Renewable Farming

Modern Farmer magazine: A leading indicator of what your future customers want

In February 2016, Successful Farming launched a feature series with a daring theme for a mainline farm magazine. Title: Meet Your New Boss. It pointed out that future food buyers who are leading the retail food industry will be health-conscious moms who choose natural, non-GMO and organic foods. 

July 27, 2018  By Jerry Carlson — This week I saw another signal of this megatrend. Our daughter, a freelance writer who also works at a Whole Foods store in Texas, visited us on vacation. She happened to show us two copies of a coffee-table glossy magazine: Modern Farmer. As a career ag journalist, I was startled. How could a farm magazine publisher confront farm magazine subscribers with full-color farm magazine with a cover price of $7.99? (You can see the cover photo below.) I did a little research. For 19 quarterly issues, Modern Farmer was sold at checkout islands in upscale food stores like Whole Foods. The publishers also sold the publication digitally, along with an e-mailed newsletter. The publisher just announced that Modern Farmer is going all digital, apparently aiming to grow their electronic subscriber base of more than 50,000 online e-mail opt-in subscribers. You can see their publishing data in the company’s online media kit.

Modern Farmer subscribers have a median age of 49. Median household income is $88,700. Three-fourths of the readers are married, and 36% have children in the home. Surprisingly, half of them farm as their primary business and 37% farm as a  side business. So it’s more than a feel-good, wish-we-lived-out-there magazine.

I think there’s something significant to you in the fact that a publisher dared to launch Modern Farmer. Their market research must have shown that healthy, wholistic food, and the kind of farming which produces it, is a growth market among younger, more health-aware Americans. These consumers are market leaders, and the entire food retailing industry is responding. Consumers are retreating from the “big brands” and searching out quality they can trust — and taste. 

Examples: Our modest-size city, Cedar Falls, IA, just got a new Natural Grocers store. It features all-organic fresh produce. Natural and organic meats. The health message of the “Food Revolution” is getting through. The editors feature and affirm farmers as a celebration of who they are, and only secondarily offer farming advice.  The leading local supermarket, HyVee, keeps expanding its “health market” — an entire section of floor space. (If that’s the “health” section, does that say something about everything else in the store?)

Sarah Gray Miller, editor-in-chief of Modern Farmer, wrote in the winter 2017-18 issue: “The number of college-level programs devoted to sustainable agriculture has risen from zero in 1985 to 256 today. It represents a seismic cultural shift, one that I’ve seen unfold in my own life.”

Modern Farming illustrates the convergence of two megatrends: First is the digital revolution enabled by high-speed internet. Second is the food revolution compelled by a realization among the world’s citizens that healthy food rather than toxic junk is the route to future family survival.  

In 1970, while I was managing editor at Farm Journal, I completed a master’s degree thesis describing how editors and other communicators of the future would write on keyboards linked with computer screens. The “mouse” controller hadn’t been invented. Only one computer screen even had upper and lower case characters.

Our Farm Journal editors were starting to realize that digital text and images would transmit instantly, gradually obsoleting high-cost, slow paper and ink. At that point in time, Farm Journal had over 3 million paid farmer subscribers. I was flying from Philadelphia to Chicago to close each monthly issue at the huge R. R. Donnelley printing plant in south-side Chicago. One of my feature stories of that year: “What Computers are Ready to Do for You.”  Well, now you can see brilliant, high-resolution magazine feature articles and news articles — in seconds after the writer or editor clicks for publication. 

The megatrend of “buy fresh, buy local” is fueling demand for health-giving food. Not just boxed and canned GMO commodities laced with glyphosate, which will face ever-more-challenging cycles of poor profitability on the farm. Visit this link to get a glimpse of online items in Modern Farmer.