An Oasis in ‘Food Deserts’

More than 48 million Americans today are unsure where their next meal is coming from; meanwhile, small farms are disappearing because they struggle to reach consumers in a food system built largely for corporate growing operations.

Seal the Seasons — a farm-to-freezer startup born in a Carolina classroom and nurtured in the CUBE, a Campus Y social innovation startup incubator — aims to change that. The company is expanding retail opportunities for area farmers and targeting communities with little access to healthy produce — referred to as “food deserts” — by addressing two major but solvable problems in society: the high costs of transportation and of healthy products.

“I saw a big need here for people to eat healthier food and for farmers to sell their food,” co-founder Patrick Mateer ’14 said. Patrick and fellow alumnus Will Chapman (M.P.H.) teamed up with Daniella Uslan from the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention to develop her social venture linking food waste and food access in UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s StartUp-UNC business incubation class.

The first in the Piedmont to flash freeze local produce and make it available year-round to retail and institutional partners, Seal the Seasons joined the Piedmont Food and Agricultural Processing Center, a co-working space and food startup incubator in Hillsborough, North Carolina. This provided access to technology and operational space as well as guidance and support from the local social-impact food industry. From here, the flash-frozen, farm-grown produce is later sold to consumers at local community grocery stores, and 20 percent of profits are donated to end hunger.

Seal the Seasons currently distributes to local Harris Teeter, Whole Foods South and Lowe’s Foods stores, and secured seed funding in 2016 to grow from selling produce in seven local stores to more than 500 across the region. Now a member of FoodFutureCo, a national social impact accelerator for food businesses in New York City, Seal the Seasons plans to expand across the state and points south and west.