Bloggers the world over dream of turning their online passions into tangible (read: monetary) rewards. Blogging is a labor of love, yes. The key word should probably be love, and some days it definitely is. But a lot of it is labor. Liberating, satisfying labor. But still, labor. Press invites to events, positive reader comments, and props from our fellow bloggers help sustain the momentum. Meeting readers in person is even better. And lucky me, the type of blogging that I do makes that a common occurance.
I started blogging in 2002, using my own HTML programmed design. This was exactly as tedious as it sounds and I have no idea why I did it except maybe to prove that I could. Those were the early halcyon days of the web world, and it often felt pioneering to be dipping my toes into that messy, code monkey pool.
Along came the blogging engines – Livejournal, blogger, and then WordPress – each a technological boon that allowed people with ideas to focus on them, rather than the code. I escaped to Livejournal in 2006, retooled it into a food blog and during that phase, it was included in an article in the LA Times. Traffic surged. More readers commented. One of my photos was featured on Serious Eats. The California Department of Agriculture used one of my photos for a K-12 publication they were writing on farmers. It just went on and on. I did eventually burn out though. I put to rest an interesting but ultimately exhausting part of my online life.
Or so I thought.
This was the last farmers market photo I took in 2011 – the hands belong to John Talbot, an amazing woodcarver who sets up shop at the Hollywood farmers market. He sculpts reclaimed and rescued wood from old orchards and construction sites in Los Angeles. The bowl he is working on was made from the wood of a sycamore that fell in the monster wind storm we had at the beginning of December. That bowl now sits in my parents’ living room.
The LA Times columnist, Amy Scattergood, who wrote that food blogger piece, was laid off by LAT in 2009 during one of their first hack-and-slash moves to right their sinking ship. She was also not the only Food section employee to get tossed. In the following months, fans of the Food section watched the once ample, multi-page guide whittle down to one anemic sheet, folded twice. I used to save sweeping articles about almond groves, local beekeepers, and colorful tables explaining the difference between 20+ types of local apples. Not an uncommon disintegration, newspaper or otherwise. These are hard times to be a journalist.
But this story does end well. Amy was quickly picked up by the LA Weekly to be the editor of their new food blog, Squid Ink. The email asking me if I wanted to come write for her was met with way more hand-flappy squealing than was appropriate for a 30-something year old woman. That email was followed by what I hope was a graciously applied “thank you” and” yes.” The rest has been one joyful opportunity after another. I’ve been their farmers market columnist since 2009, reporting on everything from urban homesteading to raw milk to, yes, seasonal and sometimes unusual local produce.
What a ride. You can’t help but learn a lot about yourself, your writing, and your
lack of editing skills over 10 years. So rather than put you through a cringe inducing parade of my strangled, though passionate, early attempts at writing, I’ll stick to 2011. Namely what I think were my top five posts for the LA Weekly. Readers may or may not have agreed, but I’m proud of them enough to want them to get a little more light before we close the door on another year.
Master Food Preserver Class: Jarring Return After 10-Year Absence – I found out about this class before they released any information about it to the wider public. I remember the lead instructor, Ernest Miller, asking me how the hell I found out about it. I had signed up for notices on classes from the San Bernardino Master Food Preserver program, which at the time was the closest one to LA. They were the ones who gave me the heads up. The food world, she is small. The preserving food world is even smaller, though thanks to this, and subsequent classes, it’s getting bigger. Proud to be one of the members of that first class of students. You can follow us on Facebook here. The follow up post that talks about the first class is pretty good, too.
Double Take: Humane Society Partners with United Egg Producers for Chicken Welfare - Seriously. UEP represents nearly ALL of the Big Ag egg producers in the nation – the people who profit off of battery hen cages. The Humane Society was, allegedly, all about animal welfare. In the end, this partnership has turned out to be one crazy, mind numbing compromise that doesn’t do a whole heck of a lot for battery hens. But it’s the fact that both of these agencies managed to actually work together toward some kind of common goal that made me open my eyes wide with hope. Did UEP need to do some massive PR work to make up for the Iowa egg recall in 2010? Probably. I don’t have numbers of commercial egg sales. But I can tell you anecdotally that the farmers who sell their eggs at my local markets have bought a few more hens in the past year. Just sayin’.
5 Local Farmers Who are Doing it Right - This article was written is response to a scathing piece written by one of LA Weekly’s own about wholesale distributors posing as farmers, in some cases even organic farmers, at local markets. The overall tone read pretty one-sided and I felt that there needed to be balance. Not all vendors are out to get you, and most of them work their asses off to grow our food, with little to show for it. There are way more than five, but I was on a deadline and had to keep it simple. But it accomplished what I wanted, and to this day it is the single-most mentioned piece when I chat with farmers at the local markets.
Santa Monica Farmers Market Q & A: Laura Avery Talks 30 Years of SMFM - Laura Avery has a well-deserved reputation among a wide circle in the LA food industry for her professionalism, knowledge, and ethics. She also happens to be a nice person. Avery has managed one of the region’s if not the country’s most diverse and well known farmers markets – the Santa Monica Market – for 30 years. The lady knows her shit. We hit some hard topics, like when in 2003 an elderly man lost control of his vehicle and plowed into the crowded market, killing 10 people and injuring 63 others. But overall, I felt it was (and still is) one of the most comprehensive pieces out there about her massive contributions to the welfare of farmers markets, both here and statewide. You can listen to her “what’s in season…” column on KCRW’s Good Food.
Dervaes Family Trademarks “Urban Homestead” Term: Legal Battle Follows – Oh my. Well, I don’t think I really have to say much to this crowd about this one. But I will say that this article, which was written, updated, and re-updated, gives me the most pride. I talked to everyone from the Dervaes themselves (that went about as well as you can expect), their trademark lawyer’s secretary, and each one of the people and organizations – most of them small non-profits -who lost valuable Facebook pages because of the Dervaes’ take-down notices. My only goal was to be thorough, balanced, and succinct. There’s a ton of background info in this piece that was glossed over when things were at a full boil. It holds up, it’s important, and it’s most certainly not over.
Thanks for reading. And have a happy, prosperous, and delicious 2012!