5 Kinds of People Who Should Support Civil Eats, and Why

If you haven’t yet given to Civil Eats, you should. Their Kickstarter campaign ends Friday at 4:51 Pacific. If they don’t raise the $100,000 that editors Naomi Starkman and Paula Crossfield – neither of whom has ever been paid for their work on Civil Eats – are seeking to be able to pay their writers, the site may shut down in 2014. They’ve already raised more than half that amount, but have just a few days left to raise the rest.

Here are some of the kinds of people who have an interest in Civil Eats’ future, whether they realize it or not:

  1. People who care about farmers.
  2. People who care about public and environmental health.
  3. People who care about food safety.
  4. People who care about food justice.
  5. People who eat. (That would seem to cover all of us.)

The past few decades have made Swiss cheese of the media industry, leaving holes where once there were trusted sources, even on topics as vital as food. Social media and citizen journalism has filled some of those gaps, but reporting in this area is more important than ever – even as the good food movement has gained traction (evidenced by the rise in farmers’ markets and community garden projects as well as a surge of interest in cooking, farming and food politics, too) a handful of the largest players in the food industry continue to dwarf the growth of small producers. And they dominate information about food, too – in the midst of the rapidly changing media landscape, food marketers are spending more than ever to reach us and our kids on every electronic device we own to convince us that everything is cool, that their products are healthy for us as well as the planet. 

Civil Eats hosts the storytellers who’ve stepped in to fill the media gap – the nonprofit experts, the hungry new food journalists, the clear-eyed social entrepreneurs – who are in most cases the same people who are also trying to improve our food system.

Five years ago, Naomi Starkman and Paula Crossfield – witnessing a dearth of quality food and agriculture reporting in the mainstream media and a stream of quality content coming out of advocacy groups and independent writers, founded Civil Eats. Since then, hundreds of good food advocates (including this author and her colleagues) have worked with Starkman and Crossfield to craft their stories, learn valuable writing and editing skills, find their voices and post or cross-post their work there, collectively earning millions of page views on the site. Today, around 100k visitors visit Civil Eats each month to read quality information about the food they eat and its social and environmental impacts.

”Civil Eats has become the hub for the good food movement,” says Starkman. “We like to think of it as a ‘Community Supported Blog,’ because we offer a platform to myriad voices who care about the intersection of food and politics. Today, we continue to identify writers and ideas and stay ahead of the news, to bring important information to a growing public who are hungry for these issues.” 

Civil Eats wasn't an entirely new idea – Bay Area-based Bonnie Powell’s Ethicurean ruled the scene when I started blogging, along with its East Coast counterpart, Kerry Trueman’s Eating Liberally. Both food politics blogs ran guest posts from other writers and the Ethicurean in particular had several regular contributors, but even at that, over time Bonnie and Kerry and their cohorts couldn’t keep pouring in the hours (running a blog is time consuming, people!) without getting paid for it. The question of how to do quality journalism and make a living is one of the biggest of our time, and nobody has a clear sense of how to make it work, but Civil Eats has proven itself to be a winning new media model. $100,000 would buy them not only a fulltime paid editor and a DC correspondent, it would buy them a year to figure out how to make this model sustainable. 

The campaign is a do-or-die moment for Civil Eats. With the $100,000 from the Kickstarter endeavor, Starkman and Crossfield hope to attract further funding from foundations and a membership program they're developing. So either they make the money now and take the site to the next level now or they shut it down next year, because they simply cannot continue to support it as a labor of love, or expect their contributors to do so, either.

I sincerely hope Civil Eats gets the funding it needs and deserves, because I think its founders are onto something, because it’s a simple but grand experiment in new media, and because it’s such a solid source for good quality information about one of the most important things to human existence – the food we eat and the systems by which it is produced. Everyone has an interest in this one.

If you can’t afford to give to Civil Eats, please consider sharing their Kickstarter appeal via email, Facebook, Twitter or by any other means you can.