Young farmer takes over Marketplace at Emerald Valley

Rick Shrum

Drew Ross was looking to shift gears. So was Alisa Fava-Fasnacht.

Ross, owner and operator of his family’s lamb and wool farm in Washington County, had lost many wholesale-based customers during the pandemic. “Unfortunately, a lot of restaurants closed and did not reopen,” he said.

Ross sought change and believed retail to be a viable option. Shortly before Christmas, along came Fava-Fasnacht, owner of The Marketplace at Emerald Valley, a farm-to-table food store, dining location and distributor in downtown Washington. She presented him with a possible gift-wrapped solution.

“I had thought about turning one of our (Ross Farm) buildings into a store,” Ross said. “I know Alisa – I’ve worked with her for four years. She said, ‘I might sell my place. Are you interested?’ I said, “Certainly. And here we are.”

“Here,” specifically, is the sale of The Marketplace to Drew Ross, which was announced Thursday and will become official Friday. It is a deal that suits the ambitions of Fava-Fasnacht and Ross, who strive to provide sustainably produced foods throughout the region.

And speaking of change ... the store will be rechristened Farmers and Friends Marketplace. Signage is not yet up, but the new name is appropriate. “Who will benefit the most from us? Obviously local farmers and our friends,” said Ross, who will be the sole owner. “But we had to keep something from the previous name.”

A grand opening is planned for May.

Fava-Fasnacht is pleased to be handing the reins to a young farmer who already has had a statewide impact on his industry. Ross is chairman of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s Young Agriculture Professionals committee.

“Drew is part of what I consider to be the next generation of farmers. He is very dedicated to farming,” said Fava-Fasnacht, who grew up at Emerald Valley Farm in Scenery Hill and still operates there.

She opened the South Main Street store in November 2017, where she initially sold artisanal cheeses sourced from the milk of local cows. Over time, Fava-Fasnacht expanded her product line and dining offerings.

Ross, a month shy of his 27th birthday, owns the 179-acre Ross Farm that sits off Route 519 in North Bethlehem and South Strabane townships. He has worked there, essentially, his entire life and has been running the farm since he graduated from Washington High School in 2013.

“It will be nice to be in the city where I grew up,” Ross said. He added, however, that he will not be a permanent fixture at the store. “My full-time job will be managing production at the farm.”

Ross said he is motivated to go to “young, local farmers first” for product sourcing: buying preferred products from suppliers, then selling them. Ross said he has suppliers in Washington, Greene, Fayette and Westmoreland counties in Pennsylvania, and from Marshall County, W.Va.

Initially, he plans to maintain the Marketplace’s hours of operation: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. One definitive change is Thursday hours will expand to 6 p.m. on May 19, when the Main Street Farmers Market launches anew. That will continue throughout the season.

“We still want to support the farmers market,” Ross said.

Although Fava-Fasnacht did not provide many specifics, other than she will be working out of the Scenery Hill farm, she plans to continue to be involved in food-sustainability endeavors. This, she added, is vital as the Russia-Ukraine war continues to rage.

“What won’t be different is our commitment to agriculture,” Fava-Fasnacht said. “We’ll move on to do some very interesting things, and in agricultural output. We want to get food to people regardless of their socioeconomic status.”

Fava-Fasnacht said she has dissolved The Marketplace at Emerald Valley LLC, but is “building a new corporation.” She will miss her Washington location, but is confident that Drew Ross will be a successful successor.

“This is a special place to me,” she said. “We want the community to embrace him. Drew will be impressive.”