Foraging with Strangers

Food is a powerful force. It shapes our experiences. It introduces us to new cultures. And it forges friendships among strangers. For these reasons — and for many more — our studio has fallen in love with food. Much like a photo shoot, however, it’s rare to get a glimpse of the farms behind-the-scenes work that culminate to the food we enjoy and photograph daily.

Recently, we had a front row seat to the sustainable food stage as we co-hosted an inaugural event: Forage with Strangers. Designed to connect food brand representatives with the sustainable Northeast Ohio farm and restaurant community, the event journeyed eager participants through urban and rural farms and orchards. With camera in hand, we documented the amazing journey and the farmers and families that sustainably plant, harvest and craft (maybe change the word to cultivate?) the food ingredients.

Our first stop was the charming Yellow House Cheese, owned by the Henslee family. One of the very few Ohio farms that crafts cheese from sheep’s milk, the Henslee family has successfully navigated the challenging task of making bleu cheese, among many other varieties. And, they are refreshingly normal: Kevin is a science teacher at Medina City Schools and his wife, Kristyn and their two young girls that are involved in all aspects of farm life, including milking the sheep at their modest, rural homestead.

Our next stop at Rittman Orchards treated our eyes to a cornucopia of peaches, berries, beans, zucchini, potatoes and more. It’s no surprise that with nearly 200 acres of crops, pests are an ever-present problem. According to Matt Vodroska, his family combats this by introducing ecosystems that naturally control pest populations in order to maximize his harvest.

Spice Acres Farm graciously hosted our group for lunch with a beautiful spread sourced from the farm. We met Penelope, the extroverted sow who will soon mother a litter of piglets that will eventually (warning to vegetarians) be sourced as food for Northeast Ohio restaurants.

We then hopped into our time machine to the Trapp Family Farm, a mixed crop and livestock farm located in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. No machinery here — two horses plow the fields of beets, cabbage, fennel, summer squash and more.

Our last stop at Ohio City Farm, the largest contiguous urban farm in the United States, opened our eyes to how a healthy food system can beneficially change the lives of residents while also boosting the local food economy.

At each location we foraged various food ingredients for the grand finale: A family-style dinner prepared by chefs Dante Boccuzzi (Dante, Ginko) and Doug Katz (Fire, Provenance).

After feasting on seemingly endless plates of beautiful, fresh food at our studio’s rustic tables, each guest was asked to share their favorite memory from the day. Under twinkling lights, they gushed about their experiences and we noticed a common theme: Simple and sustainable. The notion that the farms we visited could bountifully feed our large group, and how the circle of life and our everyday actions positively or negatively impact the local food scene was insightful.

As a sustainable business ourself, this theme especially resonated with us. We admire, respect and admittedly copy practices that make us better neighbors to our city. Leftover food scraps from the night’s dinner fed our photographer's backyard chickens. Our table was set with beautiful dinnerware from our prop room to minimize paper waste. These practices aren’t just about doing the right thing: They’re a natural extension of our who we are. Food has a profound impact on our views, our memories and our lives — which is why we feel especially protective of the fragile system.

There was one more bonus to our foraging journey — a level of sustainability that can’t ever be measured: The day that 30 strangers became friends.

See more photos here: