By Diana Hammell
The Caledonia Argus
Sno Pac Food’s brochure tells us: “add a little sunshine to your diet.” Sunshine might be what a visitor smells upon approaching their facility in the Caledonia industrial park. Mid July workers were unloading a truckload of peas, and the fresh smell of those peas was intoxicating. It had to be more than just the wonderful peas, so it must have been that sunshine element that filled the air with a beautiful perfume.
J.P. Gengler started this family owned and operated business more than 100 years ago in lumber. In addition to that, Gengler harvested ice off a nearby spring fed pond, stored it in huge ice houses and shipped it to the south by rail during the summer months.
When mechanical refrigeration became available, Leonard Gengler built a locker plant where townspeople and local farmers could rent freezer space to store their food.
Leonard also purchased a farm and started raising strawberries, gooseberries and vegetables, which he processed and froze at his freezer plant. Leonard’s strawberry fields just outside of Caledonia on Hwy. 249 teemed with local youngsters whose summer job was to pick strawberries every year.
Leonard was decades ahead of his time, and always farmed organically, using natural products to sustain his land, compost, lime and green sand along with good rotation and soil conservation practices.
Demand grew for his fruits and vegetables. He supplied these regionally to consumers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. Local people would arrive, bringing their own roasting pans and various containers to bring home the just-picked and freshly blanched vegetables for them to process at home. People still come directly to the plant to pick up their annual supply of vegetables. Many of these are third or fourth generation Sno Pac customers.
Ramon Gengler continued the organic vegetable operation, expanding the product line, the market, and passed the operation on to Pete and Nick Gengler.
Now Zack and Seth Gengler are involved in the business, making it five generations of Genglers at Sno Pac. “I never planned on doing anything different,” Pete Gengler said. “Sometimes you wonder why; it’s stressful at times, but it’s okay, we’re used to it.”
This is not just a summertime endeavor; the plant runs year-round with much of the packaging, vegetable blending and reinspection done during the winter months. Peas come in June, green beans the end of July, edamame the end of August and potatoes in the fall.
Their main crops are grown right here around Caledonia – much to the delight of our deer population – but they do bring in cranberries and potatoes from Wisconsin, squash from Wisconsin or Iowa, blueberries from Michigan or Canada, carrots from Colorado and spinach, broccoli and peppers from California.
Sno Pac foods are MOSA (Midwest Organic Services Assoc.) certified. To be certified fields must have no chemicals applied to the ground or crops for 36 months, or two crop seasons, depending on when they last applied something. They do also market some transitional foods, such as “soycutash” under Trader Joe’s private label.
Soycutash is a blend of shelled edamame, corn and red peppers. Various other foods also appear under labels besides Sno Pac.
Sno Pac foods can be found all over the U.S. and Canada. Organic frozen foods available are: whole kernel corn, cut green beans, peas, mixed vegetables, sweet beans (shelled edamame), spinach, peas and carrots, sweet onions, soup mix, hash browns, crinkle cut french fries, blueberries, strawberries, broccoli, soycutash, edamame, cranberries, squash and orange and apple juice concentrates.
Quillin’s in Caledonia and Red’s IGA in Spring Grove have sections where Sno Pac foods can be found. They can be purchased in the cities, but persons from there are known to fill boxes to take home while visiting this area.
A chain of restaurants in Florida serves Sno Pac edamame and even speaks about them in their menu. Luther College will serve Sno Pac foods to their students. Gengler said that Luther has always supported local growers and appreciates the organic aspect.
The purchasing of locally raised foods has gained national attention lately. This fall the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts will begin serving Sno Pac foods. Local growers are beginning to combine their produce, and Sno Pac is getting into more mass market stores growers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.
Sno Pac has been in their new facility in Caledonia’s industrial park for 16 years. They also utilize a building next to Caledonia Haulers in town. Construction is underway at this time on a new 27,000 square foot building at the industrial park that will house new freezers and processing equipment, although they will still use some freezers in Austin.
Sno Pac’s expansion is good news for many: local farmers, the town, sunshine lovers and people who eat food across the country… any edamame lovers in particular.
You can contact Diana Hammell at [email protected]