The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 20, 2013

Fresh from county farms

Local growers show their stuff to top chefs in Cleveland area

Star Beacon

— Ashtabula County farmers brought the best of their harvests to the best chefs in Cleveland on Sunday, Rhonda McElroy said, in an effort to bring the country and the city together in a new way.

McElroy, a champion of local growers, said American Culinary Federation’s monthly meeting, hosted by Chef Andy Antico at the Mayfield Sandridge Country Club, was a success for those who grow as well as for those who cook.

“This was about helping our local purveyors get acquainted with the Cleveland area chefs and build working relationships for years to come,” McElroy said.

The ACF offers educational resources, training, apprenticeship and accreditations for chefs and pastry chefs. Chefs, cooks, culinary students, culinary instructors, purveyors, and restaurateurs make up the ACF membership.

The opportunity for Ashtabula County’s farmers came to light when McElroy met Antico at the Artisan Farm Fest in Hartsgrove Township last year.

“(Antico) was interested in having the growers and producers come to meet and network,” McElroy said. “We couldn’t pass up that sort of opportunity.”

Local purveyors at Sunday’s meeting included: Mayfield Creamery, Gatherings Jelly made from area wine and beer; Cold Springs Orchard and Nancy Dudley’s local honey, heirloom grown by KJ Greens, select lamb breeds from R&M Farms, and gourmet dipped apples from McElroy’s own Hollow Grove Foods.

“I think we need to remember who we are as part of Ashtabula County,” she said. “This area has been known for its farms and in the recent years many of those farms are gone. We can transform the county into the ‘go to’ place for the tourists to come and buy great products.”

It can be difficult for small business owners to get a “leg up” in big business, McElroy said.

“Many people starting a small business do not have the time to reach out and set up appointments to network,” she said. “This meeting brought many potential customers in one spot, and they were all there just to meet the producers from Ashtabula County — no one but us!”

The Cleveland chefs at the meeting were treated to samples from each purveyor, McElroy said.

“This was so important,” she said. “Expanding our circle of those looking to buy locally is key because we have great things happening out here and many people are looking for the good, fresh, unique, farm-raised, small batch products.”

McElroy said she won’t stop until everyone takes notice of the hard work and excellent results of Ashtabula County farmers.

“I am working to put Ashtabula County out there as a leader in local produce,” she said. “I have been making connections to work with entrepreneurs and others to launch businesses in the local food and sustainable agriculture arena.”

McElroy said she is excited to add producers and growers to the list of outstanding purveyors in Ashtabula County.

Farmers, vintners, and producers of food and food-based products can call McElroy at 645-5059 for more information.