Jan 312011

Edible Communities founders Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian head a network of 70 magazines across North America, called the Edible Communities.

Ten years ago, partners Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian felt unfulfilled, even though their graphic design and marketing firm won many awards. Writing and designing annual reports, logos and producing other corporate communications wasn’t cutting it.

Outside of work, they gravitated towards organic, seasonal gardening and cooking. The two had a boatload of talent. Ryder has degrees in graphic design, journalism and psychology, and graduated from a professional chef school in Los Angeles. Topalian is an acclaimed photographer.

Their answer was to launch Edible Ojai (near Santa Barbara, CA) magazine in 2002. Today they spearhead a network of more than 70 Edible magazines across North America, dedicated to celebrating local food, farms, and seasonal, sustainable eating.

Last weekend, 60 of the publishers gathered in Santa Barbara for an annual meeting and year two of the sold out Edible Institute, a two-day affair with a keynote by visionary author Joan Gussow.

I’m sorry to admit I didn’t know much about Joan Gussow, 82. But once I heard her speak, I admired her wit, plainspokenness, and long career as a nutritionist who rails against industrial food. Now I know where Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle got some of their ideas, considering that Gussow has been teaching nutrition and ecology for more than 30 years.

Here’s a well-written piece about Gussow’s talk and the conference. My favorite part is this line: “I do think you have the obligation, while telling your readers of the glories of what they can eat where they live, to remind them gently from time to time that they need to look up from their plates and take some stands for economic and social justice.”

The most touching part of the conference came when Ryder and Topalian surprised Gussow with an award for being one of two authors who had inspired them to start the magazine. Ryder held up an underlined dog-eared and yellow Post-It marked copy of This Organic Life: Confessions of a Surburban Homesteader, by Gussow. The other book was Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods, by Gary Nabhan, a conservation scientists and also a speaker at the conference.

I was lucky enough be at the conference to

  • Teach a class about food writing and blogging to the Edible publishers
  • Be part of a panel on the future of food writing with author Molly O’Neill; Russ Parsons, head of the L.A. Times’ food section; and Terry Walters, author of Clean Food
  • Teach a well-attended blogging class to the public.

I also got to eat superb local food, walk along the beach, visit a farmer’s market, and hobnob with smart people.

Kurt Michael Friese liveblogged Day 1 and Day 2 on the Huffington Post. Next year the Edible Institute might be larger. I hope you’ll get a chance to go.

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  28 Responses to “Joan Gussow Inspires a Whole Community of Food Magazines”

  1. Thanks for the inside scoop on this fantastic event Dianne. Kendra Lott, the edible Orlando Publisher, attended the event, also. She mentioned to us (contributing writers) that Dorothy Kalins, founding editor of Saveur, addressed the audience with a rousing keynote speech. In it, she mentioned my first published article as a food writer, about bottarga, the dried mullet roe from the humble Florida mullet. Dianne, I just wanted to let you know that your books, Will Write For Food, have been an inspiration for my writing and success. I hope to attend the event next year to be a part of your classes and this incredible group. Thanks for everything you do.

    • Thanks for reminding me about Kalins, the founder of Saveur. I missed her talk, darn it! What an honor that she mentioned your article.

      I hope to be there next year, Maureen, and look forward to meeting you.

      • Thanks for this Dianne, and keep an eye out for my forthcoming podcast interview with Ms. Kalins on http://www.EdibleRadio.com.

        I also appreciate the plug for the liveblog, thank you. Readers can look at day 2 (linked at the end of Dianne’s piece, above) for a liveblog summary of her workshop on food blogging.

        Meanwhile I’m going to excerpt and link back to this story on my blog.


        • I’m so sorry I missed her! One of these days we’ll meet. I have an interview coming up on Edible Radio as well.

          Thanks Kurt, for liveblogging this event, and for discussing my post on your blog. I enjoyed looking around on your website.

  2. I have been familiar with both Gussow and Nabhan since they published their enlightening books back in 2002. As a voracious public radio listener, both had been interviewed by my local stations here in the Philadelphia area and I found their work to be profound. Both were sincere advocates on the issues of big agri-business and opened my eyes to my good choices way before local became the “in” thing to do. How lucky you were to have had the chance to hear them!!!

    • Absolutely! Nabhan made the closing talk and was on a panel as well. It was a thrill to see how their work has shaped the writing of so many others.

  3. Hi Dianne, Thanks for writing about this. I’m a big fan of our local “Edible Twin Cities” whose founders just celebrated their 5th anniversary. The Twin Cities is rich in food resources and diversity and a strong leader in the eat local movement. I think the “Edible” community has had a great influence locally.

  4. Dianne,
    I read one of Joan Dye Gussow’s books, The Feeding Web, nearly 30 years ago when I was in public health school. I hadn’t followed her career since then. It’s wonderful to see how people like her have influenced so many, including the founders of the Edible mags. Thanks for the report. Sounds like an amazing time.

  5. Sorry hi missed you! I caught your panel and tried to catch your eye to say but you were always surrounded by well-wishers, fans and groupies! I had a great time and appreciated your panel in particular. Hope to see you soon!

    • Steve – You win the big huge prize for funny! Lordy mercy I loved your talk. As a fledgling entre/agri-preneur I really appreciated your story. Thanks so much. Best

      • Steve, maybe I’ll see you at the Ferry Plaza this Saturday. Ill look for you.

        I second that, Virginia. He was a hilarious, inspirational speaker. I can’t believe I’ve never met him, even though we both live in the Bay Area.

  6. I read her and Frances Moore Lappe’s Diet for a Small Planet, then bought the original Moosewood Cookbook. All three books influenced me greatly, although it wasn’t until last summer that I started a food blog. So nice to see these ideas really moving into the mainstream, finally.

  7. While I did not attend EI 2011, I was a speaker at EI 2010, and came away with the belief that Edible Communities—what they’ve done, who they are, where they’re going—is nothing short of a phenomenon. In 2002, I had the honor of meeting Joan Gussow, and read, re-read, re-read, and re-read (x10) her first book, This Organic Life, and it forever changed the way I thought about gardening in suburban American, and what can be accomplished no matter where you live. Sustainability, food safety, and social justice have been Joan’s calling cards for years—long before any of us uttered those words, and she deserves every honor that can be given to her. She and Gary Nabhan have impacted the way I think about food in a way no one else has. Congrats to all, and I hope to see you in 2012.

    • It sounds like you had the same reaction to reading her book that Tracy and Carole did. I look forward to reading it myself, over and over — and Gary’s book as well.

  8. Dianne – Great shoutout for the incredible work Tracey and Carole do, who they bring together and inspire – absolutely fantastic. Joan Nussow was superb. It was a pleasure to be a part of and witness such a great event. Thanks so much for writing about it and putting it out even further into the world. Best VA

    • My pleasure, Virginia. Lisa told me you gave five talks at the conference — good lord. I was tired after three. I love your energy.

  9. I’m very proud to be a small part of Edible Communities as publisher of Edible Vancouver. What continues to thrill me about our organization is that passionate advocates for strong local food systems can start an Edible magazine even if they have no background in publishing. We love hearing about and meeting publishers of all the new Edibles that are starting up. And we love inspiring readers to search out real food and support the farmers, ranchers and fishers in their region.
    Thank you, Joan Gussow and Gary Nabham, for inspiring Tracey & Carole to start the first Edible magazine.

    • I used to consult on magazine start-ups, and I agree that it is amazing that they are doing so well, putting out beautiful, useful magazines that celebrate local cuisine and gardening.

      Your editor was in my blogging class. She is way ahead of the other attendees when it came to social media and blogging.

  10. I would of loved to go, sounds amazing. About two months ago I got the book Clean Start to review by Terry Walters. It has since changed the way I think about food.

  11. Love that quote from Gussow. Words to live by indeed. Count me among the writers who hope that the Edibles survive and thrive.

    • Me too! I hope they make it through this downtown in the economy. Bigger food magazines have failed, so maybe they’ll be okay.

  12. I admit that Joan is a friend and neighbor, but as far as I’m concerned, anyone writing about food today who isn’t familiar with Joan’s important work–and writing–about food and sustainability is living in a house without windows. She’s a national treasure.

  13. This seems like it was one spectacular event. I should really look into getting her book! Sustainability and being as healthy as possible is really important these days especially when it is so much easier to eat unhealthy. For our kids as well as for ourselves we should really look into something like this. Loved that it took place is Santa Barbara! So green and healthy in itself I love going there. Love staying at the Sandman Inn (www.thesandmaninn.com). Right in the heart of downtown and very green and affordable itself!

    • It was! And there’s another one happening this coming spring, so maybe you can attend the public events and have another visit to the Sandman Inn.

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