Nearly every day, the mainstream media reports another story or three about some catastrophic occurrence regarding our food. Whether it’s listeria in ice cream, avian flu affecting eggs or another dreadful statistic about what artificial sweeteners, trans fats, GMO's, or high-fructose corn syrup are doing to us, good news about our food is scarce.
The exception is when you turn to the growing number of people who insist on buying (and by extension eating) local. The idea is to consume as our great-grandparents did - cooking from scratch, eating in season, buying from local farms or farm markets, and eschewing corporate-sized food producers.
Of course, organic and local produce is available from conventional local grocery stores, and there is a proliferation of well-supported farmer’s markets throughout the area. However, Northeast Ohio has three organizations dedicated to getting fresh produce and sustainably-grown goods into people's hands through online ordering.
Forking over fresh food
Fresh Fork Market is a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that works exclusively with about 100 growers in a 75-mile radius of Cleveland. With the exception of a few cheese makers, everything that Fresh Fork delivers to its 3,000 customers is grown sustainably in Ohio.
Talking with founder Trevor Clatterbuck is catching a busy entrepreneur on the fly. Clatterbuck oversees the work of two full time staff, five part timers – including Chef in Residence Parker Bosley - and roughly 20 customer service workers. Every week, four trucks are on the road in locations from Avon to Mentor and south to Copley. Subscribers pay $25 per week for their bag of fresh goods, and can pick up their swag from a Fresh Fork refrigerated truck at any of the regular locations.
Based on his 2009 business model, Clatterbuck thought his company would be delivering fresh produce and meat to area restaurants.
“But people started asking if they could buy directly from us and that demand far exceeded the restaurant clientele,” he says. Fresh Fork's typical subscriber is a young professional family with small children who want a source for clean, sustainably-grown food. The business has grown every year, and Fresh Fork is eyeing the possibility of offering a frozen vegetable line for winter months.
Fresh Fork brings more to the table than groceries, Clatterbuck maintains. “We offer outreach, farm tours and cooking classes at local restaurants," he says. "People join us for the food but also because they want to be part of this community.”
Rob Hanna, general manager at Blue Sky Green Fields, describes the four-year-old organization as an online grocery store that delivers. Though the endeavor's emphasis is on fresh, farmer's market quality produce, it also offers locally sourced meats – beef, pork, chicken, and bison – and locally-made sides and snacks. The company delivers from Vermillion to Ashtabula and to the southern edge of Canton from Tuesday through Friday.
“Blue Sky,” as Hanna refers to it, doesn’t deal with individual farmers, but works instead with distributors and wholesalers. Still, this model is about freshness and convenience, and the organization partners with businesses that want to provide the perk of healthy eating to their employees. The organization counts the Cleveland Clinic as a client, delivering to 20 Clinic locations.
Blue Sky delivers a cornucopia of produce. It also offers a deluge of pantry items with a local bent, including Ohio City Pasta, area-made breads, a full line of meats and more, pricing these goodies in line with hometown grocery stores.
Blue Sky charges no membership or delivery fees, notes Hanna. Consumers log in and pick groceries as needed. An average of 10 orders per week, based on an average order of $20 to $25, is enough for Blue Sky to consider making a delivery stop.
“We have costs streamlined,” Hanna says. “Picture a grocery store without the aisles or cashiers.” Unlike a CSA, he explains, people can choose what they want, not just what’s available, and there’s no minimum order.
Blue Sky has a warehouse in Midtown where a staff of 15 gets fresh produce, meats and more into the hands of people working for enlightened companies. For the future, Hanna is open to talking with smaller businesses that may be close to a regular stop. Blue Sky is already making deliveries to senior living communities for residents who still cook and want to remain independent.
The organization is also assisting YMCA in its efforts to teach wellness in the Akron area, an effort which includes plans to distribute healthy foods to apartment dwellers near urban neighborhood recreation centers.
“We love organic," Hanna says. “We offer organic apples as well as conventional apples. But either apple is better than a Snickers bar."
Door to organic goodness
The new kid in town is Door to Door Organics, a national chain that expanded into Cleveland two months ago. According to Emily Richardson, local market specialist for the 19-year-old Boulder-based business, the service is active in 55 cities in 12 markets throughout the Midwest.
Door to Door offers boxes full of fruits, veggies or both for weekly or bi-weekly delivery. Customers receive an email with the produce list days before a delivery, allowing them to make changes or substitutions as needed. Purchase is on a week by week basis with no standing commitment to buy regularly.
Deliveries run from about $25 to $55 per week depending on the size of the box, notes Richardson. Though Door to Door's prices align with the cost for organic products in most local grocery stores, the differentiating factor is convenience.
Door to Door's delivery is Tuesday through Thursday throughout most of Greater Cleveland and south all the way to Barberton. The name says it all: Door to Door brings its wares to homes, apartments or places of business, using refrigerated boxes and dry ice if necessary.
In addition to organic produce, shoppers can add extras like grass-fed beef , pasta, spices, and coffee. Door to Door's grocery list does not source food solely from Ohio, since staples like bananas and avocados simply don't grow here. For groceries, a team of workers seeks products with a strict list of requirements, including any banned ingredients, meaning everything Door to Door offers is clean and sustainably made.
Door to Door takes an interest in the other end of the food chain as well - the garbage.
“We are a zero food waste company,” says Richardson. “We give our edible produce to the Cleveland Food Bank on Fridays, and anything left is composted. Using Groundz, we keep 44 percent more food out of landfills than a grocery store.” (Groundz is a Northeast Ohio-based organic waste recycling nonprofit that turns food waste into compost, distributing those leavings to farmers, community gardens and schools.)
What's more, Door to Door seeks out community partnerships, from volunteer opportunities to help clean up a local urban farm to an upcoming “Customer Love” event, all to support the local food economy in Northeast Ohio.
All told, the plethora of easily accessible organic goodness available locally is a much needed alternative from the processed food lining most grocery store shelves, supporters say.
"In my house the schedule is challenging,” says Hanna of Blue Sky. “With the kids’ activities it’s not easy to get a healthy meal purchased, and prepared, and on the table. Our service is one more tool in the tool kit of getting and keeping fresh produce and healthy products around the house.”