Regenerative Ag Sustains & Revives Local Communities
I believe that excellent storytelling has the power to change lives and that it is the emotional, human connection to others that makes us care, that effects change and that illuminates the humanness of others to a point we can’t ignore. And this simple concept is the foundational pillar of the work Edible Communities has done for the past two decades and continues to do.
With 75 community-based, food-focused magazines throughout North America and an annual audience of 20 million readers, I can no longer count the number of stories we’ve published that have literally changed lives. About 18 years ago, I was visiting a cheesemaker with the publisher of one of our magazines. The publisher was writing a story about a young woman who was hand pulling fresh mozzarella cheese and the photographer was busy taking photos. At some point during the interview, the cheesemaker said: “I don’t think you should publish this story about me. I’m probably going to be out of business by the time it’s in print. I’ve sold all the shares I can sell in my business and I’m just not making it.” The publisher responded: “Just hang on until the story comes out. I really believe it will help you.” I’m happy to report that all these years later, the cheesemaker is thriving, and her business did not fail. This is just one of the hundreds of times I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing the power of honest, authentic storytelling in action.
But what we don’t talk about often enough is the other side of the storytelling equation, which is the sparks that are ignited when readers engage with a story that makes them take action and make change.
The very best phone call I can receive at our office is one that goes like this: “I’ve lived in this community my whole life and I had no idea we had all of these amazing people here.” That is the kind of awakening the Edible Communities magazines make possible. We write stories about local farmers, fishers, food producers, winemakers, craft brewers, food and agriculture organizations, and you, dear readers, take notice and act. And it’s not the purely transactional call to action advertisers want you to take, but rather, you buy local because it supports your neighbors, your kid’s schoolteacher who is making jam on weekends or your community leader who is trying to feed the homeless more nutritional foods.
It’s the very symbiotic exchange that happens between writer, reader and subject that makes us care — and more importantly — makes us feel connected. As the author, Robin Wall Kimmerer so eloquently writes in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, “All flourishing is mutual,” and I could not agree more. Moreover, when that flourishing happens between members of a community, it is even more powerful.
When it comes to flourishing at the agricultural level, regenerative agriculture has become a hot topic over the past few years. While it is more recently trending, our Edible Communities network has seen it implemented at the local, grassroots level since we started writing more than 20 years ago. Regenerative agriculture offers an alternative approach that prioritizes both food production and environmental stewardship. Our work addresses this daily and seeks to find solutions.
In a way, the local, independent magazine network we have created from one small newsletter out of Ojai, California, has a lot of parallels to what makes regenerative agriculture smart and sustainable.
From the Ground Up
A seed won’t grow unless you plant it in soil that is already fertile and ready to nourish new life. We have found this to be true in the communities where our magazines are planted. Our magazines are only successful if the region and community they serve are willing and ready to uplift and support the stories and companies that are in the pages.
Regenerative agriculture depends on biodiversity to ensure a healthy environment for cultivation, and that mix is very much dependent on what region of the country, elevation and weather conditions are present. In the same way, each of our magazines is incredibly unique and thrives on the diversity in growers, purveyors, chefs, restaurants, policy advocates and readers who make up the community. The stories told in the pages of Edible Bozeman are entirely different than those in Edible South Florida, but they relate to and with their readers and their community.
Like with agriculture, it takes water to grow, and with a media network, it takes a village to ensure we are filling each other’s buckets with new ideas, encouragement, mentorship, motivation and sometimes a simple helping hand. Our network is a community within a community, and every member helps fill and carry buckets for their neighbors when needed.
Adopting regenerative agriculture is not the easy way, but it is the right way. It is not a way to get rich quick. It takes someone who is passionate about the work they are doing and what they are contributing to their community and to future generations — it’s a long-term investment. I see this passion daily in the efforts of our editors and publishers to continue telling important stories.
Today, most of the news we see is highly charged with differing opinions and divisiveness. Media outlets are owned by media moguls who are more about advertisers’ dollars than honestly reporting the news. Regardless of what side of the aisle you’re on, you’re not getting the honest story. Independent media outlets are being challenged to the utmost today — between supply chain issues and drastically increased costs — yet we need them more than ever.
In the same way, “big ag” is dominating with its dollars and pushing food based on value, not values. The work being done to prioritize regenerative agriculture practices is immense, but we still need to get food on the table for a growing population.
The only way to help essential ideas flourish is to continue talking about them, continue reminding each other what is important and continue supporting those people doing the work to get us there.
Whether it’s your local Edible magazine or any other independent media, I hope you will support it. These outlets play a crucial role in this realm by promoting transparency, accountability and education and by advocating for sustainable practices that protect the environment, support local economies and promote social justice.
We really are all connected, from the ground up. And in this crazy post-pandemic world, we need connections more than ever. And what could be better than remembering, each and every day, that all flourishing is mutual…
Article by Tracey Ryder, co-founder and CEO, Edible Communities — the nation’s largest media company dedicated to the sustainable food movement, which has allowed her to build an extensive network of relationships with mission-driven brands and their founders for over 20 years. Edible Communities currently publishes nearly 80 titles across North America and won the Publication of the Year Award from the James Beard Foundation. Edible Communities reaches 20 million readers each year. In 2022, the company celebrated its 20th anniversary.
Ryder has been a marketing and communications consultant for food and agriculture companies for the past three decades and has a deep understanding of consumer trends and brands. Today, she works with several companies creating custom publications, websites, and marketing materials, and is a trained chef and recipe developer. She is a regular speaker at conferences and events on various topics relating to independent media, food and agriculture.