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Taking Aim at the Modern Farmer

Carving up the marketplace into individualized bites is nothing new and experienced marketers will be quick to advance the benefits of niche marketing to selling everything from grapes to baby grand pianos.  It is a successful strategy often employed by internet dating sites where lonely hearts can find companionship with other lonely hearts from across the dating spectrum including, teens, twenty-some things, thirty-some things, over the hillers, second-timers (if first you don’t succeed) and even the farmers daughter.  And the publishing industry is not to be left out of its share of target practice.

Modern Farmer, which began publication earlier this year, is trying to benefit from the first signs of growth in the total number of farms since World War II and the farm-to-table food trend that has fueled growth for farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture. That means the magazine has attracted readers who include an Amish farmer and vegetable supplier to Whole Foods, Brooklyn rooftop farmers harvesting kale and broccoli and myriad young farmers going back to the land.  The magazine, which offers advice on building a corn maze and articles on the effect of climate change on lettuce and oysters, is trying to carve out a new niche on the newsstand. It edges into the food magazine sphere with luminous photography of vegetables, while articles report on straight agricultural topics more often found in farming publications like the 111-year-old Successful Farming.

Ann Marie Gardner, the founder and editor in chief, conceived the idea for a magazine in 2011 after she noticed that sources she interviewed for Monocle magazine seemed preoccupied by agricultural issues. The magazine has attracted a global following with the first print edition being sold in Britain, Germany and Australia as well as in the United States, and went on to sell 35,000 first issue copies on newsstands and 13,000 by subscriptions.  The magazine has also attracted surprising financial support from advertisers eager to sell trucks, tractors, organic wine and work clothes to young “Green Acres” farmers who romanticize about farm life and want to connect to their brethren who are knee deep in the manure of the business.  Modern Farmer is the perfect vehicle to get to the growing band of want to be “hobby farmers.”  Oliver and Lisa Douglas would sure to be proud, avid readers.

Ms. Gardner may find that some of her biggest critics are not battle-hardened media types, but farmers. Allan Van Tassel, an 83-year-old lifelong farmer who is Ms. Gardner’s neighbor, tells her regularly that the magazine does not have a chance of survival and she does not discredit the perils of either publishing or farming. While Modern Farmer slowly and steadily progressed through its first year, a windstorm wiped out her entire crop of pears and this year, as she has logged long hours making Modern Farmer a success, her own garden became overgrown. Eventually, she placed her trust in a professional and brought in an experienced farmer to help.

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