Edible Communities: Building Relationships One Meal at a Time

We arrive at the headquarters of Edible Communities, a two-story Santa Barbara home nestled above the town’s historic mission. It’s a colonial-style structure flanked by native oaks, with a scattering of lemon trees and potted herbs. It’s also the base of operations for a network of over 70 locally-based food magazines preaching the power of good food and community across North America.

Co-founder Tracey Ryder greets us at the driveway. As we follow her inside, she smiles as she warns us about a pair of ferocious golden retrievers. We follow her inside. The smell of roasting chicken fills the air. The dogs are friendly, with wagging tails and inquisitive noses.

Edible Communities founders, Carole Topalian and Tracey Ryder (from L to R)

In the living room, we meet the other half of Edible’s founding team – photographer Carole Topalian. She helped start Edible Communities with Tracey while they were living and working in Ojai ten years ago. The concept kicked off on a premise and a dream that food should be celebrated, shared, and enjoyed as a way to build and support local communities.

Both ladies grew up in families with strong connections to food and food production. Tracey’s family farmed for generations in upstate New York while the Topalians owned a restaurant business in the Los Angeles area. This upbringing, coupled with a desire to break away from the routine of owning a successful design firm, gave way to what is now a force among foodies and farmers alike.

“Part of our inspiration came from a lesson we learned on life being too short,” says Tracey. “My mom always said ‘do what you love’ – and that’s exactly what we’ve done.” And how the dream has grown: Edible Communities is now a nationwide network of 72 independently-licensed publishers, with over 15 million readers.

Backyard pizza oven ready for some home baked pizzas!

The Edible model is all about working with local resources. Individual publications have their own staff and design teams and are locally owned and operated. Edible Communities provides training, contract and advertising assistance, and logistics; as well as an in-house network allowing Edible partners to share information nationwide. The network continues to grow at a rate of ten new community-based magazines each year.

“This is all about the power of community relationships,” says Carole. “We’ve established a community among communities. The talent lies in being curious and positive.”

Both ladies feel they’ve found a great home base for their network in Santa Barbara, CA. After leaving Ojai and spending brief periods in Portland and Santa Fe, both Carole and Tracey are in comfortable territory living and working in the progressive environment of the Central Coast region.

“Pride in community – it’s something unique to special places,” says Tracey. “Santa Barbara has that, and we like it.”

The annual Edible Institute now takes place in Santa Barbara, giving hundreds of Edible partners and food advocates from around the country a chance to network, share stories, and learn about emerging food culture.

Tracey Ryder at home with friends.

The Edible founders keep a close include the eye on food trends. Emerging trends on the Edible radar increased interest in heirloom varietals of fruits, vegetables and meats, old world style foods and flavors, and “do it yourself” (DIY) food security projects.

“The DIY/punk domestic trend is amazing,” says Tracey. “Everyone is canning, preserving, freezing, and dehydrating everything … It used to be something that your grand- mother would do. Craft brewing, the ‘garagistas’ we’re seeing. People now have a manifesto rather than a mission.”

For Edible Communities, mission and manifesto are one and the same: to become a conduit for more than food – to build relationships through personal interaction, and to revive and keep alive the concept of vibrant and thriving communities.

As we wrap up our interview with the Edible founders in their office, we couldn’t help but ask about the chicken roasting in the kitchen next to us.

“We’re about to publish an app that will hold 100 recipes,” says Tracey. “Fifty of them are our own, and fifty are from various Edible partners. We wanted to try them all and today we’re tasting the chicken. With this recipe complete, the ladies were only two recipes away from re- leasing the app on iTunes.

So what’s next? “In five years, “we’ll have 50 more Edibles,” says Tracey. “It’s that simple.

To find out more about Edible Communities, visit their website: www.ediblecommunities.com.

 Written by Eric Cárdenas | Photos by Matt Perko

Editor’s Note- This article appeared in Vol. 1 (Fall) of LoaLiving Magazine. For clarification purposes, individual Edible publications (e.g. Edible Santa BarbaraEdible Brooklyn, etc.) are owned and operated by community members residing in those areas where Edible publications exist. Edible Communities serves as the broader collaborative network that provides for increased resource and information sharing among the 70+ independent Edible publications.

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