Walking into Michigan Medicine’s West Ann Arbor Health Center, one of the first things patients see is a big, boxy vending machine. But instead of “Coca-Cola” or “Snacks,” it says “Farmer’s Fridge”and also “Handcrafted in our kitchen” and “Delivered fresh in the morning.” 

Gloria Kastanis, the center’s associate director, can testify to thatshe says that when she comes in at 7 a.m. a delivery guy is usually there, filling the machine with sandwiches, yogurts, salads and “bowls” in wide-mouthed glass jars, and other healthy offerings. There are also Farmer’s Fridges at Michigan Medicine’s East Ann Arbor Health Center, the VA Medical Center, and Trinity Health’s Ann Arbor Hospital and Reichert Building.

“The university has made a great effort” to have more nutritious food available in its buildings, Kastanis explains. While she “hasn’t done a study asking, ‘Are you using this machine more than buying chips?’” she says the reaction from staff and patients has been “overwhelmingly positive.”  

Farmer’s Fridge was started in Chicago ten years ago by Luke Saunders. In his LinkedIn profile, Saunders writes that he was “working as a traveling salesman [and] struggling to find fresh, healthy, and accessible food options on the road.” The company now has more than 750 machines and about 300 employees. The meals are prepared in Chicago, shipped to a warehouse in Novi, and delivered locally from there.

The company’s entry to Ann Arbor came during the pandemic. Sales VP Syed Shah says that when precautionary shutdowns limited traffic at their vending machines, “we basically looked at all of the universities that were within 500 miles,” offering grab-and-go meals while their cafeterias were closed. The U-M food service was one of the takers.

Farmer’s Fridge has lately seen rapid growth with locations at O’Hare International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, and the Harvard University campus, among others. Shah says they’ll be coming to Detroit Metro in “a couple of months,” and on U-M’s Central Campus, including the dorms, by January 2024. Until then, the curious can check out the Farmer’s Fridge at the Costco on Ellsworth Rd.