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Not Beloved by Farmers or Investors, Modern Farmer Struggles to Stay Afloat

The breakout indie lifestyle magazine may look like a success on the outside, but a new profile suggests otherwise.

The covers of Modern Farmer — the breakout indie print magazine that celebrates growers and producers around the world — may appear gorgeous and idyllic on the outside, but the publications's financial situation is anything but. A revealing profile of the magazine and its founder Ann Marie Gardner in the New Yorker this week exposes its major weaknesses, highlighting a long-standing power struggle between the publication's visionary and its money man.

Media insiders have known of Modern Farmer's financial woes for months, but the news may come as surprise to many of its readers and the public at large. After just three issues, it won a National Magazine Award, something no other publication has done so quickly. It also prints a hundred thousand copies of each issue and has nearly 16 thousand subscribers, even though it's "not widely read by farmers."

But the magazine is constantly on the brink of folding due in part to conflicts between Gardner and the magazine's largest investor, Frank Giustra. Giustra put in an undisclosed amount of money into the venture — some guess two to three million dollars — but instead of the 20 to 30 percent equity often afforded angel investors, Giustra negotiated a majority interest. A lawyer told Gardner that she had "signed one of the three worst deals he had ever seen."

Meanwhile Gardner overestimated the first year's revenue and had to go back to Giustra for more money in mid-2014. Unsure of its future, the magazine's staff began hunting for new jobs. Giustra eventually invested more capital, but the influx of cash came with many conditions, some that Gardner "regarded as inequitable." And because he owned such a large portion of the company, she was limited in her ability to raise money with new investors.

Not long after the latest exchange at the end of this summer, Gardner and Giustra began fighting again over how the company should be run. When asked about the future of Modern Farmer, Gardner told the New Yorker: "The relationship between the company and the primary investor remains tense and the company is still looking for long-term financing." For now, the magazine is running, but if tensions continue, the world may no longer get to enjoy the magazine's famous cow cam.

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