Story and photos by Grant Segall
Trevor Clatterbuck trods down a path laden with mud and cow patties.
“Here, beef!” he calls over his shoulder. Some 80 steers and heifers mosey along.
“Here, beef!” They follow on and off, lingering in patches of shade.
“Here, beef!” He unlatches two wires blocking section of pasture, where tall grass glistens from recent rain. The cattle break into a trot and munch away.
Clatterbuck is raising crops and several thousand cows, hogs, chickens and turkeys at Wholesome Valley Farm, whose 80 hilly acres straddle Holmes and Stark counties near the village of Wilmot. He’s also the majority owner of Ohio City Provisions and the sole owner of Fresh Fork Market, believed to be Northeast Ohio’s biggest network of what’s widely known as consumer supported agriculture (CSA), or what Clatterbuck calls a farm buying club.
Depending on the season, some 2,500 subscribers flock to as many as 20 Fresh Fork dropoff sites weekly or biweekly for standardized packages of meat, grain fruits, and vegetables, most of it produced sustainably and organically, from Wholesome Valley and other Ohio farms.
Waiting in a socially distanced line on a hot parking lot outside Lakewood’s Screw Factory, customer Jennifer Vokoun, says she likes the packages’ variety from item to item and pickup to pickup. “Sometimes there are things I haven’t tried, and that’s always exciting.”
She once encountered garlic scapes, the curly stalks of garlic plants. Rising to the challenge, she sauteed the bundle like garlic bulbs. “It had kind of a milder taste,” she recalls, “but it was great.”
Greater Cleveland’s many locavores love the freshness, taste and nutrition of the region’s wealth of beef, corn, peaches, berries, greens, and more. They can buy into it a few different ways.
They can trek to farm stands in the hinterlands, if they don’t mind the time and the gas. They can wade through food emporiums for a few local items scattered among heaps of bland produce picked unripe long ago on distant megafarms.
For exclusively local food, they can go to farmers’ markets, where, despite some restrictions for the pandemic, most vendors will still let them touch and sniff and choose item by item. Or they can subscribe to CSAs.
Customer Mike Dagiasis likes his Fresh Fork package. “It forces you to be creative,” he says at the Screw Factory. “It forces you to cook things you typically wouldn’t: kale and chard or the root vegetables, all the stuff I’d never go out of my way to buy, and I end up liking.”
Fresh Fork’s website list each package’s items and offers some recipes. Clatterbuck sees another advantage to CSAs: savings. He signs up most customers before each season, guarantees volume to farmers, gets bulk prices in return, and works off a 35 percent margin, versus about 50 percent at most stores.
Clatterbuck also says Fresh Fork uses less energy than a farm market, which draws multiple farmers from afar. His staff of 13 full-timers and about eight part-timers fetch perishables from about 75 farms within 75 miles of Cleveland. They package the goods at the Cleveland Food Hub on Carnegie Avenue and distribute them at sites from Avon to Copley to Mentor.
Subscribers choose among three sizes of packages, ranging from five to 15 items, and four styles: vegan, vegetarian, omnivore and carnivore.
Fresh Fork runs year-round and takes subscribers in mid-season at prorated prices. For the summer season, June through October, prices range from $29 to $45 per week, plus a membership fee of $25.75. Customers may also buy extra items, such as eggs, milk, jams, jarred peppers, flour, and cookies.
Clatterbuck, 34, has put about 370,000 miles on a red 2013 Silverado while overseeing his domain. In his 1881 farmhouse, workers bake, pickle and, except during the pandemic, host weddings. Parker Bosley, acclaimed Cleveland restaurateur and local food pioneer, serves as chef in residence.
Clatterbuck was raised on a small lot in Wheeling, West Virginia, by a steelworker and a secretary. He went to Case Western Reserve University and joined a team that won an intercollegiate entrepreneurial contest by proposing a business to bring farm food to restaurants.
He started such a business in 2008, added individual customers in 2010, and eventually phased out the restaurants. In 2016, he opened Ohio City Provisions, a specialty grocery and butcher shop on Lorain Avenue.
Fresh Fork has competition. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website lists 10 CSAs in Ohio, including City Fresh in Oberlin and Bindel Farms in Spencer. Both CSAs take new customers in mid-season.
Local farmers say that Greater Cleveland is a handy size for local food: small enough for cheap, close farmland and big enough for a profitable market of discriminating foodies.
Says Clatterbuck, “You can get just as good food in Cleveland as anywhere else, if not better.”
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