On a recent rainy afternoon in Bushwick, Erin Fairbanks was interviewing Will Harris of the Georgia farm White Oak Pastures for her radio show “The Farm Report.”
Fairbanks is the executive director of Heritage Radio Network, a nonprofit, Web-based station that covers food and everything the subject touches.
As she and Harris discussed the synergies of multispecies production systems, family farms and vertical integration, hungry people devoured Roberta’s pizza topped with speck, broccoli rabe and Calabrian chilies just beyond the glass that separates the restaurant from the station.
The restaurant, the radio station and the farm behind the compound are all part of a DIY fantasy that is very much real and thriving in Brooklyn. The theory is if you have something to say — with food or with words — build your temple and preach. Roberta’s opened in 2008 and is now one of the most famous restaurants in the country. Heritage Radio Network has grown from a handful of shows in 2009 to 39 today.
“We go beyond the headlines,” Fairbanks said in an interview conducted at a picnic table outside the shipping container that houses the station. “We’re not just ‘Food Network’ stuff. We’re creating a space to have real dialogue around important issues, like agriculture politics and its culinary implications.”
Some shows are informative, some are entertaining. Most are both. “We Dig Plants” explores the human relationship with plants as both food and medicine. “A Taste of the Past” is a food history show. “Wild Game Domain” delves into hunting, harvesting and foraging sustainably in the wild. “Fuhmentaboudit!” goes deep into fermentation. “GUNWASH” is a talk-radio program that covers “cognitive behavioral therapy, KISS, local farming, talk radio, patois, and of course Brooklyn,” among many other subjects. In the past decade or so there has also been an increased interest in local food and sustainability. That has created an atmosphere for Heritage to thrive.
“We’re part of a movement that’s existed for decades,” insisted Patrick Martins, founder of Heritage Radio Network and Heritage Foods USA, a sustainable meat wholesaler based in Brooklyn. “[It started] back with Alice Waters’ ?people breaking off the grid. We’re a more modern version of that.”
“Things are happening right now,” she said. “There’s this huge appetite for effecting change and people just want to learn.”
Heritage Radio was financially supported in full by Heritage Foods until 2012, when the station became a nonprofit. It now receives funding from member drives, sponsors and advertisements.
Kerry Diamond, editorial director at Cherry Bombe magazine and editor-in-chief of Yahoo Food, said launching “Radio Cherry Bombe” on Heritage was a “no-brainer.”
“The radio is an amazing way to bring the magazine to life, and Heritage is such a unique thing,” she said. “It’s a great community.”
Heritage has the added benefit of being a nonprofit, which means it doesn’t have to cover stories that don’t interest it.
“If I just wanted to get listeners, I would do ’10 ways to eat kale this summer,’ ” Fairbanks joked.
Indeed, Heritage takes food coverage very seriously, and goes beyond just a niche audience.
“This is for everybody. We are all eaters and we all need to engage. It’s not a network of elitist food snobs. It’s totally the opposite,” Fairbanks said. “We want you to walk away feeling nourished.”