Saturday mornings Trevor Clatterbuck pulls his Fresh Fork Market truck into the lot behind Lilly's in Tremont, and wrangles cardboard boxes of frozen meat, fresh greens, milk, yogurt , maple syrup and more off the truck bed.
Soon, customers line up in front of a table under a pop-up tent , holding open their bags.
Each week in spring and summer, and every other week in fall and winter, Fresh Fork Market customers pay either 25 , 40, 45 or 50 dollars for vegan, vegetarian or omnivore grab bags. A la carte items can also be purchased.
More than 350 products are offered from 92 family farms in Northeast Ohio,and what you get depends on what's in season.
A growing business
When Clatterbuck started his retail business in 2009, he had 40 customers. Last year, he had a thousand. This summer he expects 2,000.
He came up with the idea while a student at Case Western Reserve University.
"At that time we were focused on connecting restaurants with local farmers. And since then, we've evolved some and the bigger part of our business now is a retail grocery grab bag we call our farm-buying club."
Improving the model for getting fresh food to customers
He says his method of distribution more efficient than the community-supported-agriculture model, in which customers buy a percentage of a farmer's harvest. He says for many, it’s also a better customer experience.
"There was just a complete lack of variety or selection. When cabbage and turnips were in, you got cabbage and turnips, and you didn't get enough to make a meal out of. So we really improved on that by sourcing our products from many different farmers, putting together a weekly grab bag that we theme as what I call a Meal plan. So it's not just what's in season, but it's meats, cheeses, fluid dairy. All kinds of different items to help round out that bag."
Expanding customers choices through culinary education
To teach customers how to use everything in the bag, Clatterbuck brought in the Cleveland chef Parker Bosley:
Annie McGinty of Tremont, is a Fresh Fork Market subscriber:
"I can literally cook for all week off of one weekend's bag full of stuff and it's just me and my boyfriend … so it's kind of nice and simple. We get recipes now on our weekly newsletter which are fantastic because the bags are kind of put together for ease of recipe-making, so I've actually made a couple of the recipes that have been on there in the past couple weeks. I've made a ratatouille. We do pizzas, tacos and we get a lot of things I've never ever made before. Kale. I've never made kale on my own before and it's super easy and delicious. It's kind of making me cook so I can use the products.
Bosley's been working with local farmers for years. He says most Northeast Ohioans don't realize the bounty and diversity of what's growing all around them.
"I think that's when the work of Fresh Fork Market really makes a difference. If you go to the farmers' market, if you go to the store, you buy what you know, you buy what you know the kids like and so forth. So you don't have that kind of nudge to explore and grow."
The kids like it
Jen Hovis of Ohio City finds her kids a little easier to nudge these days.
“I have a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old. They love the bacon. They love the eggs that we get through Fresh Fork, and that's good because I couldn't get them to try it before and they say they taste better than what we get in the supermarket. And I think it’s important for them to know where their food comes from. And in addition, I'm a physician and lack of additives and preservatives, which we know can be detrimental to one's health, helps too."
The small farmer’s friend
Helping local farmers is also part of Clatterbuck's mission. Last year he says he put more than $730,000 back into their hands.
"Statistics are out there on the wholesale commodity market that about 12 percent of the final retail dollar goes to the farmer in your traditional, conventional big ag model. We're putting 67 percent back into the farmer's pockets."
And he's funneling money back into the business for new technology .
"Our users can manage their account online. We can pull up their account in the field via an android tablet. We can run reports. We know how much food to order each week. We know who's going on vacation, who owes us money. We make notes and now we know everyone's kids' names."
Fresh Fork has 14 weekly pick-up locations across Northeast Ohio, but that's not the only way its customers come together. All year round cooking classes, picnics, and barbecues are scheduled and in the summer, Clatterbuck rents a bus on weekends for farm tours.
"And we hop around eight different farms and we'll visit organic produce farms. We'll visit a creamery that makes cheese. Last year, we did a yogurt place. We'll do the pastured pork. We'll do beef. One of the things that we started this winter just because the customers asked for it is Fresh Fork happy hours. and a lot of people have made friends that way. Yeah, the community's a big part of what we do."
Trevor Clatterbuck, founder of Fresh Fork Market, has served on Gov. John Kasich's food policy council. Food Network Magazine calls him an "up and coming food star."
And that's this week's Quick Bite. Next week we're visiting lunch ladies and young foodies at an elementary school that's been honored for using local produce to make healthier meals.