Interview: Modern Farmers "Care Where Their Food Comes From"
Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are embracing a nationwide trend: America's newfound love affair with food culture.
You see it everyday on television, at the farmers market, and on thousands of “foodie” blogs online. There are heirloom tomatoes at the local store, artisanal cheeses, and grass-fed beef, all with a focus on quality over quantity.
And in the process, something interesting is happening - farming is actually becoming cool.
A new glossy magazine, called Modern Farmer, is helping to document this movement. Valley Edition host Joe Moore interviews Modern Farmer CEO and Editor-in-Chief Ann Marie Gardner.
Here are some highlights from our interview with Gardner:
What does it mean to be a modern farmer?
"I think it's people that care about where their food comes from. This can be somebody that wants to know their farmer, they may grow basil on their windowsill or they sort of dream about farming. Maybe they have this romantic view of what farmers do and their lifestyle."
"So a modern farmer can be anybody from a third-generation farmer to a Brooklyn hipster growing basil on their windowsills or somebody like me who's moved up to a farming area and has lived all over the world and I realize how much I don't know about growing my own food and I want to know more."
How has Modern Farmer been received so far?
"We're finding that people want to know where their food comes from. There seems to be a lot of foodie publications addressing the audience of the foodie, but there wasn't anything specifically looking at the sources of the food and also the lifestyle around the people growing your food. I would even call it the social life around the farmers market. We launched the magazine as a print publication, but also part of a bigger digital enterprise. We look at this as the first, global agriculture lifestyle brand."
"We're going to the experts to tell the stories and I feel like in a way we are celebrating farmers because we admire them and we think, 'gosh, look at what you do' - it's kind of incredible. I would say a lot of the people that I meet in the cities can't even drive a stick shift. So even driving a tractor is something that so many people I know wish they knew how to do. The more we learn about food production and all the nuances involved -- and we all eat -- we think how did we not know about this before. There is just so much more to learn."
Is the Alt. Farmer a youth thing? Multi-ethnic?
"Maybe it has taken a generation to get around again, because we all grew up in that era of industrial agriculture where we became so removed from our food supply. There is a bit of nostalgia attached to going back to the land. I think, I agree with you. There is a thing going on. It's multi-ethnic, it's multi-generational. You have baby-boomers that can afford to shop at Whole Foods and want to buy the best and purest foods, but you have kids now graduating high school and college that want to go WWOOF on farms. I think maybe they would go intern at an investment bank and now they want to go intern on a farm in Australia and learn how to farm."
Is this just a fad or does this movement have staying power?
"We were criticized when we first came out that we just a hipster publication and then once everybody read it they realized it had staying power. Because the content is not hipster content, the content is relevant to everyone whether you're a hipster or you're 90. I have heard the same thing and I am not worried that this is a hipster fad because everybody needs to care more and more about where their food comes from."
How do you see this modern farmer movement coexisting with farming on a much large scale? "I do think that these two parts can coexist. You've got big and you've got this smaller farmer. Number one, the smaller farmer can exist just because consumers are demanding it so much. I also think that in the large scheme of things that big agriculture has something to teach a smaller farmer - maybe about efficiencies of scale. And small farms can teach large farms about more sustainable methods. Ideally this would be a way to start a conversation between the two so both can coexist, but I also think the small farmer will survive in this because the consumers demand it right now and that's where the drive of this movement is happening."