, smokey, and amazing…

Fresh Smoked Fish

I have always enjoyed telling the story about the fish we sell. Great Lakes fish, wild caught by members of the Chippewa nation. Generally caught within a 50 mile radius of the Mackinac Bridge. Filleted, pin-boned, and flash frozen the day of catch. But being able to actually talk to the men and women who fish and process will be an experience I don’t soon forget. It may just be part of a story I tell for years.

bridge at night

 

 

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