Andrew Mefferd is the new editor and publisher of Growing for Market, a national magazine written specifically for direct market farmers, i.e. those who grow to sell at markets and/or CSAs (community-supported agriculture) or farm stands. He’s also a farmer – he and his wife run One Drop Farm in Cornville. When we called him up to ask how he ended up running a venerable (it’s been around since 1992) magazine from Maine, he warned us that it was a “bit of a long story.” Just exactly the kind of story we like to hear.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Growing up in Falls Church, Virginia, Mefferd’s plan was to become a journalist. He came from a family with such inclinations; his grandfather had studied journalism and his mother was a librarian. After getting a graduate degree in the field from Concordia University in Montreal in 2001, he took internships at various publications in the Washington, D.C. area, expecting that they “would lead up to a respectable career in journalism” with a specialty in environmental issues. But it wasn’t all that fun. “I was just sitting at a desk all the time and that was kind of chafing.” (Agreed; chafe city.)

FAMILY FARM: Up in Pennsylvania was a sizable farm that had been in his family for close to 85 years. His grandfather, who grew grains, hay and row crops, had died. “My grandma was living there all by herself.” No one else in the family was interested in taking it on, but it intrigued Mefferd. In general, agriculture intrigued him. A columnist he encountered at a Maryland newspaper had a farm on the side and suggested Mefferd come spend a season there. “And I never looked back.”

WEEDS AND WEDDINGS: For one thing, “I met my wife working on that farm,” he said. Ann Mefferd had been trained as a geologist and was working for an environmental remediation firm when she decided to take a break herself and try farm life. “We realized that we liked each other, and we liked what we were doing.”

WALKABOUT: Together they embarked on what he calls the farm apprentice circuit. They roamed the country, working on an organic olive farm in Bangor, California – “There were these big old gnarled trees that you would expect an orchard to look like from Italy” – and then up to Washington state to work on an organic farm with about 100 acres, a 35-member farm crew and a lot of farm equipment. “That is where we learned to drive tractors.” Among the lessons the Mefferds picked up? Olive oil can and will be used for lube on tools at a olive farm. And they never wanted to have a really big farm. “We decided never to even strive for that. We wanted to keep it more family-scale.”

They also did stints on Virginia Tech’s research farm and on a family farm in Blacksburg, VA. Then they felt ready to go out on their own, back at his grandparents’ farm in Pennsylvania.

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY: They had one good season, trucking their vegetables to farmers markets in the Washington, D.C. area, well worth a two-hour drive. “You’ll see vendors from all the surrounding states there. It’s a good market. People have jobs and money, all that kind of stuff.” They intended to be there for the rest of their lives. “What do they say about the best-laid plans?” His grandmother was ailing and part of his family wanted to sell the farm, part didn’t. While awaiting a final decision, he and Ann went back on the apprentice circuit, learning animal husbandry near Ithaca, New York (major revelation? Keeping animals meant endless fertilizer for vegetable fields) and finally, arriving in Maine for a gig at HorsePower Farm in Penobscot.

“We learned a ton there,” he said. They decided to stay. “We loved Maine. It seemed like the situation in Pennsylvania was never going to resolve itself to our advantage.”

REAL ESTATE: In 2008 the young couple hooked up with Maine Farmland Trust and started looking for the right farm to buy, settling for one in Cornville. The land was beautiful, and nearby Skowhegan, with its thriving farmers market, Kneading Conference and Maine Grain Alliance, was a natural draw. The Mefferds had already seen enough of agriculture to understand that other sources of income were important, so both of them took call center jobs at Johnny’s Selected Seeds that first winter.

CUB REPORTER: While Ann focused on the farm, Andrew stayed on at Johnny’s in a research position. “I started as a generalist doing trials on tomatoes, but I was getting more and more interested in greenhouse growing.” He’d get a lot of the same questions over and over again from customers, and it occurred to him he could put that journalism degree to use. And, “I always thought I would want to have a story in Growing for Market,” he said.

The magazine was based in Lawrence, Kansas, and spoke to his farming experiences. Mefferd’s first successful pitch to then-editor and publisher Lynn Byczynski was about choosing tomato varietals. “Every year I’d have a couple of articles.” His writing is frequently driven by a saying at farmers markets: “Time to make a sign.” That is, if enough people are asking the same question, it’s time to make a sign with the answer. Or a story. Or a book.

EDITORIAL CONTROL: When Byczynski told him she was ready to move on, she asked him to take over Growing for Market. He already had a book deal in the works (“Getting the Most Out of Your Greenhouse” is due out from Chelsea Green early next year. And he really liked working at Johnny’s. But he had two young children (now 3 and 5) he barely got to see.

“Somebody offering you (the chance) to take over your favorite publication?” he said. “That is in the kind of opportunity you are not going to get very often.” After working out the finances with a bank, he rented a truck in Kansas “and literally put every asset of the magazine into it,” then drove it back to the new home office in Cornville. In March, he put out his first issue. “I have never been busier in my whole life,” he said. “It has been exhilarating and terrifying.”

SEEDLING BUSINESS: This year, the Mefferds got another new opportunity, taking over a nursery business from Amy LeBlanc at nearby Whitehill Farm. LeBlanc has had something of a reputation as “the tomato lady,” based on the massive number of varietals (200) she was coaxing from seed to seedlings in greenhouses, but she too wanted to step away from a business, and the Mefferds seemed like the right fit.

Except for the book and the magazine and the farm chores. “I said, ‘Honey, I don’t know how much time I can devote to this,’ ” Andrew said he told Ann. So the tomato business is in her hands, and for the first time in years, the two of them are no longer growing for a retail market.

BUT STILL GROWING: Mefferd’s dedication to Growing for Market is so fierce he missed book deadlines. “I felt like if I messed the business up, it might not come back. And I figured I could always beg for forgiveness from my editor at Chelsea Green.” Growing for Market had a subscriber base of a little over 5,000 and it’s growing, slowly. It comes out 10 times a year, and while it is possible to subscribe to it online only, he said the print edition is here to stay. “I still personally like to read things on paper.”

Even with all the hard work, Mefferd said he’s honored to have the magazine in his hands. “I am young enough that I still have a lot of good years ahead of me of doing it.”

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