For these Trumbull County farmers, the road to Kinsman is paved with Good Intentions

Walking into the Kinsman Town Hall in 2018, Amy and Floyd Davis were overwhelmed. They passed through the makeshift doors, crossed the dirt floor, stood in the center of the 1870s building, and saw nothing but disrepair. The light streamed in through broken windows to illuminate cracked and peeling plaster, water-damaged surfaces, and a ceiling that was well on its way to caving in.

“If anyone else had control over this building, they probably would have torn it down,” Floyd remembers thinking.

The Good Intentions cafe starts to come to life.

But rather than become overwhelmed with the enormity of work required to transform the space into something usable, Amy and Floyd were instead overcome with joy. They saw through the haze of dust and envisioned the eventual home for Good Intentions, their farm-to-table market and café that needed the perfect space to come alive.

“We just stood there, looking around, got a little choked up, and immediately knew, This is it,” Amy recalls, getting a little choked up in the retelling.

Slated to open this Thursday, June 11, Good Intentions represents a bold next step in the agricultural evolution that Floyd and Amy have been championing for years. Their origin story started when Floyd purchased a house in Kinsman in 2002. Having grown up on a farm in Hartford, he decided to plant a quarter-acre of sweet corn just as his family used to do, setting up a table by the driveway to display his small bounty.

“I would tip the bushel to make it seem like it was overflowing,” laughs Floyd. “If I was on the property, I would sell directly to people. If not, I would put a coffee can on the table for people to leave their money.”

Demand quickly grew, not just for greater amounts of corn, but also for more variety of produce. By 2005, he added 100 tomato plants and 200 pepper plants. The farming continued to supplement his various day jobs over the years, from being a sales engineer for a carbine manufacturer to a commercial claims specialist in farm-related losses. Two years after the couple first met in 2010, they decided to make a go at farming full-time in 2012.

The exterior of Red Basket Farm

The one thing missing? A catchy name to help market their produce. During a trip to a farmer’s market in South Russell, they noticed that the tables with the most traffic were heavily branded: a consistent theme, employees with logoed shirts, and a narrative thread. After drawing three columns on notebook paper and filling them with myriad words to make different combinations, the words “red” and “basket” leapt off the page.

“I had this wooden red basket with a wire handle that I used to gather eggs, and Red Basket Farm became our name,” says Floyd. “[That turned into] red baskets, red tablecloths, and even a red truck that we used to make our deliveries.”

Life in the soil was certainly a change for Amy (“I had never planted a cucumber seed!” she laughs), whose career had been based in sales and marketing. But she quickly made her mark, helping to foster deep relationships with the many restaurant and food groups that purchased from Red Basket Farm, from the Lakehouse Inn in Geneva-on-the-Lake to Fat Cats in Tremont to Case Western Reserve University.

“When you work so closely with these incredible chefs for so many years, they become part of the family,” says Amy. “Chef Ricardo [Sandoval of Fat Cats] even cooked at our wedding.”

Over the years, that quarter-acre of sweet corn eventually became 10-12 acres of outdoor production and 20,000 square feet of greenhouse space for growing all year long — yielding spinach, beets, various types of lettuce, radishes, celery, and a wide variety of other produce.

Floyd is constantly researching and experimenting new growing methods, having experienced some truly exciting successes in those greenhouses. The broccolini-looking flower shoots from his kale plants that would normally be tossed aside were quickly snatched up for an earthy dish at The Plum in Ohio City. And a cross between two different varieties of lettuce yielded a cold-weather-hardy wasabi arugula that floods your taste buds with the flavor of the Japanese horseradish before quickly dissipating with no aftertaste.

“We’re growing nutrient-dense food while building soil biology,” says Floyd. “We want to get to the point where we don’t have to add anything to the soil, and every year we get closer to that goal.”

In 2015, they began to see some changes in food trends, namely demand at food markets going down while local demand increased. Their first foray into CSA was modest at best: 20 to 30 bags of produce that weren’t going to restaurants, provided to customers who Amy had on a group text. Word-of-mouth quickly grew about the quality and variety, and drawing on her marketing background, Amy launched a social media campaign that quickly grew a few dozen customers into a list of hundreds.

“That started the in-person contact and confirmed that there was something bigger we wanted to do,” says Amy.

And so began a shift from wholesale production to a retail business plan. Instead of moving their products all over northeast Ohio, the couple wanted to find a space that could house a café featuring their crops and a wide variety of other products from both their land and other local farmers and vendors. They envisioned a space that could become a destination like the nearby Peter Allen Inn, providing jobs for local residents and helping to rebuild the Kinsman economy. They even landed on a name: Good Intentions.

“We’re all about things being good, and we are very intentional with everything that we do,” explains Amy.

Now all they needed was the perfect space. After looking at several different buildings as options, the Goldilocks syndrome kicked in and nothing felt quite right. “We didn’t fit into a plaza or into a space that you could only justify by a traffic study,” says Amy. “We needed something that felt just right.”

The former town hall and now home to Good Intentions Cafe

Enter the Kinsman Town Hall. Not 12 hours after they discussed the idea of the Town Hall—a mile from their farm—being a dream location, the owners of the historic site pulled into their driveway and asked if they might be interested in setting up shop there.

“You can’t script things like that,” says Floyd.

Over the years, the 2400-square-foot space has served as farm storage, an agricultural institute, a parking lot for township vehicles, office space, and even a one-sided basketball auditorium with bleachers up in the mezzanine. While attempting to preserve as many structural and historical elements as possible, the space has now gotten a completely modernized interior makeover.

Good Intentions will have two sides to the business: a café where you can grab a locally-sourced meal, and a fresh market featuring produce, grass-fed meats from other farmers, dairy products (including hard ice cream) from Wooster-based Hartzler Family Dairy, and sweet confections from local bakers. They will also stock the shelves with grocery items carefully vetted to be healthier alternatives, like avocado oil and pasta alternatives.

As Good Intentions opens its doors, Amy and Floyd are busy trying to anticipate the demand associated with operating a space where you can also buy the produce on the shelves from the meal you just ordered at the café. They are quick to highlight that they want Good Intentions to be a successful case study for other local farmers to bridge the disconnect between knowing how to farm and how to market and build their brand.

But above all else, they want Good Intentions to be a place where you can not only get a fresh meal, but also a heaping side of the communal sentiment built right into the name Kinsman.

“People are going to walk into this unbelievably building and immediately feel the spirit of community,” beams Amy. “We want to grow that feeling as much as we grow everything else.”

Ken Schneck