Edible Boston and local food

December 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

For a slideshow of places to find local food, click on this caption.

Winter usually indicates a barren culinary landscape. Or rather, one filled with food from far off lands, trucked in using thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of pounds of fossil fuels. Even with the local food movement, commercial fare is still more prominent. But a national network of local food magazines, Edible Communities, illuminates the local food landscape by focusing on our nation’s food producers, and thus, promotes local food.

Edible Boston, the Bay State’s branch of Edible Communities, is a quarterly magazine edited by Brookline resident Ilene Bezahler. In fact, she runs the magazine out of her home. Here’s a small part of the message Bezahler wrote to readers on the magazine’s website:

Our publication and website will be a resource for finding out what’s new, what’s available locally, and an introduction to the people instrumental in bringing about the change. Isn’t it time you knew about the farmer at your local farm stand?

Bezahler became the editor of the magazine in January 2006.

“I had seen a copy of Edible East End [Long Island’s local food magazine], and I decided that’s what I wanted,” Bezahler said.

She started with a marketing job in the corporate world and then Sept. 11 happened, and she decided “it was a good time to rethink life.” So she got a marketing job with the Allandale Farm in Brookline.

“That was my exposure to actual agriculture,” she said.

Shortly after, Edible Boston began. Bezahler approached Edible Communities, which offers franchise opportunities for its magazines. At that time, Edible Boston was one of only ten magazines within the company, she said. Now, there are 72 total across the country, and Bezahler sits on the board of Edible Communities, in addition to mentoring new editors of other magazines within the company.

But franchising works differently with these magazines – Bezahler said she has total control over nearly every aspect of the magazine. The idea is that the editors of the magazines work in the communities their writers cover, so everything is hyperlocal, and personal, too.

Alex Unger, a junior mechanical engineering major at Northeastern University, keeps the locals in mind when she shops at Haymarket, a weekly market with food left over from grocery stores.

“I think [vendors] go to the warehouses in Quincy and get the food that the grocery stores didn’t want the week before, and it’s still good, but you have to use it the first couple days,” she said. “But it’s really inexpensive and it’s helping those people. It may not be local farmers, but it’s local people.”

At the magazine, Bezahler doesn’t have any full-time staff, but rather freelance writers who answer to her.

“I collect story ideas, and very often writers will pitch ideas. I have a list of about 150 stories; every issue I have about 12 [in the magazine],” she said.

So what’s the content like? It ranges from articles about producers of raw milk, mushroom harvesters and local cheese producers. For readers who can’t find a copy of the magazine (see a list of locations here) the website offers a virtual magazine you can flip through – see it here.

Beyond the virtual edition, the website doesn’t get much more technical. Social media is great for spreading the word about the magazine (I first heard about the magazine on Twitter, when my local Whole Foods tweeted emphatically that it had the most recent issue), but for a one-person staff, it can be a lot of work. And expanding the magazine’s influence to the Internet isn’t necessarily the best business decision, Bezahler said. (The magazine is packed with ads, and does just fine as a print-only publication.)

“Very few websites deliver any monetary value,” she said. “But if I provided content, [the website] could be updated without a problem.”

Plus, the kind of content the magazine publishes isn’t the kind of information that needs to go viral instantly. By the time the magazine comes out, any event on which it might report has long been over, she said.

So the content is timeless, but some people say the popularity of local food feels very of-the-moment.

Elisha Clark, a senior international affairs major at Northeastern, said she felt this way.

“It’s managed to pick up this trendy tone,” she said.

That tone has manifested in farmers’ markets all over Boston. Does Clark visit them?

“This semester, not at all. But I used to go to Haymarket once a week,” she said.

The trend can be a good and bad thing, Bezahler said.

“It makes me crazy.”

What she means by that is the shallow branding of “local” goods, when the purveyors of those goods haven’t really taken the time to find out where products are coming from, or meet the people who made of harvested them.

For the winter, Bezahler said she hopes the new farmers’ market in Cambridge works out – it needs the support of customers she said; a certain culture of buying what’s fresh and seasonal. And the magazine’s role in that?

“It’s as much about the people as it is about the food itself. … We’re getting at the culture of food.”


Check out this video I made about some Northeastern students and how they feel about local food:


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