ABC Organic Gardener regenerates

Meet Steve Payne, the Editor of ABC Organic Gardener. Steve talks about the next generation of organic enthusiasts, the breadth of stories each issue uncovers and what has inspired him and the magazine's loyal following over 15 years!

1. Steve, ABC Organic Gardener has a fresh new look this issue (Nov/Dec) – can you tell us a bit about it?

We have had a very loyal readership for years who love the depth of gardening information we provide as well as the fully organic advice we give. We felt we needed to freshen up our look and tap into the large and growing younger generation that are taking up organic vegie growing across the country. We also have given the magazine a more organic look, more in line with who we are, and we’ve introduced 100% recycled paper!


 

2. There’s a whole new generation passionate about organic farming – is ABC Organic Gardener deliberately pitching to a younger audience?

I think we are acknowledging that there is a new wave of organic farmers stepping up just when they are needed most as the Australian farming population ages. It is fantastic that young people, many with not much farming experience, are leaving the city and starting organic farms and market gardens. We are tapping into that movement and encouraging city dwellers to also grow food. We want to appeal to all readers though. We’ve got a new look that younger readers will hopefully like but we don’t want to lose older readers who have been gardening and growing food, often organically for a long time and form a valuable part our readership and organic community.

3. Organic Gardener seems to cover a broad spectrum, from planting guides to raising chooks and beekeeping – how does an issue come together?

Yes, we do have a diverse range of articles and contributors each issue. We aim to make ABC Organic Gardener fundamentally about growing organic food and practical, in-depth information on how to do that, but also place it in the context of what’s affecting the world and the environment. So we have articles on the whole organic life experience, whether growing food, raising chooks or avoiding chemicals in the garden and home.

We plan ahead at least six months, earmarking some themes and big topics we want to cover, but in addition, my regular writers and other freelancers are always pitching ideas, and I might pull something very topical in at short notice if it is strong enough. We run practical grow features on different fruit and vegies based on what needs to be planted in season from mainstay crops to more unusual ones.

4. In your Editor’s Letter you talk about the lead up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in November – are the challenges of climate change a key issue for Organic Gardener going forward?

Yes, climate change is permanently on the agenda now. It is not something that will go away unfortunately and the world faces enormous challenges. For decades scientists and environmentalists like David Suzuki have been telling us we need to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions but instead we have been ramping them up. This is still the case, although government action is picking up pace now and renewable energy is taking over. For gardeners and farmers, a disrupted and changing climate has to be dealt with and adjusted to – from nut trees that no longer fruit because it’s too hot, to extreme heat and floods.

5. When did organics become a key part of your own life? How did you come to be the editor of Organic Gardener?

Remarkable as it seems to me, I’ve been an ‘environmental journalist’ for 25 years, first as a freelancer then editor of the Permaculture International Journal and then ABC Organic Gardener which I began editing 15 years ago. I also had a three year stint on a regional daily newspaper as a general reporter. I was offered the job on Organic Gardener not long after I resigned from the Permaculture Journal. Sustainable living and organics have been an important part of my life for decades, but I by no means live a puritan or perfect life environmentally. I do have a vegie garden, work from home to reduce travel and have solar power.

I didn’t have a strong focus of what I wanted to do as a journalist until I discovered permaculture, and although that movement is by no means perfect, it was a light bulb moment when I first met some key people involved in positive, social change. I remember thinking “this is what I want to be doing”. It has been very satisfying working in a job that I believe in and I’ve been blessed to have the support of the ABC for so long.

6. What are the challenges of the job? The rewards?

That’s a big question for any editor! Keeping my head above water with the constant tide of emails and phone calls from readers, contributors, potential contributors and so on. Not to mention the commissioning, planning, editing and admin. But also the challenge and reward is keeping the magazine interesting, up to date, and always maintaining the depth of information our readers expect. I love landing upon a great story and I love hearing that people love the magazine and it helps them in their gardening and life. Our readers are very sharp when it comes to environmental issues, so our advice and philosophy has to be on the mark always.

7. How important is reader feedback to the magazine? How do you communicate with your readers?

Reader feedback is always important. We communicate via facebook, instagram, website email portal and the basics of phone and email direct to me as editor. I still field phone calls from readers. Letters to the editor are probably most important to me as people share their garden experiences and photos, ask advice and give feedback to articles. All these get responded to by me or experts.

8. What are the benefits of being a subscriber? Why subscribe?

There are the usual benefits for subscribers of having the magazine delivered to the door, and usually a few days before its official on-sale date. Also, not missing out on an issue and savings with reduced price or special deals.

But for ABC Organic Gardener I think the most important thing is the ‘not missing an issue’ because so many of our readers use ABCOG as a resource that they can look back on – something they keep on their shelves for years and constantly refer to.