Edible Idaho Magazine-- An interview with Guy Hand
Interviewed by Ryan Ricks and Tim McKinley
Ryan: Thank you for meeting with us Guy. To begin will you give us an explanation of the edible magazines? And how you became involved?
Guy: Yeah it was started by these two women in Ojai California, I can’t remember exactly when; early 2000’s I think. They started a little magazine called Edible Ojai and it was kind of about sustainable farming and good food. People started approaching them saying ‘we would love to do one of these where we are.’ And they decided maybe [they] could start a little network of people. So they branched out and started helping people in other communities put a similar magazine together. In the beginning they were more like newsletters. It grew into a network of magazines about food and farming that are tied to the local food movement, and now there are over 70 of them in the United States and some in Canada too. Each one is autonomous, you buy into it like a franchise, buying into the name, but then once you do that you completely control all your content. What it’s really useful for is it’s a way for people that have no experience putting together a magazine; they can do it with just a couple of people instead of like, a big professional crew. And the network supports and helps you out; especially in the beginning. They give you all kinds of advice and help with printing and layouts and all that stuff. So it’s a model that you can do a professional level publication with very little experience or support in the beginning
Ryan: Great, ok well let’s back up a little bit. How did you get involved with the Edible Idaho magazine? Originally how did you get involved with food as a culture, and how that transitioned into starting this magazine?
Guy: I’ve been interested in food since I was a little kid. I’ve liked to cook since I was a little kid. I don’t exactly know why, it just seemed really exciting; all the things you could eat is one of the most fun things. So I always cooked and bought cookbooks and stuff, even when I was in junior high. Then I didn’t start to connect the dots to social issue until I was older. I started doing environmental journalism about 20 years ago, along with natural history. I started writing for magazines like Audubon, Sierra, Orion, and the LA Times doing outdoor and environmental stuff. And I started doing some environmental stories that were related to agriculture because I had an interest in it.
I was getting more and more interested in the connection between food and culture, food and the environment, and I really thought that that stuff was really interesting, so I started doing more of that. I was doing a lot of straight environmental writing but I started doing more and more stuff connected to food. When I lived in California I did a story on the sea urchin industry of the coast of California and in Southern California they harvest a lot of sea urchins, most[ly] for Asian markets, but endangered otters where starting to come back to Southern California and they eat tons of sea urchins, which created a huge conflict between people trying to preserve sea otters, and the sea urchin fisherman who where feeling threatened. That was one of the first stories I ever did and I just thought it was amazing and really fun to do. Then I did stories on sustainable wine makers in California; cattle ranching on Point Reyes National Seashore. Then I moved back to Boise and started doing just more of it, mostly print and then I started doing public radio, this national show called Living on Earth. I still did environmental stuff but a lot more agriculture and food related.
I slowly transitioned to almost all food and agriculture stuff. I had this show here on the local NPR station called Edible Idaho, before we ever started the magazine, which I did for 6 years, it was monthly and then it went weekly for a while, and it was always just about food and agriculture in Idaho, and I loved it. But then ironically, I got this letter from these lawyers with Edible Magazines and they said ‘hey you can’t use the name Edible Idaho because we have this whole thing’ and I went ‘really?’ So I called the woman who owns the whole thing and I said ‘look, you know, I’m just trying to do what you’re doing, I don’t have lawyers, I don’t have any money but you know people know this,’ because I’d been doing it for 4 or 5 years and I didn’t want to change it. She was really a nice person and she said ‘yeah ok we’ll figure it out, we can just license you,’ so she sent me a little form and I became licensed by them to use the name I was using. I still wasn’t connected with them but when I found out that they were around I got interested. I thought I would like to try to start one of those magazines. So I looked into it on my own and it was way too expensive. Then I went to school in Santa Barbara and by coincidence the Edible Magazines are headquartered in Santa Barbara. So after I found out they have these yearly get-togethers with all the other publishers in Santa Barbara and they have seminars and they bring in really heavy hitting food activists to give talks. So I thought I’ll just go to Santa Barbara and visit my friends and then go to this Edible thing. So I went to that, maybe 5 years ago, to kind of hang out and mostly visit my friends. Claudia Mahady, the women that I’m doing the magazine with was there and this was before I met her. She came up to me at this conference because she’d listened to all my radio shows on pod casts. She was living in New York City at the time but she had a place in Sun Valley and was thinking about starting a magazine here. She asked me if I’d partner with her and do it. She had the financial resources to pull it off, so we just got together and started a magazine, neither one of us had any experience. We had both written for magazines but neither one of us had published any. So it was a sort of weird coincidence.
Ryan: Yeah that’s funny.
Tim: A lot of coincidences intertwined.
Guy: Yeah the fact that it was in Santa Barbra and I used to live there.
Tim: That you almost had a lawsuit because of the name. And that is kept poking up along your way.
Guy: Yeah, I mean I think that whole world is relatively small, even nationally it’s kind of small. So it doesn’t totally surprise me.
Ryan: What’s one of the most memorable stories that has come from doing this magazine?
Guy: I think the most amazing is no different than when I was doing the radio show. It’s getting the opportunity to stumble onto amazing people doing surprising stuff, sort of insinuating myself into these other people’s lives that are doing these interesting things. … It’s also super fun because its food, so you sometimes get to go out to eat at cool places and drink too much, all that kind of stuff. Foods fun.
Ryan: Any specifics that stick out? Who is one of the coolest people you’ve met from Edible Idaho?
Guy: I guess the one that always pops up was actually before when I just doing the radio show. I went to these green houses in Hagerman that somebody just took me to in the dead of winter. It was a really cold nasty day. He says ‘hey I want to show you these green houses’ and he opened the door and there were these full grown orange trees in this green house. I opened the door and it was like being hit by a tropical perfume. It almost knocked me over. That green house had oranges, pommelos, grapefruits, limes and lemons. It made me realize how unlimited the potential for stuff that you would never imagine, you know, oranges in Idaho. You just keep running into stuff like that all the time.
Tim: Yeah it’s pretty crazy the impact that the hot springs have, the geothermal activity here can completely changes the face of farming and agriculture in the area.
Guy: Yeah and also apart from it being amazing and smelling incredible, it has so much untapped potential since Idaho has such huge geothermal resources and it’s not taken advantage of at all. Most of those geothermal green houses down there are used to grow cut flowers and they lay fowl for a good part of the year, so it’s just a totally untapped resource. I think that’s one of those things that are really interesting and it’s not specific to food. People with imagination are doing incredible things all the time. Things that people never thought of and that’s happening a lot with food and farming right now.
Tim: Yeah I think it’s interesting how dynamic food culture and practices are, there’s a lot to it, it’s definitely not cut and dry.
Guy: It’s interesting too in the way it contrasts to the way it was here. I grew up here, and this was one of the most conservative agricultural states in the country and there are a lot of people that just keep doing it the way it has always been done and never think twice about it. So that contrast, I think, is really interesting. When I moved back here I didn’t expect there to be a very progressive food scene, or really to have that much going on, but as soon as I got here I was really surprised.
Ryan: Has it always had the same platform of local sustainability and artisanal goods?
Guy: Yes, that’s the DNA of the larger Edible Communities. That’s kind of their reason for being; to promote local artisan[s] and all of that. Each magazine can emphasize different things, like some of are mainly into good food and recipes, while others are more activist and issue oriented. I think Edible Idaho straddles the fence. I’d like to be much more issue oriented then we are now, but one thing I’ve learned since being a publisher is that when you get your revenue from advertising you come into that classic conundrum of do you want to bite the hand that feeds you. But I think it’s only interesting when issues are tied to it. An interest in food thats divorced from the environmental impacts and the social impacts, I think, is shallow. You can really love to eat, but if you don’t know the impact of what you’re eating has on the rest of the world that’s irresponsible. It’s also super interesting when you start connecting the dots, seeing how complicated it is, how important it is. So we kind of fight back and forth trying to find a balance between just being entertaining and being more socially conscious.
Tim: How do you usually uncover a lot of your stories?
Guy: When I started doing food stories, before the magazine, I found that the stories where just endless. When I first started doing the radio show I had to pitch it to the news director of the station and I just started writing down story ideas off the top of my head, and I thought it was going to be a difficult to come up with more than 3 or 4 stories, but in a half hour I had 30 or 40 story ideas, and it’s been that way ever since. So, there’s never been a lack of stories. We sometimes get them from writers and sometimes we do them ourselves. We do have to tell people not to just do business profiles, especially with young writers. We want our stories to be connected to bigger world challenges.
Ryan: So anyone can submit a story?
Guy: Yes. It’s cool to have a magazine with real grass roots that isn’t produced back east or whatever. So it’s an opportunity to have more community involvement. Especially since there are only a few of us involved, we need community support. When I first started writing I was so grateful that somebody would print a story I wrote and sort of just want to be able to return the favor. In the next issue we have a least one person that has never been published before that we are going to print. Several of the people that have written for us have never been published before and some of them are still writing for us.
Ryan: Is advertising the only source of income?
Guy: The model of all Edible magazines is to be free but charge advertising … we’re not breaking even yet, we are losing money. Some magazines charge but then you get into distribution and accounting issues. Right now we are just still trying to break even, but that’s typical of all magazines, it’s tough.
Ryan: Any big ideas of how you can get to financial security?
Guy: Well we’re trying to do events. We’re having a big BBQ next month, which is our first really big event. We’ve had little events but we’re trying to generate some revenue by doing things that aren’t directly related to the magazine, and expand our reach into the community.
Ryan: Do you feel that since the magazine has been in print you’ve been able to affect the culture of food in Idaho?
Guy: I wouldn’t say that I’ve affected it. I know a lot of people now that I’ve never known before and in some ways I’m really connected to it and this community more than ever. I think that it’s because of the radio show and stuff like this. I would like to think that it’s kind of raising the bar but it’s so hard to quantify that. I think it’s obvious that the bar is being raised but trying to connect the dots directly to anything specific would take more ego than I have. But I think there has been a big changed since I moved here in 2001. I think there is a cultural organic thing going on that we are all tapping in to. I think it is way bigger than any one organization or anything.
Ryan: What are the biggest distribution areas?
Guy: Mostly the Treasure Valley, that’s by far our biggest area, but that’s just because that’s where the population is. When we originally started we were called Edible Idaho South because we really only had Southern Idaho. Edible Communities define how big your territory can be and they’ve never allowed anyone to have a whole state because they want the magazine to be local. Like in California they have Edible: Sacramento, San Diego, Baja. But Idaho is so sparsely populated that after a couple years we kept pushing to represent the whole state, because North Idaho will probably never get a magazine because there just isn’t enough population, Eastern Idaho is probably the same. So they finally let us officially have the whole state. It’s a mixed blessing because we can cover a bigger area but it also means we have to distribute and find stories over a way bigger area. And that’s really challenging. We have writers in Coeur d'Alene, Sandpoint and Pocatello because they all have a pretty vibrant local food movement as well; which is one thing I didn’t know to much about. I knew a little more about North Idaho than I did Eastern. We distribute just by having people carry a box to the location. We rely on volunteer help to get the magazine out. The main limitation is financial, just having the manpower to pull it off, but the stories and interest are there.
Ryan: Do you feel like you will ever be in the small farm communities? Do you think there will ever be a time when it’s in every town in Idaho?
Guy: It could, it’s really just the financial and labor limitations. Because Idaho is so diffuse, there are so many empty areas that you have to drive through. That makes it difficult, but we’ve done stories in Salmon. We’re doing a story in Atlanta and Crouch. And even in small farming communities people love it, once they see it. It crosses political boundaries.
Ryan: Do you have any ideas for future issues? Any stories that you would like to do that you haven’t been able to so far?
Guy: Personally I would like to do more issue-driven stories and more journalist stories about the connection of food to culture and the environment. And then apart from that do those stories that are further a field in all our less represented communities. You know more stories on Native American food ways and their connection to food.
Ryan: Anything else we want to throw on here?
Guy: I just think it’s a super interesting subject and I think there has been a huge amount of progress but I guess I also really worry that, and we’ve talked about it, I think the whole local food and sustainable movements is still just a really small percentage of American agriculture and like we were talking about the whole conventional ag thing, that still totally dominates the American food system and it’s good to remember that. You know, you can kind of get ahead of yourself when you’re involved in this stuff. I guess I’m really curious to know how this whole thing can be expanded.
Tim: Thank you for your time and the interview. For more information about Edible Idaho go to http://edibleidahosouth.com/.