Local food, farmers celebrated
by Bret Bradigan
Any number of parallels could be drawn between starting a
new publication and farming. It takes a fertile and salutory
environment, lots of patient cultivation, and, most of all, an
appreciative market, before it will bear fruit.
With her first crop harvested, Tracey Ryder is finishing the
second issue of Edible Ojai, a quarterly newsletter "honoring
the abundance of local foods, season by season," according
to its dateline. It is due to hit the streets in mid-July, and
will feature a lineup of articles about Santa Maria barbecue,
community-supported agriculture, and a story by Jim Churchill
on fellow farmer Camille Sears' passion for stone fruits such
as peaches and apricots, of which she raises 90 varieties on
Ryder has had a lifelong interest in food and farming, since
growing up amid an abundance of homegrown foods in upstate New
York. "We raised everything. We really did live by the
seasons. It is in my genes to think about food this way."
Awareness is rapidly growing that what's good for our health
is also good for the health of the planet, as witnessed by the
populist protests against McDonald's in France, or the burgeoning
slow-foods movement coming from Italy. In the United States,
Alice Waters' Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley has formed
the fulcrum for a movement of enjoying locally-grown foods, in
season, and elegantly prepared.
Ryder, a food life-style devotee herself, saw Ojai as a perfect
place to mirror these concerns. "We can actually have seasonal
produce year-round here," she said. "We have one of
the best eco-climates around."
The local foods movement could briefly be described as "anything
you can get your hands on with a day's drive," she said.
As co-owner with partner Carole Topalian of Elements, a design
and graphics firm, Ryder has consulted with lots of food and
wine industry experts, which gave her some insight into the commercial
possibilities of linking producers with consumers.
Other influences came from reading. One recent selection Ryder
mentioned was "Coming Home to Eat: the Pleasure and Politics
of Local Foods," by Gary Paul Nabhan. Nabhan spent a year
trying to eat foods grown, fished, or gathered within 250 miles
of his home in Tucson, Ariz. That journey underscores Nabhan's
conviction that we have too easily believed "the vacuous
nutritional promises of the industrialized food that has sold
our health down the river." Even in the heart of the Sonora
desert, Nabhan found through his research, it is more cost-effective
to raise foods locally - the expense of water is cheaper than
the expense of processing, packaging, trucking, refrigeration
and marketing, not to mention the ecological cost in pesticides
Edible Ojai newsletter has expanded from 16 to 24 pages for this
summer issue, and from 7,500 copies to 10,000. She has several
advertisers committed for the whole year, and several hundred
subscribers have signed up. "And they just don't send checks,"
she said. "They send letters, cards, notes - it's amazing."
Future features and plans include articles on Chumash farming,
Ojai's historic olive groves, restaurant updates, locally grown
and nationally distributed foods, a website, gift baskets of
local products, a contribution from Ojai Valley Inn & Spa's
Merrill Williams on the inn's Saveur Magazine event, and perhaps
even to plan an Edible Ojai-related event herself.
Subscriptions are $28 per year, payable to Edible Ojai, P.O.
Box 184, Ojai, CA 93024.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
Back to the news
RYDER at home with a selection of Ojai food products.