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Originally published July 4, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 4, 2007 at 7:16 AM

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Edible magazines' message food for thought

Alex Corcoran waxes romantic about discovering his first copy of Edible Portland on a business trip last summer. "I was just swept away,"...

Seattle Times business reporter


Edible Communities

Founders: Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian, who formerly ran a graphic-design and marketing firm that specialized in the tourism, agriculture and culinary industries.

Liftoff: After the first magazine, Edible Ojai, was highlighted in Saveur magazine in 2004, more than 100 people from all over the country contacted the founders about starting their own Edible publications.

Headquarters: Originally Ojai, Calif., then Portland, now Santa Fe, N.M..

The magazines: 30 in print, from Edible Brooklyn to Edible Memphis to Edible Sacramento.

The audience: Most are college-educated professionals between the ages of 27 and 55 with average household incomes of $110,000.

Cost: Free at upscale grocery stores, bookstores, restaurants, culinary schools. $28 for a one-year subscription (4 issues).

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Alex Corcoran waxes romantic about discovering his first copy of Edible Portland on a business trip last summer.

"I was just swept away," he says. "I realized the magazine had been written directly for me."

Within months, Corcoran, who has been an actor and has studied architecture, photography and sculpture, became publisher of Edible Rhody in Rhode Island, where he lives.

He plans to launch Edible Seattle next spring, the latest in a chain of magazines that start with the word "Edible" and focus on the local food movement.

What began as a single magazine — Edible Ojai — in California in 2002 has caught the spirit of a national trend toward food awareness and eating locally in particular.

Edible Communities, the eight-employee parent company, started what's basically a franchise program three years ago. It has 30 magazines in print and several in the works, from Edible Seattle to Edible Hawaiian Islands. Most have annual profits of $50,000 to $300,000 after their first year.

Local food — the concept of eating fresh food that doesn't require transcontinental gas fumes to reach your table — has become so popular that Edible Communities' founders believe they can launch 12 new titles a year with no end in sight.

Each magazine runs articles that are as local as the food they herald.

In some places, the magazines cover the basics about eating food produced by small-scale farmers close to home.

They focus on the peak flavors and nutrients available from foods picked when they're ripe and delivered nearby, which in local-food parlance means a one-day drive or about 250 miles.

They write about the difficulty of finding certain foods free of hormones and chemical pesticides, and discuss the environmental impact of shipping food across oceans and continents to save on labor and other production costs.

Other markets delve into more complicated and political subjects.

A recent issue of Edible Portland highlighted the importance of the 2007 Farm Bill to consumers. It discussed the big-dollar subsidies that go to large-scale corn and soybean producers and suggested readers contact their congressional representatives about directing more of that money to the growth of regional vegetables, fruits and nuts.

"We feel like Portland, of all places, should be asking the harder questions," said Edible Portland publisher Deborah Kane, who is also an executive at the nonprofit conservation group Ecotrust.

At the same time, she said, "we're aware that food is supposed to be fun and fabulous and delicious, so we do a lot of reporting on celebrating that which we have in the region and making sure people know they're darn lucky to live here."

The magazines keep things light and readable by including recipes, features on foods in season, and profiles of local farmers.

Seattle leans heavily toward the latter, food-savvy group.

Demand for local food here is so high that Chris Curtis, director of the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, worries it will outstrip the supply from local farmers.

"We started in 1993 with 17 farmers in our database, and now we have 105," said Curtis, who runs seven Seattle-area farmers markets. "I wish we had 300 or 500 [farmers]."

Tracey Ryder, who co-founded Edible Communities, said the magazines' collective 7 million readers tend to be college-educated, between the ages of 27 and 55 and have an average household income of $110,000.

The idea for Edible Ojai, the first magazine, came to Ryder after her father died in 2001. "I was sitting around going, 'What is the meaning of life, and why am I doing work I don't care about?' "

Raised in upstate New York on land her family had farmed for 15 generations, Ryder knows the power of local food and the plight of family farms.

"This country is losing small family farms every day," she said. "That's a tragedy, and we're [all] going to be in big trouble if that continues."

She started Edible Ojai with Carole Topalian, who also ran a graphic-design and marketing firm with her that produced magazines, Web sites and advertising.

Edible Ojai quickly grabbed the attention of foodies all over the country who wanted similar magazines in their communities, Ryder said.

To keep content local and overhead low, Edible Communities sells ownership of the magazines to publishers in each local market.

The startup fee is $90,000, two-thirds of which the company will finance if necessary. That buys the expertise of Edible's staff, which sets up a Web site and photo archive, lays out pages for four quarterly issues and trains the owners — most of whom have no publishing experience — in everything from advertising sales to editing.

After the first year, publishers pay the parent company 5 percent of their advertising sales. They abide by certain standards, like printing in full color and using the Edible logo. They also pool their buying power, which is substantial now that they are cranking out 2.5 million magazines a year.

The result is a stable of expensive-looking publications printed on heavy, partially recycled paper that readers pick up free from advertisers, farmers markets and other venues. Subscriptions cost $28 a year.

Despite its local focus, Edible Communities is building a national reputation. Well-known writers like best-selling author Barbara Kingsolver have approached the company about writing articles and including excerpts from their books.

Ryder and her staff recently signed a deal to write their own book, "Edible Nation." It will be a regional guide to local foods collected for the entire country.

A TV production firm has asked them to do a regular cable show.

For Edible Seattle, Corcoran has already hired an editor, Jill Lightner, who has written for Northwest Palate magazine and reviewed restaurants for Seattle Weekly. Corcoran, who will move here in November, realizes the Seattle audience will be different from Rhode Island. "It's much larger and very sophisticated," he said.

Some people wonder what took Edible Communities so long to discover Seattle. Others say consumers here might not need it.

"It might be a challenge, because there's so much information out there that it will take a good editor and staff to pull what people think are relevant stories," said Mary Embleton, executive director of Cascade Harvest Coalition in Seattle, which runs the Puget Sound Fresh program that helps local farmers get into retail outlets.

Still, Embleton is hopeful. "It'd be great if it's another platform for getting the word out."

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com

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