Mitten Crate’s Passion, an Open Letter
--Mitten Crate's open essay on why they do what they do--
Eat. Love. Michigan. These three words define us as individuals and encapsulate the essence of Mitten Crate as a business. As easy as it is for us to talk at length about what we do and how we do it, it’s equally as difficult to express the many reasons why we do it in one short essay. Passions are funny that way. The word passion brings to mind feelings, which are often solidified in a system of beliefs. So perhaps we will begin with what we believe.
We believe that communities succeed when people share common values, that given the opportunity, people will choose to support their local community, and that a business should have a positive impact on the community in which it operates.
In late 2013, with these ideals in mind, Mitten Crate was born.
Growing up in Michigan, we have seen first hand the importance of collaboration and fostering community. The feeling that we belong to something greater than ourselves, that we are part of a group of people that are experiencing the same things as we are, and the idea of working towards a common goal or understanding, seems to be a fundamental human need in today’s society.
In the latter part of the last decade, when the bubble burst and the monoculture of the automotive industry was proven to be a recipe for disaster, we watched as people panicked and entire communities were left fractured or destroyed by economic uncertainty. During this time, many people lost their jobs, their homes, their benefits, and their savings. People who had worked for decades and planned for their future dreams suddenly had the proverbial rug pulled out from under their feet. The music stopped and left many people wondering where all of the chairs had vanished too. Once the realization set in that these jobs were not coming back, it became apparent that changes were going to have to be made in order to survive in this new economy. In a round about, “glass half full” kind of way, this was a fresh start for many people. Learning new skills and thinking outside of the box became a necessity, and in turn, people began to convert their hobbies into businesses. An obstacle that had once seemed insurmountable was beginning to appear more like an opportunity in disguise. People became makers again. Putting their deep rooted Midwestern work ethic into practice, they dusted themselves off and claimed victory over the economic circumstances that had brought them to their knees. Throughout this entire process, community was the thread that held it all together. Never before had we seen so much collaboration and experienced such a profound sense of social responsibility. People were arriving at the realization that we’re all in this together, and that helping ones neighbor ultimately works to the benefit of ones self.
Working with our neighbors has been an enjoyable journey for us. We have watched brands grow from hopeful ideas into nationally acclaimed companies in their respective fields. It’s no coincidence that we have had so many artisans pop up in Michigan. With our four growing seasons and multiple metropolitan areas, Michigan has always possessed a rich agricultural history that has recently regained a foothold in the modern marketplace. There are no two better examples of this epicurean renaissance than McClary Bros. Shrubs and Gus and Grey Artisanal Jams.
Jess and Josh McClary, the founders of McClary Bros., have been an inspiration to many in our local food economy, and we are proud to say, “we knew them when…” The husband and wife duo have brought a unique product to market during this resurgence in the artisanal food movement. McClary Bros. Old Timey Drinking Vinegars takes a colonial approach to preserving the tastes and bounty of Michigan’s diverse growing seasons. Since being featured in Mitten Crate, McClary Bros. has been picked up by stores in over 26 states across the US, and has received online orders from nearly every state in the nation. While helping them to develop drink recipes, exchanging ideas about marketing and distribution channels, and of course chatting over the occasional cocktail or three, we formed a partnership that extends beyond your typical business relationship.Our commitment to local food is constantly reaffirmed by enthusiastic individuals like Jess and Josh.
When we first partnered with Tara from Gus & Grey, we picked up a truckload of jam from her home kitchen. It was the largest order that she had ever filled, and the smile on her face was infectious.Less than a year later, Tara went on to launch her brand at Yankee stadium as a result of the growth and exposure she has received from working with Mitten Crate. She has proved to be a prime example of what it means to produce a local product, and it has been a reward to watch her succeed.
Her focus lies with the “from whom” and “from where” she sources her raw ingredients. Tara’s business has taken off after her collaboration with Mitten Crate, due in part to the connections and resources we helped her garner, and we are proud to call her our friend. Her continued growth is a testament to the hard work and dedication that she has for her craft, and in a market that many would say is oversaturated, Tara continues to innovate and astonish with her “jam not jelly” way of doing business.
Over the past 18 months, we have had the pleasure of working with over 100 small-batch food producers from all around the state of Michigan, just like the McClary’s and Tara, many of whom have started their business only a few short years ago. We have tasted their products, listened to their stories, exchanged ideas, and shared more than a few laughs together. In the process of helping them to grow their businesses, these people have become personal friends of ours. We take great pride in our ability to help them reach new goals and deliver their delicious products to more people and places than ever before. These are people who are passionate about their craft and it has been an honor to get to know them and to watch their businesses flourish. They are the reason for what we do, and helping these entrepreneurs succeed has been the greatest reward that we could hope for.
Artisan food entrepreneurs are only a small segment of the people that we are serving in our local community. There are thousands of citizens that we are connected to who go hungry on a daily basis. Through people like Chris Nemeth of Forgotten Harvest and Suzette Hohendorf of Gleaner’s Community Food Bank, we have been fortunate enough to be able to help these members of our community via our giving back program. These people and their respective organizations are on the front lines of the fight against hunger. They are the salt of the earth, those who put others before themselves and work tirelessly to provide access to resources for those who cannot attain them on their own. We are honored to work alongside these folks and we are thankful for their part in helping us donate over 60,000 meals to date to people in need right here in our own community. In alignment with our commitment to feed the hungry, we dedicate a portion of any and all incoming funds to help feed those less fortunate in our community. We believe that the problem in this country is not a shortage of food, but merely a lack of access and means to a proper allocation of resources.
Sharing a taste of Michigan is our goal at the end of the day, and our members are the recipients of the hard work and passions we promote. While a majority of our customers live in Michigan, almost a third of our business caters to those expats that have moved away but still need a taste of Michigan in their lives. Michiganders residing all across the country relish in the fact that they are just a FedEx delivery away from their home state. Our commitment to these individuals is intrinsic to our company. We will continue striving to make sure that the customers of Mitten Crate have an experience that is worth sharing.
One of our favorite customers to date is a delightful grandmother named Dolores. At the spry age of 82, Dolores maintained her desire to find unique Christmas gifts for her family members each holiday season, and up until December 2014, she had never purchased anything online. With three children in three separate states across the US, the holidays proved to be a difficult time for her from a logistics standpoint. We received an email from Dolores stating that she wanted to place a order, but needed help figuring out the website and processing her credit card securely. We gave her a call and guided her through her first purchase, and as she didn’t feel confident to repeat the steps on her own, we walked Dolores through the process two more times. She was absolutely smitten that we took the time to help her out and explain how everything was going to work. However, we weren’t done talking to Dolores just yet. After finalizing her orders, she phoned again a week later to revise her son’s address. On the spot, we manually updated her account and sent her a confirmation email stating the changes had been made. Beyond thrilled with her experience, Dolores is now a customer for life, and all three of her children have gone on to order Mitten Crates for the special people in their lives.
There’s no need to live outside of the state to discover the bounty of Michigan foods in each month’s edition.Members are constantly surprised by the contents of the crates, even though the products may be made right in their own backyard. While the majority of Mitten Crate recipients tend to be located right here in Michigan, they are always surprised at how fast the deliveries arrive on their doorsteps each month. The joy our customers experience when opening their crate every month is paramount to our success. Working with Dan Fialon at FedEx has further aided the growth of our business in a way we never thought possible. From the very beginning, we have built a relationship with Dan that has evolved far beyond business as usual. Almost two years later, we still look forward to our conversations with Dan about the growth of Mitten Crate, as we know he shares our community centric values and desire to put our customers first.
The future of Mitten Crate is clear in our minds. We want every customer to feel a part of something, just as Dolores did. We want to continue to support the growth of brands just like the McClary’s and Tara’s. We want to raise our support for the organizations that Chris and Suzette represent. We want to continue working with people like Dan that share our values and believe in our mission. To us, Mitten Crate is so much more than a package of food in the mail; it’s the embodiment of people working together for the greater good of our community. The next chapter for Mitten Crate will be the opening of a brick and mortar location to help further support the local food scene. A place where new vendors have a space on the shelf, a place where customers can touch, feel and sample exciting new items and a place where we can hold events such as canned food drives or pop-up dinners for up and coming entrepreneurs.
As long as people have a desire to eat great food and are proud of where they come from, we will continue to grow. Our ethos of “Eat. Love. Michigan.” is more than a statement; it’s our lifestyle. Our passion as individuals is entwined into our business. As we watch the growth of our industry, we can’t help but feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in the work that we are doing and the relationships that we have fostered along the way. The glowing feedback from our members, the success stories of our partner vendors, and the recognition by the state of Michigan for our charitable achievements highlights the community cohesion that we have been a part of over the short lifetime of our business. However, there is more work to be done. We cannot achieve great things alone. We will continue to build on the power of our community and champion the values of the people who share our vision and commitment to supporting local. Together, we are Mitten Crate.