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Microgreens are the original petite cuisine. Dainty and delicate atop any dish, served at some of the most revered restaurants in Columbus, the highfalutin alternative to salad or sprouts might have an unlikely source. Drew Sample supplies a select set of chefs throughout Central Ohio, eager to acquire his premium small-scale produce, from an equally [...]
J.R. McMillan

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Microgreens are the original petite cuisine. Dainty and delicate
atop any dish, served at some of the most revered restaurants in Columbus, the highfalutin alternative to salad or sprouts might have an unlikely source.

Drew Sample supplies a select set of chefs throughout Central Ohio, eager to acquire his premium small-scale produce, from an equally small-scale farm he operates on a tiny lot in North Linden—a neighborhood hardly known as a hotbed of horticulture.

“For me, urban farming really was a political act, it’s showing what you’re about instead of what you’re against,” he explained. “Decentralizing the food system and helping to create a different relationship between people and what they eat is essential.”

An intriguing addition to an otherwise sanguine salad, those diminutive doses of arugula, mustard, and cilantro aren’t meant to make your plate pretty. Microgreens have all of the nutrient density and flavor intensity destined to become a mature plant, just harvested in days or a couple of weeks instead of months.

 

“Decentralizing the food system and helping to create a different relationship between people and what they eat is essential.”

“They’re more than an upscale garnish, but sometimes folks don’t know where to begin beyond salad. I think burgers are the way to go,” he explained, noting how he tries to help chefs get creative. “They add so much color and texture. My dad surprised me by putting micro-radish on mashed potatoes, it’s peppery. So now I’ve converted several people to microgreens with this photo he sent me of his mashed potatoes.”

Hailing from Toledo, with family roots in Kentucky, Sample returned to Columbus in his late 20s, having spent a stretch of his formative years here from adolescence to early adulthood. But a soul-crushing corporate sales job and suburbia never quite fit his free spirit or sense of purpose.

“I learned something from every job I’ve had that helped me go into business for myself. But most of the time, it seemed like I was just getting paid to deal with irate customers,” he revealed. “I was looking for a business to fall back on and farming was something I knew I could do.”

Sample’s inspiration and knowledge of farming came firsthand from his grandfather, who, as a farmer left Appalachia looking for the promise of urban life, only to find a different kind of struggle. It’s a work ethic that rubbed off from an early age, and when the opportunity arrived, it was seed money from his grandfather that helped him start Capital
City Gardens.

“I harvested yesterday and I’m going to deliver everything today. That’s my edge over bigger companies that charge more for a lower quality product,” he explained. “A lot of farmers charge a delivery fee. I live in the city, so I don’t have to—and if chefs let me know they need something
I happen to have, I can add it to the delivery.”

There are no slick brochures or advertising budget. Capital City Gardens is as organic as marketing gets. Clients vary widely, but his business is built almost exclusively on personal referrals, from the Refectory and the Ohio State Faculty Club, to The Guild House, M at Miranova, and Cameron’s American Bistro. A couple of breweries also round out the list, but he’s always looking for customers, with a soft pitch and a smile.

“You go where you’re
deserved, not simply where you’re needed. It’s why I’m
happy to donate my produce and time to people who hustle and work hard to improve
their own communities.”

“I picked up The Little Kitchen food truck at a farmers market,” he explained. “I just asked her where she got her microgreens, offered her some of mine, and she started buying.”

Sample originally started by volunteering with a community farm on the south side of the city, harvesting and working the farmers market on the weekends. You’ll still find him lending a hand at the Westgate Farmers Market, even beyond operating his own booth.

“Farmers markets are built on ground-up innovation. For me, it’s easy to just set up and not worry about how to take SNAP. I can just tell people I accept anything you have for food,” he explained. “You go where you’re deserved, not simply where you’re needed. It’s why I’m happy to donate my produce and time to people who hustle and work hard to improve their own communities.”

But once-weekly markets alone weren’t enough to build a business, and by the end of his first summer, economic realities started to set in.

“Last season, most of my income was coming from farmers markets. So when it ended, I was in a lot of trouble,” he admitted, even working at a pizza joint as a side gig while growing his roster of restaurants. Now they’re the majority of his business, and OH Pizza and Brew is a client. “Restaurants have to pick and choose what they buy locally, so I work with chefs to understand what they want before I plant.”

His margins are lower, and so is his surplus, growing just enough to sell or share with family, friends, and neighbors—who’ve all become less suspicious and skeptical of his unlikely grow operation. Spoilage is so low, he doesn’t even bother trying to write it off on his taxes, or carry crop insurance, the safety net standard for most farms. Worms turn what little is left into the next crop of greens.

Capital City Gardens isn’t entirely a one-man operation. Sample still gets his hands dirty, but credits his farm manager Rich Fraztel with allowing him more time to focus on building customer relationships while keeping the growing pains of expansion to a minimum.

“People who go into business for themselves focus too much on the money. Success comes from building relationships,” he opined. “If you
take care of your customers, the money will be there. That’s what makes the difference.”

Once the weather worsens, Capital City Gardens transforms exclusively to an indoor endeavor. The converted basement allows for tight control of light, temperature, and humidity with crops on rolling racks rotated for consistent quality and maximum yield. While the rest of the world waits for enough private investment and government subsidies for vertical farming to finally take off, Sample is just making it work by intuition and necessity.

Urban farming isn’t Sample’s only political passion project, nor is his pioneer persona tethered to the terrestrial. He also hosts The Sample Hour, a prolific podcast started on a whim back in 2012 to chronicle the conversations he and his friends were already having on topics profound and obscure. From self-reliance to permaculture, Thomas Sowell to topsoil, it now attracts guest interviews from Mike Michalowicz, former Wall Street Journal small business columnist and folk hero for would-be entrepreneurs everywhere, to Thaddeus Russell, the disavowed academic whose A Renegade History of the United States was published as a response to being tossed off the faculty of Barnard College.

His podcast churns opinions and electrons as easily as he turns the earth, and for the same reason—daring to cultivate something novel in the age of ordinary.

Sample’s pivot from microgreens to macroeconomics comes naturally, an approachable iconoclast who thinks labels are for canned vegetables and rhetoric, not people or ideas. It’s another trait he inherited from his grandfather, who passed away recently, but whose grounding influence and relationship with the land lives on in Capital City Gardens.

“Toward the end, we’d sit and I’d read him excerpts from Wendell Berry I knew he’d appreciate. It was invigorating for both of us,” Sample revealed. “Like any farm, it would be nearly impossible if I couldn’t do it on my own land. He’s the one who allowed me to do this. This is his legacy.”

For more of Sample’s podcast, visit samplehour.com.

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Arts & Culture

Ohio animator creates tribute, parody video of DeWine & Acton

Wayne T. Lewis, Publisher

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Video at bottom of story

About three weeks ago, when the world was starting to fall apart, Dave Stofka was looking for something to take his mind off the stream of daily bad news. A freelance web developer and animator since 2007, Stofka had just the idea.

"I watched Governor DeWine and Dr. Acton's press conferences, and all the Facebook comments I was reading conveyed a sense of great appreciation of their leadership. At some point I jokingly thought to myself that all they need is a theme song. Growing up in the days when every show had a theme song, the "Laverne & Shirley" theme popped into my head for some reason, said Stofka.

With some encouragement from his wife, he dug into the project putting to work his previous experience making animated parodies. Stofka says he put about 100 hours over 2.5 weeks into the video project.

"I knew technically how to pull it off. The jokes started flowing the more I worked on it and bounced ideas off my family and a couple friends. It snowballed from there," said Stofka.

The 1:20 video offers a light-hearted take on the state government's efforts - led by DeWine and Acton - in combating the coronavirus pandemic. The video is based on a hilarious take on the "Laverne & Shirley" theme song, performed by Stofka's friend, Elisa Grecar.

"My goal in this was to bring smiles to people's faces. It's so easy to focus on the negative and difficult to focus on the positive -- not just in times like this but in life in general. I love that Ohio's motto is "With God, all things are possible" -- it made a perfect tagline at the end -- and personally it has given me a lot of hope to get through this," added Stofka.

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Arts & Culture

CCAD Spring Art Fair goes virtual

Mitch Hooper

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The COVID-19 outbreak has all but canceled every event slated for April, but that isn't stopping the Columbus College of Art and Design from finding ways to safely move forward. Though there won't be an in-person Spring Art Fair this year, folks can still support these students and their artwork through the first ever virtual installment of the showcase.

Spanning April 10 to April 12, the CCAD Spring Art Fair will have its students projects, designs, and creations available for purchase online. The day kicks off on Friday at 5 p.m. and ends Sunday at midnight. All proceeds from the event will go directly to the artists, makers, and designers.

CCAD is also running a giveaway for anyone who makes a purchase during the Art Fair. If a visitor spends $50 or more and posts their receipt (without their personal information visible) to Instagram with the hashtag #CCADArtFair, they will be entered in to win a $50 gift certificate to CCAD’s Continuing & Professional Studies classes. Three winners will be selected randomly on April 13.

To find out more about the Art Fair, visit ccad.edu/experience-art/art-fair.

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Community

Listening In Place: The story behind the front porch cello concert heard around the world

Linda Lee Baird

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Inspired by scenes from Italy of socially distancing neighbors standing on balconies, singing together, Clintonville resident Rebecca Tien (who is also a longtime (614) contributing photographer) had an idea for how her family could make a difference in their neighborhood. Across the street, Tien’s elderly neighbor Helena Schlam was under a self-imposed quarantine due to the coronavirus. Tien knew Schlam loved classical music, and she also knew her children, Taran, nine, and Calliope, six, had to keep practicing on their cellos, even if the school orchestra was canceled for the foreseeable future. So Tien planned for her kids to hold a concert for Schlam on her large front porch, keeping a safe distance away.

Photos: Rebecca Tien

If you were anywhere near Twitter that day, you know what came next: another neighbor, Jackie Borchardt, tweeted a clip of the performance. And thanks to Borchardt’s many followers in the media, (she is a reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer), the Tiens’ performance exploded across the internet. Taran and Calliope soon landed on national news broadcasts from NBC, CBS, and CNN, as well as in Time magazine and The Washington Post. The story was retweeted by George Takei and the kids’ cello idol, Yo-Yo Ma. 

Now that their 15 minutes of fame is winding down, (614) caught up with Calliope and Taran to learn what the experience was like. 

Turns out, they found fame not only early in their lives, but also early in their cello careers. Both began playing in fall 2019, with Taran joining his school orchestra, and Calliope taking private lessons (Taran soon began doing the same). It’s an instrument the Tiens took to naturally. 

“I tend to speed ahead a lot,” Taran said. “I printed out the Bach cello suite and I’m working on that. I bought new music that’s really advanced today and I probably can’t play it but I want to because I always want to.” 

It’s the music they can make on the cello that motivates them. "I just really love the sound,” Calliope said. Taran adds that when he was younger, he pretended almost everything was a cello.   

With that motivation, they took the Suzuki Level One cello book over to Schlam’s for their concert.  “We played multiple songs. One was a Bach minuet. And then there was Twinkle Twinkle,” Taran said. Although he’s the more advanced musician of the two, having played four years of classical guitar before picking up the cello, part of coming together under quarantine circumstances means playing together. In this case, that meant they stuck to songs both of them were comfortable with from Calliope’s book. The song they became internet famous for was called “Song of the Wind.” 

Even before the tweet that changed their lives, the Tiens knew they were about to play for their first international audience when they made their way to Schlam’s porch. Schlam had her relatives in Israel on FaceTime; she wanted them to see what her neighbors were doing for her, and told the Tiens their music would be heard around the world. (Little could they have predicted that it would also be broadcast on the BBC a few days later.)

When the news coverage began, the Tien family was surprised, but Taran and Calliope took to it pretty well. “It was really, really exciting!” Taran said. “I was, like, feeling a little shy, but also pretty excited,” Calliope added.  

Rebecca was concerned all the attention might be too much for her neighbor during her period of isolation, but Schlam enjoyed it,  telling Rebecca, “I feel like a little kid. I guess I like all the attention. I think this is wonderful.”

Taran and Calliope had different replies when asked about the best thing to come out of this for them. For Taran, it was the retweet from his cello hero, Yo-Yo Ma. “It was literally the best thing ever. Like, I’ve really wanted to meet Yo-Yo Ma and play with him and stuff, but, at least this is a step towards that.” Meanwhile, Calliope said she was glad to make her neighbor happy.

One reason the concert resonated across the internet and around the world is that the Tiens managed to find joy and connection during a time when both are in short supply. So what advice do the kids have for others trying to navigate this moment? “Play a musical instrument. Sing. Do something you really like. And just do one of your favorite hobbies and don’t get bored and have a good attitude and be kind to everybody,” Taran suggested.  

And remember at the end of the day, this moment is about all of us; our own health and happiness is tied into that of our neighbors. For Calliope, the best part was helping Helena. “She was like ‘bravo! bravo!’” 

Taran also remained focused on the bigger picture. “This is all for Helena. It’s all to make her happy. Not to get all famous and stuff. It’s cool that all this is happening, but it’s just for Helena.”

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