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A look into the Edible future

The two-day conference examines sustainable food trends. (Edible Communities)

What’s happening in sustainable food? There’s no better place to try to answer that question than the Edible Institute, the annual meeting of Edible Communities’ 62 regional publishers. I was invited to this year’s meeting in (snowy) Santa Fe to speak about food journalism. Throughout the conference, I spoke with editors, writers and activists from Austin, Cape Cod, Columbus, Ohio, New York, Santa Fe and Reno. These are the trends they are seeing:

Innovative CSAs: I’ve always loved the idea of community-supported agriculture, but the structure has always been too rigid for my frenetic lifestyle. Apparently, farmers across the country are hearing the same feedback from their customers and changing the model to accommodate them. For example, in Reno, Wendy Baroli of Girl Farm is growing food to order. Customers pay up front, and she grows eggs, chicken, beets, greens, tomatoes, whatever. Here in New Mexico, Los Poblanos Organics is not drawing from one farm but a regional food shed, which by its definition goes as far as California. (This has created quite a controversy.) In Austin, several CSAs now have set up programs for single customers to come every other week because they need less food than a larger family.

Shellfish farms are hot: Former Wall Street guys used to head to Napa to plant a vineyard. Now, they want to get into aquaculture. Edible Cape Cod editor Doug Langeland says that he’s seeing an increasing number of career changers looking at oyster farms, which have big business potential and a very small carbon footprint. To read about one experiment, check out this great blog, Starving Off The Land.

Extending the growing season: Whether they embrace the CSA model, all farms are working on ways to produce year-round. Hoop houses, like the ones recently installed in the White House vegetable garden, are all the rage, editors say. Amanda Burden, co-editor editor and publisher of the soon-to-launch Edible Reno-Tahoe magazine, said one local organization, Nevada Grown, has seen attendance at seminars on winter growing explode, from six people a few years ago to as many as 100 this year. To this end, farmers are also looking carefully at which plants flourish in their climates. In New Mexico, for example, shishito peppers are all the rage. They’re not native to the region, like Hatch chili peppers, but they are fast becoming a local favorite because they thrive in the high-desert climate.

Ethical meat eating is in – with vegetarians: Back in the day, it was easy to be a vegetarian. If you cared about animal rights, there was only one option. Today, says Brian Halweil, editor of Edible Manhattan, Brooklyn and East End and a former vegetarian himself, vegetarianism is taking some hits. “Fancy bacon is killing vegetarianism in New York,” he told me. It’s not only because you can’t get a plate of Brussels sprouts without at least a little pancetta. “It’s harder not to eat meat if you know someone who’s raising it right,” he said.

Strange bedfellows are driving the local food movement: It’s not only hippies and liberals that are interested in local food. As I’ve reported before, there’s an economic case that local food businesses can help rebuild local economies. In Cape Cod, Langeland said the Chamber of Commerce is an active supporter of farmers markets, a marked change from years past. Amy Bodiker, who will launch Edible Columbus this spring, said anti-hunger and faith organizations are helping to drive change. For example, one local hunger bank built greenhouses and offers cooking lessons to clients. The Presbyterian church promotes fair-trade products and got involved in the debate over Issue 2, a proposal that would set animal welfare standards.

It’s going to be an interesting year.

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  January 29, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Sustainable Food  | Tags: Edible Communities, Jane Black, sustainable food  
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Re:I agree with Brian. I was 98 percent vegetarian until I met meat producers who "are raising animals right".

Posted by: robinshuster | January 29, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

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