We caught up with Trevor Clatterbuck down in Homerville, on the southern edge of Medina. The instructions for the meetup were simple—bring a tool belt and a hammer, and leave any power tools at home. Edible Cleveland wanted a day with Trevor, and like most of his days, this was not going to involve sitting down for a relaxing conversation over a few drinks. We were going to a barn raising in Amish country. And we’d be participating.
My first encounter with Trevor took place back in 2012. By that time, I had been hearing about this young guy from Case Western Reserve University, both from reading pieces in Cleveland Scene, and from the then semi-retired Cleveland chef/ legend Parker Bosley, who had been consulting with Trevor on his local foods startup, Fresh Fork Market. The articles painted a picture of a motivated and brash undergrad outsider taking a business school–style approach to the more conservative and staid domain of local food distribution. Parker simply said, “You have to meet this young man.”
Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting much. The local food world is filled with dreamers, and big ideas and fanfare often collide not so elegantly with reality. In the winter of 2012, I showed up at a meeting where the future of the fledgling Gordon Square Farmers Market was being discussed, and got my first taste of Trevor. Residents and vendors were gathered to try to brainstorm a path to sustainability. The market was held on Saturday mornings in a small church parking lot, and out of the maybe seven vendors, only four were selling food. It was a place to see your neighbors, but not one-stop shopping by any means.
Trevor waited patiently for his turn to speak, and when it came, he launched into a methodical, rapid-fire declaration on what he thought the market needed to do to survive. “Switch from Saturday mornings to Wednesday evenings,” he said, “There’s simply too much competition for another Saturday morning market.” Also, “People want eggs and meat,” neither of which was available at the market, and both of which Trevor offered to supply on consignment basis. And “move to a more prominent location.” Vendors’ heads were spinning at the pointed comments from this outsider. In the long run, it turned out that much of what Trevor had suggested that night was right.
Roots Take Hold, and Spread
Fresh Fork started as a college project to develop an online portal that facilitated the buying and selling of local produce to restaurants and institutional buyers. It has morphed into a local foods powerhouse. Now there’s a 3,000-plus member subscription food service, a full-on farm in Wilmot, and a butcher and grocer in Ohio City. And rather than simply connecting growers with purchasers, Trevor’s companies connect people who are passionate about local produce throughout Northeast Ohio.
The root of it all is Fresh Fork Market, where Trevor and company bring local foods from regional growers to eaters all over the Cleveland area. Fresh Fork follows a modified community supported agriculture (CSA) model of distribution, where participants pay a weekly fee for a selection of whatever is growing at the time of delivery, except that Fresh Fork pulls from many growers who share a philosophy on responsible growing, instead of from a single farm. Also, while not unheard of with traditional CSAs, Fresh Fork offers the option to have meats and other goodies included in shares. And they deliver to multiple drop-off locations and even offer evening classes ranging from baking to butchering.
The beauty of Fresh Fork, and CSAs in general, is that everyone wins. The growers spend time growing, instead of marketing and transporting their wares, and customers get the best produce possible at its peak freshness. It’d be nice to head out to various farms in Amish country once a week and select from the best things growing at each farm. But it’s more convenient if someone else facilitates those efforts, by building relationships, vetting individual farms, and creating a steady revenue stream and some level of predictability in a notoriously unpredictable line of work. That’s what Fresh Fork does.
Home in Amish Country
By spending so much time in Amish Country, and moving such a large volume of food, it was only a matter of time before Trevor got into farming himself. And where else but in the heart of Amish country, just southwest of Canton. It’s there, in tiny Wilmot, that Trevor took over farming operations at Wholesome Valley Farm, and brought his outsider’s take to a long-running institution. Not one to take things slow, Trevor immediately enlisted Amish community members to raise outbuildings, construct an armada of movable chicken coops, and develop breeding programs for both pigs and beef.
But Wholesome Valley isn’t just an “English” farm in Amish country. It is fully integrated in the community. Aside from a nearly all-Amish staff, each year the farm hosts Family Farm Field Day, where 4,000 to 5,000 members of the Amish community, and some English, too, come to enjoy a day of activities ranging from “Do’s and Don’ts of Buggy Horse Safety” to a turtle-trapping demonstration.
By growing produce responsibly, and breeding pigs and beef that thrive in the local environment and sell as premium meat in the butcher case, Wholesome Valley is not just setting itself up for success, but is also there to partner and collaborate with other area farms. So, while it is an English farm, Wholesome Valley remains neatly part of its Amish farming community.
With a solid subscription base, and his farm finding its own footing, it seemed inevitable that Trevor would branch out to a retail storefront. The question was not if, but instead where and when. Fortunately for those on the near west side of Cleveland, Ohio City Provisions emerged on Lorain Road, just west of the West Side Market.
A Neighborhood Staple
While others were lamenting the difficulty of locating ethically sourced meat and high-quality local produce at the Market, Trevor and his longtime collaborator Chef Adam Lambert did something about it, opening a temple of all things local. Featuring meat and produce from Wholesome Valley and like-minded producers, Ohio City Provisions ups the local foods game by offering one-stop shopping for fresh-cut meats, stocks, aged and fresh sausages, cheeses, eggs, dairy, and more, all from nearby sources you can feel good about. Even the wood floors and cutting boards were made locally. With only the rare exception, if it’s not from here, it’s not sold there.
Like Fresh Fork and Wholesome Valley, Ohio City Provisions isn’t just another food business competing in a crowded space. Instead, it fills a space that was previously all but unoccupied. Cleveland has no shortage of places to purchase local food, gourmet food, and food at convenient hours, but you would be hard-pressed to find all of those things under one roof, and curated by a respected and caring on-site chef, seven days a week.
Parker Bosley thinks back to a moment after the excitement and praise from customers and passers by regarding the shop’s opening. “This is the one time Trevor put everything thing aside, the cowboy boots, and the hey ‘it’s all about business,’ he said, ‘Hey, I want to talk a walk. Come with me.’” They crossed the street, and assessed the store, the lights, and the people. “Trevor said, ‘Did you ever think that when you met this kid just out of college eight years ago that one day you’d see this?’” With Ohio City Provisions, Trevor and Adam have made a reality of the platonic ideal of the local butcher shop.
Whether the history they are conjuring with the white-collared shirts, large cuts of red meat, pastoral imagery, and customer-centric service is real or imagined, it is clear that they have created a shop poised to support and celebrate the local food community long into the future.
But Back to the Barn Raising…
When we first arrived in Homerville, Trevor and I simply stood and watched. We had arrived just in time to see the walls go up. What followed was a complete assault on the senses.
Everyone was outfitted with straw hats, blue shirts, denim pants, and the identical tool belts consisting of a nail pouch, hammer holder with framing hammer, tape measure, and speed square. With ballet-like choreography, the conductor of the operation pointed and shouted to his troop of nearly 50 men using 20-foot-long poles tipped with forged spikes, metal bars, and raw strength to muscle the walls in place. Once on their mark, one or two younger men would scale the framing so that angled boards could be attached from the ground to the top of the wall to temporarily secure things in place. At ground level, the beefy framing timbers were toenailed into place by yet another group. Once a wall was set, the process immediately repeated itself until the barn’s skeleton was in place.
With the walls in place, more men started arriving, having completed their morning chores. It was now time for the roof, the siding, interior beams, and everything else necessary to take roughly framed space to a completed barn. To get there, over 100 Amish men at a time were whacking away with hammers, and the pounding was constant. Between the thumps was constant communication, both in Pennsylvania Dutch, and in the nonverbal way that comes naturally to crews working together for years. The sound was all-encompassing, emanating from people 30-feet-high in the rafters, to others at ground level. Everyone was working individually, but also in unison to bring an 80-by-40-foot barn to completion in one day.
Even the smell was immersive. Imagine 100 plus bodies working away on a hot summer’s day, surrounded by barnyard and horses. Watching the barn go up from the outside was magical, but once between the walls in the working zone it was otherworldly. It was like being in the middle of a construction zone during a hurricane.
Younger men were tasked with working on the roof, while elders took the day to artfully and humbly craft the barn’s sliding door. Children with tool belts made from old aprons and their little 16-ounce hammers worked along the edges, hammering in any nail that could be reached from their diminutive height, and pounding in floorboards with a zeal not often associated with such a potentially mundane task. Lunch was epic: it concluded with separate courses for dessert, cake, pie, candy bars, and, oddly, cigars.
Throughout the day, one grower after another would approach Trevor. “You looking for any ramps this year?” Or, “I’m thinking of selling off some of my hogs. Might you be interested?” And even more basic trade talk, like the increased costs of growing strawberries this season. But Trevor was there that day to support a member of his community by helping to raise a barn. So while he was polite and attended to some business, the conversation typically ended the same way. He’d say, “Just leave a note in my buggy; you know which one it is.” By the end of the day, the seat of his cherry red Chevy Silverado was piled high with notes.
For more information on Fresh Fork Market, visit FreshForkMarket.com.