A Local Food Love Story

For Ilene Bezahler, editor and publisher of Edible Boston, a love for local food and the personal stories of its producers are at the heart of why she publishes the magazine.

Edible Boston, which is published quarterly, focuses on local food and the people who love and create it. Although the name implies Boston, the magazine covers five counties: Essex, Middlesex, Suffolk, Worcester and Norfolk.

Bezahler began Edible Boston without any publishing knowledge and a dislike of writing, but understood the mission of the magazine, “to get people to understand local food,” she said, and to be a resource for people about what is happening locally with food in their communities.

Though Bezahler is the only staff of Edible Boston and produces the magazine out of her Brookline home, she works with many freelancers regularly including Sarah Blackburn, who holds the title of recipe editor and has been working with Bezahler since 2010. Andrea Pyenson has been writing about food for 15 years, including for The Boston Globe, and has been contributing to Edible Boston for about six years.

Bezahler decided she needed a career change in the wake of 9/11 after a long career in promotional marketing. The work she was doing was “not politically in line” with her views and she felt a “moral disconnect” by “pushing bad products to people around the world,” Bezahler said.

The career change resulted in a position at Allandale Farm, located on the border of Brookline and Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood. Allandale Farm has been operating for 375 years and is one of the oldest continually working farms in Greater Boston. The way Bezahler got the job was by telling General Manager John Lee that she wanted to work there. He gave her the opportunity.

“I really got to understand the difference between agriculture and agribusiness,” she said. “I absolutely adored it.”

Around her 50th birthday in 2005, Bezahler spent a day moving about 400 pounds of tomatoes and hurt her shoulder. It was then she realized it was time to figure out what was next.

On a trip to Long Island, Bezahler read a copy of Edible East End. In December 2005, she bought the license for Edible Boston. At the time, it was the 10th publication in the Edible community. “Now there are over 90,” Bezahler said.

Publishing the magazine was a way for Bezahler to fulfill her ethics, paired with an appreciation for the local economy that came from working at Allandale Farm.

Blackburn had “known Ilene from farmers markets,” and began working with Edible Boston with advertising and marketing through Facebook and Twitter. She then began editing the recipes sent in for the reader’s recipe contest, which features stories and recipes from readers in the magazine, in 2012. From there, Blackburn began writing columns as well.

Blackburn was raised living a lifestyle that valued food, “We never had any packaged food in the house,” she said.

She read cookbooks growing up and “liked them more than novels.”

Blackburn moved away from an interest in local food to the best of imported goods during her time as an imports manager for Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge. She would go on buying trips to Europe and bring back the “best of something from 2,000 miles away,” Blackburn said.

But this “went back on what I learned growing up,” Blackburn said.

In 2002, when Bezahler began working for Allandale Farm, “local food wasn’t anything yet. Nobody thought about it,” Bezahler said.

The local food movement in Boston has evolved during the nine years that Bezahler has been publishing Edible Boston with the large number of farmers markets in Boston, which are the “main venue for many people to get their products out,” Bezahler said.

For Pyenson, talking with local farmers has “changed the way I shop,” she said.

Blackburn “loves going to farms to see what’s growing,” she said.

Bezahler has noticed changes in the products at farmers markets as well. Certain food categories were expected at farmers markets and before there was “never meat or protein,” Bezahler said, but now meat can be purchased.

As the local food movement has developed, the mission of Edible Boston has also changed. Bezahler is “more concerned about the sustainability of individuals. Farmers don’t support themselves through farming,” she said, describing many farmers as “land rich, but bank poor.” Small artisan food producers struggle as well because even though the sale prices are high for their products, they aren’t making any money related to the actual cost of producing goods, Bezahler said.

Pyenson enjoys “finding and writing about local food producers,” she said, especially when they have anything to do with her love of pastry and chocolate.

“People who do it are so passionate,” Pyenson said, speaking of artisan food producers.

Now in her work with Edible Boston, Blackburn is once again valuing local food, and more importantly the “stories behind food,” she said.

As part of the recipes included in each issue, Blackburn also wants to educate readers about ingredients and “where you can find things locally,” as well as seasonally, she said.

When she edits recipe submissions from Edible Boston readers, she is looking not only for a good recipe, but also why someone makes it. She asks, “Who does this recipe remind you of?”

Pyenson is “always looking for a good story,” and has often found this with food producers who are following their passion and “just love what they’re doing,” she said.

An interest in the bean-to-bar chocolate industry inspired some of Pyenson’s stories, including one for the most recent issue of Edible Boston about Somerville Chocolate. Pyenson was a judge at a fundraising chocolate competition this past spring, when she met Eric Parkes, Somerville Chocolate’s owner. “His chocolate was really good,” she said. (Read her story here.)

Pyenson decided to pursue a story about Parkes and his chocolate business because when she “meet[s] someone like that, and get a good feel,” she know a good story will follow.

There are challenges when writing about artisan producers, Pyenson said and the timing of a story is important so as not to write about something too soon. This could kill a business if it can’t meet the demand and isn’t widely available, which frustrates readers, Pyenson said.

Pyenson’s goal for her stories is reflective of Edible Boston’s purpose. She is “always on the lookout for something people don’t know about. I want to tell them about it,” she said.

“Boston is a major player in the local food movement,” Bezahler said, and Edible Boston is chronicling the story.

____

For more on what it is like for farmers preparing and attending a farmers market, read this story published by The Kitchn.

Mei Mei Kitchen is a Boston restaurant committed to sustainability and serving local products. I visited after talking with Edible Boston’s Ilene Bezahler and getting her recommendations for restaurants who use local food. Mei Mei Kitchen is “fun and delicious,” Bezahler said. Check out the gallery of photos from my visit.

As part of my exploration of local food and products, I learned about Taza Chocolate, located in Somerville. I was inspired to check out local bean-to-bar producers after reading Andrea Pyenson’s stories in the winter issue of Edible Boston and talking with her about her own love of chocolate. But when there’s chocolate involved I really don’t need any convincing.

Photos and video by Jessica McWeeney.

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