Edible Cleveland Contributor Reflections

Our writers and photographers are the gateway to some of the most adventurous memoirs about our local food community. As we look back on our first five incredible years of storytelling, we asked some of our contributors to share their most surprising encounters:

Remember the Portlandia skit where two people go into a restaurant and ask the waitress where the chicken comes from, then end up at a communal farm for the next five years under the spell of its dynamic farmer/sect leader? I won’t go as far as saying that working for Edible Cleveland has been a like joining a cult or anything, but I can honestly say I really do know the provenance of the food I eat. I’ve been to a farm where the heritage breed, woodland-raised poultry came from. I’ve reached under a chicken at an Amish farm to pick up a warm, freshly laid egg. I’ve been slobbered on by Scottish Highland cattle, and I know that Guernsey cows produce the best milk for making ice cream. It’s been an eye-opening experience, and I’m still spellbound by Edible Cleveland and its mission to tell stories that connect us with the community, deepen our understanding of food practices and support the hard-working folks in the supply chain. I guess I did drink the Kool-Aid — but it was made from scratch with fresh-squeezed locally sourced berries. — Laura Watilo Blake

Finding Parker Bosley behind the counter at Ohio City Provisions while writing A New Butcher on the Block. It’s a gift to have such a seasoned culinarian so accessible to aspiring home chefs—whether for a recipe suggestion or tips on how to handle a particular cut of meat, he’s a resource that can help you amplify your repertoire with practicality and panache.  — Tricia Chaves

I am proud to have worked on several stores for Edible Cleveland. The subjects and story-tellers I photographed have varied (farmers, horticulturalists, shop owners, and home cooks) and each inspired me in their own ways, but the most surprising experience on these assignments has been the unifying power of food that I witnessed as a thread connecting them all.  The ability of food, and its origins, to bring disparate people together is remarkable, and I see that same love of food, and its power to build community, at work among the Edible Cleveland staff and contributors. — Matthew Connors 

Matthew Connors

As a student in Ohio University’s botany department in the ’90s, I had learned about the tragic loss of chestnut from the eastern American forests, complements of a fungus imported from Asia around the beginning of the 20th century. It was a basis—one of many—for wishful fantasies, that I could go back to see all that had been lost from the natural world due to humanity’s greed, folly, and reckless ignorance. Twenty-some years later, I got my chance to step back in time, sort of, while picking up native chestnut burrs with Ray Gargano for the The Chestnut Was Dead: To Begin With. Go figure. — Steven Corso 

The salt story along with the milk story were the most informational and surprising to me. Growing salt is something I never knew as being possible. Culturing breast milk as well is something that I never knew to even be possible. What I learned was that anything is possible and if you know where food comes from and/or what food is made up of, you can break it down to the bare essentials and make food out of these basics. — Billy Delfs

As new interns for the summer, Jackie Stofsick and I made the trek to Coit Road Farmers Market, but only found an empty parking lot. Confused and feeling dejected, we made our way back to the Heights and settled in Phoenix Coffee on Lee Road. Inspired by the tantalizing coffee smell, we quickly changed directions for the blog as Jackie snapped open her camera and I nestled in the corner with a pen and paper, ready to observe. Kenny and “Cool Hand Mahoney” crafted beautiful drinks as the smiles on the interns’ faces grew and the first blog, “An Unexpected Coffee Break,” was born. — Sarah Kloos

Nanette Bedway

I struggled to write my article on urban agriculture for the Spring 2017 issue. Why the difficulty? I scoured 25 oral history interviews that we conducted with Cleveland urban farmers. Every garden that we learned about opened up a whole new window into the rich cultural traditions of this city. I wanted to write about all 25. Each story stretched deep and wide in bringing together the surrounding neighborhood. I ultimately chose three stories that each contribute an essential perspective to making urban agriculture thrive in Cleveland: a young farmer, a senior gardener, and a refugee. — Brad Masi

Karin McKenna

All of the many stories that I’ve worked on for Edible Cleveland have been surprising in some way. That is why I love working for this magazine — the people that I meet are all uniquely passionate and full of conviction and determination. Most eye-opening, I suppose, would have to be A Milkmaid’s Morning, where I saw first-hand on a brutally cold morning before sunrise, how hard a farmer works. Also From Curious to Career, Spring 2015, I had the privilege of meeting the people making new lives for themselves in Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries’ restaurant training program. Very, very inspiring. And in The Rising Tide of Local Craft Breweries, it really sunk in how the sincere collaboration amongst Cleveland’s restaurant/brewery community was the heart of the food scene’s success. And Landing Fish on Lake Erie?? Ice fishing?? I grew up in Florida! That was totally crazy! I’m so grateful to have been part of the five years of this incredible magazine. — Karin McKenna

Melissa McClelland

When asked to try to reproduce a recipe by Culinary Vegetable Institute chef Jamie Simpson, I knew I was in for a challenge. Jamie is known for his delicate, but complicated dishes that are visual masterpieces. The process to recreate his Octopus Salad took 2 full days and involved at least 8 separate smaller recipes from making mustard to cooking octopus sous vide. Armed with stunning ingredients from Chef’s Garden, I leapt into a realm far above my usual culinary comfort. I was pushed, challenged, and honored by the food and the ideas behind them. It gave me insight into the world where food and art meet. — Melissa McClelland

When arriving at the West Side Market to cover my very first Edible Cleveland story, I found myself a bit nervous. After crossing over from the parking lot, I was approached by a vendor offering me a copy of the latest edition of the Cleveland Street Chronicle. The vendor proudly revealed that not only was she selling the paper, but she had also written a story featured in its pages. I was struck by the importance of stories, and the tenacity of this vendor in her efforts. I purchased the paper, thanked her for her inspiration, and proceeded to learn all I could about Dohar Meats for “Memories From the Market.” — Mary Jude Pakiela 

Prior to my involvement with Edible Cleveland, my understanding and appreciation of food was on a macro level, the epicenter of which was pursing what was, in my mind, the “best” of what was being sold to me in mainstream stores. I now seek the origins of things. I want to meet the individuals who shape and touch food from their own fields and kitchens who don’t necessarily aspire to sell the most of something, but who, instead, want to make the best of something. These are people who will not strike it rich or retire to a life of leisure based on their chosen livelihood, but they are some of the most happy and satisfied people I know, and buying products made by them is an honor and a privilege. — Lisa Sands 

Adrian Ortega. Photo by Karin McKenna

Most of the experiences I’ve had with Edible Cleveland presented their fair share of surprising encounters.  I never knew that you could fly from Catawba to South Bass Island to ice fish in the dead of winter, or that there’s world-class modern food and lodging at the Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, or that I’d meet the man who would eventually cater my wedding while writing an article on a newer local family passing down a traditional Mexican recipe from one generation to the next. I’ve also learned many lessons while writing, but one is constant. That if you spend some time looking you can eat pretty well here, and do it with some really decent people. — Daniel Scharf

Clarissa Westmeyer

My first assignment with Edible Cleveland was to photograph “The Beekeeper’s Daughter.” I had never been around bees more then the occasional observation of one on a flower or sting as a child so I had no idea what to expect at an apiary. Gene McCune and his daughter, Kimberly, were so welcoming. We went to the hives and Gene took the screens out.  I put a long lens on and jumped right in to get close ups of the bees they were so passionate about. After a few minutes of shooting Gene started laughing. He was chuckling at the comparison of me, a young female photographer who appeared fearless of getting close to the bees, to a burly videographer who had come out a few weeks before but ran flailing his arms to his van as soon as the bees came out. While editing the photos I noticed how unique each bee is. They all seem to have their own look. Some had darker stripes. Some had bigger eyes. There weren’t any that looked exactly alike. All of the bees were focused on their task and working together for the hive. I was most surprised to learn that all the bees I saw, the gatherers who leave the hive to collect pollen, the bees keeping the nursery and the queen are ALL FEMALE! There are only about 3-5 males in the hive kept by the queen for breeding only. — Clarissa Westmeyer

The most surprising encounter I have experienced as a photographer for Edible Cleveland occurred while shooting a story on duck hunting for an upcoming issue. I spent the night at a duck lodge, awoke at 5:00 am and dressed in head to toe camouflage and waist high waders to trudge through flooded fields in 10 degree weather and climb down into a septic tank immersed in a flooded corn field. I learned to duck call and also learned about the intense commitment of the hunters who cultivate a corn crop each year and then divert water form the nearby river to flood the entire area just to create the perfect hunting landscape for the short 7 week season each year. Most surprisingly I learned that I LOVE duck hunting. — Shane Wynn