Facebook for Farmers’ Food

  • Bob Gavlak and his partners organize freshly-harvested produce in their cooling truck. (Photo by Julie Grant)

Most twenty year olds use online
networking sites. But most farmers don’t.
Until now. A team of recent college grads
is using their internet savvy to connect
farms and restaurants. Julie Grant reports:


Most twenty year olds use online
networking sites. But most farmers don’t.
Until now. A team of recent college grads
is using their internet savvy to connect
farms and restaurants. Julie Grant reports:

Last summer Matt Szugye entered a college business school
competition. His team needed to make a plan for a new
business. They started throwing around ideas.

“It just happened, that the night before I was at a restaurant
talking with an owner, and they were telling me about the
trials and tribulations of starting their restaurant with the idea
that they would serve seasonal, local produce.”

But the restaurant owner couldn’t get food like onions,
zucchini or tomatoes directly from local farms. Szugye’s
team studied the idea. Lots of people in the food business
were saying the same things. Things like this:

“So I’m getting things shipped in from other states.”

That’s Donna Chriszt. She’s the owner and chef at Dish Deli
and Catering. It’s a small, gourmet deli in a downtown
Cleveland neighborhood.

“And the amount of fossil fuels that are coming out of that,
we hated. So, it’s not what I wanted to do for my

So now that the college team knew there was demand for a
product, they contacted farmers. Eureka. There was also a
supply. Lots of farmers wanted new ways to sell their fruits
and vegetables locally.

The team put together a plan for a distribution business – to
pickup produce from farms and deliver it to nearby

They decided they could use the internet.

It would work a little like an online dating service. Each
farmer could list what’s available and set the price. The
restaurant owners could browse through the list and place
their orders. The college students’ business plan would be
the match-maker.

The team won their business school contest.

After graduation this Spring, they launched an actual
business based on their model.

They call it Fresh Fork.

Donna Chriszt was thrilled.

“I was like hallelujah. Thank God someone will be able to
help a small place like me by doing all the foot work.”

(sound of a factory)

After picking up produce from farmers, Fresh Fork Team
member Bob Gavlak is finally getting back to the distribution
center. It’s 10 p.m. It could have gone a lot sooner, but he
got caught up talking with the farmers about what they’re
growing and how their kids are doing, you know, forging

(sound of a cooling truck)

The team now has to move racks of produce in a cooling
truck. Then they organize it all.

“This is where we’re going tomorrow, is Dish Deli and
Catering. And you can see Knoble Farms. They have some

When Gavlak and his partners started planning this
business, they didn’t quite get why there was such a fuss
about local food.

They were still college students fueled by Ramen and fast

So they spent some time on the food prep line at an upscale
local restaurant – cutting onions, stirring soup – for hours.
Not pouring soup out of a bag like a lot of places. Gavlak
says he started to understand.

“I would go to the store and I’d have strawberries, and I’d be
like, ‘oh, these are so good’. But then, when we had
strawberries here in the spring and early summer, it’s like I’d
never had a strawberry before. It’s just seeing the difference
that happens between a product that’s fresh and homegrown
and the product that isn’t.”

The team finishes sorting all their fresh produce at midnight.
They’ve got to get up at the crack of dawn to deliver to 8
restaurants, a grocery store, and a hospital.

(sound of Dish Deli)

When Gavlak brings her order, deli owner Donna Chriszt
inspects the cucumbers, rhubarb, and red skin potatoes.

“And our big bushel of corn. And everything looks great. It’s
always exciting when it comes in, because we’re like, ‘what
are we going to do with this?’”

This week, they’re planning rhubarb cobbler, potato salad
and fresh pickles for a neighborhood festival.

Gavlak smiles. He’s says it makes him feel good that the
business he and his college buddies designed, Fresh Fork,
is connecting farms and restaurants and getting people
fresh, locally grown food.

He finishes the order, and then walks into Chriszt’s deli to
have some lunch.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

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