A slice of the American Dream.

October 31, 2019

Pictured are some of the members of the American Apple team, including owners Caleb Coulter (back row, third from right) and Sarah Coulter (front row, at right)

A slice of the American Dream.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

NEW ERA – The blossoming success of American Apple is the product of ingenuity and hard work.

Growing up in the farming industry, Caleb Coulter bought 100 acres of land after graduating from Shelby High School in 1996. Now, the Apple packing facility he and his wife Sarah operate on South 88th Avenue has grown into a high-tech operation that employs up to 370 people during the peak season.

Right now, American Apple is busy with the fall apple harvest. The business also packs asparagus in the spring time, which is more labor-intensive. Labor peaks during the short-lived asparagus season, which runs from Mother’s Day until the end of June, Caleb said.

The apple season begins the last week of August and runs through October. This year, it ended Oct. 29. “It has been a brutal fall,” he said due to the cold and wet conditions. The apple packing season continues through April.

The farm also grows peaches but not like the large quantity of apples and asparagus it handles.

After years of farming with his uncle Daniel Aebig and grandfather Marvin Aebig, who have both since passed away, Caleb built the storage facility in 2012. In 2016, he began packing asparagus, and in 2017, he began packing apples.

Farming has been Caleb’s way of life since he was a child. “That’s all I’ve known,” he said. “I can remember seeding an orchard in 1988 when I was 10 years old.”

The processes developed by Caleb and his team are state-of-art. “The goal is to optimize every apple in the bin to then market to the right channel and maximize the return for the grower,” he said.

The modern facility uses high-speed infrared cameras and scanners to package the perfect apples. “Everything is traceable right to the field,” said Operations Manager Jason Baker. “Every carton is QR coded and time-stamped.”

American Apple ships its product all over the eastern half of the US, including locations in Florida and Texas. The produce goes to food service and retail businesses, including several school lunch programs in Ohio, Detroit and Chicago, Caleb said.

In addition to apples and asparagus grown on their own land, they pack produce from other growers. “With our partnering growers, we represent well over 2,000 acres of asparagus,” Caleb said.  “Together we currently represent close to roughly 50 percent of Michigan’s fresh asparagus market.

“We’ve had exponential growth, doubling every year,” said Caleb. What started out as an 8,000-square-foot facility has grown into a 32,000-square-foot operation — with plans to expand further. When they first started packing asparagus, it was done in the hallway of the storage facility. “Our volume has increased six times since,” he said.

Michigan is the top producer of asparagus in the US, and Oceana County is the top asparagus producer in Michigan. In apple production, Michigan ranks third to Washington and New York. Oceana takes second place in apples to Kent County, which has a high concentration of growers in the Sparta and Fruit Ridge areas, Caleb said.

The top two varieties that American Apple packs are Gala and Honeycrisp, with other varieties including Macintosh, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Red Delicious and Jonagold.

American Apple does not make apple products, such as cider, juice and applesauce. “Everything that comes off the line not making standards for fresh market goes directly to Peterson Farms for further processing,” Caleb said.

The American Apple team, which includes 14 full-time workers, is tight-knit. Caleb’s sister, Rachel Poulin, is food safety coordinator, and her son, Eli, is the head of shipping. “We’re fortunate to have such a talented staff mostly made up of lifelong friends and family,” said Caleb.

“We remain honored and humbled to represent our partnering grower community. It is fully our everyday effort to propel our neighbors forward with us in every step.

“We all come together as a team and move mountains.”

This story is copyrighted © 2019, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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