Meet Colleen Leonardi and Steve Berk of Edible Columbus

October 11, 2017
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Colleen Leonardi of Edible Columbus. Photo by Rachel Joy Barehl.
Colleen Leonardi of Edible Columbus. Photo by Rachel Joy Barehl.

We talked to Colleen Leonardi (Editor in Chief) and Steve Berk (COO) of Edible Columbus, about the food scene, their favorite Edible Columbus stories, eating local, and more.

Before you started Edible Columbus, what were you doing professionally?  

Colleen: I was pursuing a career as an independent writer and choreographer in New York City after earning my graduate degree in Columbus at the Ohio State University. Then I realized that food was the most important issue of our time and I couldn’t justify producing dances anymore. So I devoted myself to the good food movement and became a food writer.

Steve Berk of Edible Columbus. Photo by Rachel Joy Barehl.
Steve Berk of Edible Columbus. Photo by Rachel Joy Barehl.

Steve: I am a little different in that working with Edible Columbus has been rolled into my current responsibilities at Ohio Farm Bureau. I currently work on policies and initiatives that help promote local foods and farms in Central Ohio. After the partnership, it was a natural transition for me. I continue to work at Ohio Farm Bureau, but I'm quickly learning that like many involved in the Edible Communities, wearing multiple hats is just another Monday! I am also unique in that I do not own or publish the magazine. A nonprofit called Franklin County Farm Bureau, governed by 12 elected trustees, is the owner. I am tasked with some of the day-to-day operations.

What inspired you to start Edible Columbus?

Colleen: I had visited San Francisco’s Bay Area and picked up edible East Bay at the farmers market. I love stories, and so the mission, format and tone of the edible family struck me right away as one of a kind. Coming from the dance world, you’re in constant community, and that’s one of the things I love about the edibles—the community around food and farming. I knew Columbus had great farmers markets and farms, beautiful produce, a burgeoning restaurant scene and food producers. I thought—Columbus needs an edible. We were the first one in Ohio.  

Steve: I work for 12 fantastic, forward thinking trustees. They care deeply about the communities of Central Ohio and wanted a new platform to tell agriculture's story. Collectively, we have been admirers and advertisers in Edible Columbus before we purchased it. When the opportunity came open for new stewardship of such a remarkable brand, we thought it was a great opportunity and a unique approach to amplify the voices of those involved in local agriculture. As far as we know, we are the only Farm Bureau in the country to own an edible. That is both rewarding and daunting at the same time, but we are embracing the challenge.

Colleen Leonardi. Photo by Catherine Murray.

What has surprised you the most about Columbus's food culture?

Colleen: There is a hidden diversity here in the city and then this devotion to local food, farming and land preservation. So you have these multiple, very different cultures co-existing. It’s what makes Columbus the city where new brands and restaurants continue to market test their ideas and flavors—Columbus ends up being a true cross-section of the United States. As a writer, I find this tension fascinating and inspiring.

Steve: Columbus is surrounded on all sides by some of the most fertile and productive farmland in the country. With that luxury, the local food culture has no limits. Strawberries, pastured pork, wine, black walnut liqueur, mead and wild game. We are blessed with abundant natural resources and a climate conducive to growing crops and animals. I guess I knew this from my Farm Bureau experience, but what is surprising and what I'm learning from Edible Columbus is just how passionate and dedicated the consumer base is. They want local and they mean it.

If you could interview one person for your magazine, who would it be and why? 

Colleen: There isn’t one—there are many. Right now, I really admire and respect executive chef Dominique Crenn. To be the first female chef in America to garner two Michelin stars for her restaurant, Atelier Crenn, is a significant moment in history all women can celebrate. To be a woman in a man’s industry and share your vision and love for what the earth provides in such an intimate and poetic way feels like a turning point to me. I would love to talk to her about memory, food, love, the earth and what makes us human.

Steve: Aldo Leopold. My major in college was Biology and that is when I first become familiar with one of America's greatest conservationist. I would love to hear his thoughts on how local, sustainable agriculture is able to enhance and heal the environment. I would be interested in his thoughts about our current water quality and pollinator issues.

Steve Berk. Photo by Ryan Benyi.

Tell us one of your all-time favorite stories you've published in Edible Columbus. 

Colleen: I wrote a story about a local painter, Carol Stewart, and her relationship to nature, her garden and the food she grows for pleasure and for her paintings. I love the intersections between art and food. Carol was so gracious about the whole process, and more people have now found her work. She is one of those earth whisperers—she works with total respect and care for the earth and what it yields. And it shows—her paintings come alive before your eyes.

Steve: The story we did on the success story of wild turkeys making a robust comeback in the Buckeye state has been my favorite. A story like that just makes you feel better about our future and it serves as an example that it is never too late to adopt policies that can improve a deteriorating situation. Ohio's woods are just a little more wild now, and I, for one, think that is a great thing.

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