With their latest print issue now in stores and hordes of dedicated daily online readers (CH staff included), Modern Farmer continues to delight in its quest to make people aware of the path their food takes from farm to plate. With a brilliant voice, ever-important stories and design mastery in both their print and online components, it's equal parts charming and relevant. They've taught us about garden salad vending machines and occupied more time than we'd care to admit with their live animal cams. (It's currently Pig Week.) But behind it all, an engaging staff sits two hours north of NYC making it all work. CH traveled up to Hudson, New York to talk once more with Editor in Chief Ann Marie Gardner and scope out the headquarters for America's hottest farming publication.
On Warren Street—in the historic riverside town known in its earlier days as a hub for whalers—large white walls are offset by a smattering of antique furniture and the buzzing energy of a print and digital publication come to life. Two large dogs greet visitors while a third rests quietly in Gardner's corner office. "When we first arrived, I think the people of Hudson—I don't really want to speak for them—but I think they may have thought we were just more city people coming up here to change things," Gardner explains. "When they realized our appreciation and curiosity, things changed." It was exactly that—appreciation and curiosity—that led Gardner there a few years ago. After visiting the area for a story, she returned to NYC only to miss Hudson. She quickly rented a barn for weekend use, but when movers arrived at her apartment, she told them, "Just take everything." That spontaneity fuels both Gardner and the publication.
"I began as an animal lover. I'm not a vegetarian but I do care where my food comes from," Gardner says. "Since I moved up here, and having traveled the world, I've seen that people live closer to their food. It's a way of life that a lot of us in the US have gotten away from. But when I moved here, everyone was farming." Gardner was taken by this; it was a series of skill-sets, widely in use, that she had limited familiarity with. This compels much of the exploration in Modern Farmer. "What we bring to this is objectivity. We all want to know the story. We all want to know our farmers. We are celebrating them," she shares. "We aren't saying we know anything. It's the opposite: we want to know and we want to know more. That's where we come from."
This is quite apparent in Modern Farmer's social media, where they actively communicate with their hungry audience. "During Goat Week and Sheep Week, the level of engagement was so high. People are talking to us all day long," Gardner explains. And the publication talks back: Gardner instructed the staff to speak with their own voice, be funny, be themselves. Farm animals are cute and the imagery is sharable—the team recognizes this, but also holds true to their desire for awareness and spreading knowledge.
One of the most striking aspects of Modern Farmer is the cover image for each print edition. UK photographer Richard Bailey visits farms across the British countryside. There, he sets up white screens in the barn. The resulting photos humanize the animals, with personality teeming forth from all-to-aware eyes or a twist to a smile. Gardner explains that Bailey doesn't really clean up the animals, choosing to shoot them as they are—and he just captures the right moments. Many images feature the animal staring directly at the reader. It's editorial imagery at its best for a magazine aiming to draw attention to what we eat.
The entirety of the latest issue is pig-centric, coinciding with Pig Week. Online content, such as Pork 101: Know Your Cuts meets print features such as "Things That Fall From The Sky," an exploration of animal rain. It's all bolstered with superb spirits coverage, from Mezcal roots to Russia's surging wine market. The milk scene is explored, wasabi gets a closer look, even a handy "How To" section elucidates tactile skills—the likes of which Gardner went to the Hudson Valley hoping to learn about. There's also plenty of adorable photographs of pigs (and cows). With Modern Farmer, you will find goats in sweaters and a study on scientific glass. This isn't about a balance between the two, it's about being both.
There's something telling within the acknowledgments of the latest quarterly issue. Gardner and her staff thank the local cafe, Swallow Coffee, but they also thank Yahtzee and raclette, as well as rye whiskey (Gardner highly recommends the local Hillrock Estates) and Devil Dogs. It's the familial spirit; they like what they like and pretense plays no part. But foremost, there's passion and it is all reflected in the fun, incredibly intelligent publication.
See more of CH's experience at Modern Farmer Headquarters in the slideshow.
Additional reporting by Karen Day. Lead photo by David Graver, all other photos by Karen Day