AT THE TABLE: The Incredible Edible Story

How a local newsletter grew into an international
publishing powerhouse – and what’s in store for the future

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Carole, Ted Allen, Tracey
photo by Steve Sando

BY PAULA DETWILLER

Editor’s note: Edible Palm Beach is one of the newest publications from a highly successful and uniquely collaborative publishing company known as Edible Communities, Inc. (ECI). More than 80 Edible magazines like this one are published quarterly around the United States and Canada. This is the story of ECI’s humble roots and incredible growth, which has helped transform the way consumers shop for, cook, eat and relate to local food.

Shortly after the new millennium, Tracey Ryder of Ojai, CA, was reevaluating her life and career after the unexpected death of her father.

She’d been a writer and graphic designer for many years, but felt unfulfilled. Her life partner, professional photographer Carole Topalian, was similarly restless; she longed for more meaningful subject matter to explore in her commercial photography.

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Tracey presenting at Edible Institute
photo by Fran Collin

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Carole at work
photo by Tracey Ryder

“One book provided the spark that changed everything,” Ryder recalls. That book was Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods by Gary Paul Nabhan. It reminded Ryder of her childhood in upstate New York, where eating locally was a way of life for her family – and it inspired her to create a newsletter in her own agriculture-rich community to connect consumers with local growers, retailers, chefs and food artisans. The Edible Ojai newsletter, which launched in 2002, was written and designed by Ryder and illustrated with Topalian’s beautiful photos. And both women sold the advertising for it. Less than two years after it hit the streets, Edible Ojai was named on Saveur’s annual Top 100 List of food-related items, with the renowned foodie magazine calling the little start-up “a concept we wish would crop up everywhere.” Bingo! Within days of that national exposure, Ryder and Topalian received phone calls and emails from hundreds of people who wanted a similar publication in their community.

The partners had already named their publishing venture “Edible Communities”; now they hurried to launch a website (ediblecommunities. com) and structure the business for expansion. They settled on a business model pioneered by the VISA credit card company that would enable affiliate publishers of Edible magazines to be members of the company. With guidance and support from the “mother ship” in Ojai, these affiliate publishers would cover the local food movement in their respective regions while extending the Edible brand.

ECI’s first official members were Doug and Dianne Langeland of Massachusetts, who launched Edible Cape Cod with hands-on help from Ryder and Topalian. Since then, the Edible family has grown steadily larger, averaging 10 new Edible publications each year.

Edible Communities is now considered the voice of the local food movement in North America. Its website is an information-rich portal to all 80-plus local publications, as well as the place to find blogs, radio podcasts, and videos chronicling the locavore movement. Ryder says the company fills a need that is fueled by the growing interest in vegetable gardens, farmers markets, and cooking and preserving local, seasonal foods.

“It’s not just a ‘back to the land’ movement like the one we experienced in the ‘60s, either,” she says. “This movement is very engaged in trying to effect change about GMO foods, food labeling, knowing where your food comes from, supporting small family farmers, and health.”

We asked Ryder whether Edible Palm Beach, together with the other Florida Edible magazines (Sarasota, Orlando, Tampa Bay, and South Florida) can help improve the state’s next-to-last ranking on the Locavore Index, which ranks how states measure up in terms of farmer’s markets, food hubs, and community- supported agriculture programs.

“Absolutely,” she responded. “We have seen Edible magazines generate such local interest from their communities that some have gone from having one or two farmers markets to six or eight of them. Local restaurants start sourcing more local ingredients. Fisherman who used to ship their entire catch to big cities far away now sell at docks where it’s easy for local residents and chefs to buy it directly from them.”

“Edible magazines make connections,” Topalian says. “They tell stories that connect producers and consumers, and they do it in a way that is celebratory, beautiful and that creates a win-win situation for all members of our local food sheds.”

What’s next for Edible Communities? On the publishing side of the business, ECI is investing significantly to help Edible publishers improve current operations, publish profitable magazines, and extend their local brands. A national ad sales team, new technology partnerships, content and audience partnerships, and dedicated marketing and public relations support are but a few of the efforts aimed at investing in the success of the individual publishers.

One of Ryder and Topalian’s dream projects has become a reality with the launch of a TV show on PBS affiliate stations across the United States called The Victory Garden Presents Edible Feast. The show, and its companion website (ediblefeast.com), offer yet another way for people to experience and engage with the Edible Communities.

Stay tuned for more information about the Edible Feast TV show and website, and other Edible projects in future issues of Edible Palm Beach.

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