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Food For Thought

With Style And Silo, 'Modern Farmer' Melds Agrarian With Urban Hip

If you cover food and farming, as we do, you end up looking at farm magazines and agricultural web sites. This means you see lots of articles about corn prices and ads for farm equipment.

Then, a couple of years ago, Modern Farmer appeared. It's a farm magazine like no other. It flaunts a look and attitude that sometimes make us laugh out loud.

What self-respecting farm magazine would come up with headlines like "Inside the Mind of a Turkey," or "Farmer Claims Someone Drove a Combine Into His Field and Stole $18,000 Worth of Soybeans."

This is the seventh in a series of conversations on The Salt where members of NPR's food team chat with intriguing people in the food world.

Ann Marie Gardner, Modern Farmer's CEO and editor-in-chief, in Hudson, New York, the town that's her home and the magazine's as well. Courtesy of Modern Farmer hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Modern Farmer

Ann Marie Gardner, Modern Farmer's CEO and editor-in-chief, in Hudson, New York, the town that's her home and the magazine's as well.

Courtesy of Modern Farmer

And then there's "Are You Cool Enough To Drink Switchel?" In this case, what really got our attention was the photo of a hipster with bedroom eyes, with a bottle of "Brooklyn's hottest beverage" pressed to his lips.

We'd laugh, then wonder whether Modern Farmer was a kind agricultural version of The Onion. But it has serious reporting, too. And the photos exude Manhattan style, even the portraits of pigs.

We had so many questions that we decided to call up the magazine's CEO and editor-in-chief, Ann Marie Gardner. We reached her in Hudson, New York, the town that's her home and the magazine's as well.

You can listen to the whole chat via the audio link above.

It turns out that our sense of Modern Farmer is exactly how Gardner conceived of this magazine. It's a cultural mashup, a melding of agrarianism and urban sophistication that's emerged from the millennial zeitgeist.

"If you look at the Brooklyn hipsters, they're dressing like farmers now, have you noticed?" says Gardner.

Modern Farmer has a particular fondness for stories about anything having to do with goats. Courtesy of Modern Farmer hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Modern Farmer

Modern Farmer has a particular fondness for stories about anything having to do with goats.

Courtesy of Modern Farmer

The magazine's audience remains modest — 16,000 subscribers to the print magazine, and 60,000 followers on Facebook. But, Gardner says, "We can prove now that we have a very engaged demographic" that looks good to advertisers. "The revenues are lining up now, which is a relief."

Modern Farming takes farming seriously, for the most part. But it does not take itself very seriously. "We're making fun of ourselves, in a way, because we don't know anything about farming," says Gardner.

Nor will readers find much moral indignation about the current state of American agriculture. "There's enough moral indignation out there," Gardner says. "That doesn't work on me. It doesn't make me want to know more about something."

Ask her about some of her favorite headlines, though, and Gardner collapses into giggles. Modern Farmer has a particular fondness for stories about crime on the farm, as well as anything having to do with goats. "Goats are kind of the 'cats of Buzzfeed' for us," she says. "They're just always a winner."

The next issue of the magazine, though, could change all that, she says. "Goats could actually be replaced by something cuter. It's possible."

The secret will be revealed, she says, on Dec. 10.

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