University City

Gardening: Final harvest for Organic Gardening magazine

For seven decades, Organic Gardening magazine has inspired gardeners who want to grow good food in healthy soil, not batter the natural world into submission with a barrage of industrial toxins.

But among gardening’s most poignant lessons are that everything has its season, and nothing lasts forever.

At the beginning of 2015, after 72 years, Organic Gardening magazine will cease publication. It is hard to imagine the gardening world without it.

Rodale Inc., Organic Gardening’s publisher, has announced the magazine will be “rebranded” as Rodale’s Organic Life, offering “a fresh spin on food, garden, home and well-being.”

The magazine’s newly named editor-in-chief, James Oseland, was formerly editor of Saveur, a food magazine. Oseland, 51, is a New York-based food writer and editor who serves as a judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters.”

Oseland told The New York Times that he looks forward to “creating an absolutely awesome, beautiful product.”

Jeff Gillman, author of “The Truth About Organic Gardening,” now teaches at Central Piedmont Community College’s Cato Campus in University City; he recommends a wait-and-see approach as to the outcome of Organic Gardening’s latest rechristening.

He pointed out that Organic Gardening has gone through several name changes and editorial makeovers over the years.

“I think we will have to wait for a couple of years to see how the magazine changes,” Gillman said. “I will be a little upset if gardening becomes less of a focus.

“I liked it that Organic Gardening represented one side of the organic discussion. It was an important voice that stated its position forcefully. They filled a very important niche.”

At the Davidson Farmers Market on Aug. 23, shoppers at an organic farm stand expressed surprise and disappointment, but most seemed resigned to the change.

Theresa Allen, Farm Manager for Davidson College’s College Farm, struck a common theme: “I wondered what I was going to do with all those boxes full of old Organic Gardenings in the garage.”

Perhaps, Allen said, they might be worth something now.

Local organic farmer Doug Crawford, who grows vegetables in Cabarrus County, also has kept his old copies.

“I have 12 years’ worth stacked up in boxes,” Crawford said. “Maybe I’ll have to get them out again.”

Crawford has been reading Organic Gardening since the early 1970s. He recalls when Mother Earth News, a competing publication, joined Organic Gardening on the newsstand.

“I thought it was pretty neat (that) we had not one but two magazines promoting organic growing and biodiversity,” he said. “It is a shame we seem to be moving away from that.

“I think it is significant when this happens to a magazine this important, at a time when the sustainable agriculture movement is rising across America,” Crawford said. “We need more resources and information to support the movement, not less.”

When J.I. Rodale published the first edition of what he then called Organic Farming and Gardening, no one had ever heard of organic food.

Rodale had grown up in New York City, son of a grocer. He moved his family to rural Emmaus, Pa., in the 1930s, and began experimenting with holistic farming and composting.

He borrowed the term “organic” from Walter James, Lord Northbourne, an English critic of “chemical farming,” to describe his alternative techniques for producing crops without industrial fertilizers and pesticides.

He was an outsider through the 1940s and ’50s, but Rodale’s fortunes improved after the ecological wakeup call of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” in 1962 and the back-to-nature impulses of late-1960s counterculture.

Organic Gardening magazine became the bible for countless homegrown food projects in backyards, community gardens and urban vacant lots throughout U.S., and Rodale Inc. grew into a publishing empire.

J.I. Rodale did not live to see the vast expansion of organic practices to their multibillion-dollar status today. He died of a heart attack in 1971, during live videotaping of “The Dick Cavett Show.”

Whatever its shortcomings, inconsistencies and odd back-stories, Organic Gardening Magazine changed lives, mostly by simply encouraging gardeners like me and others to grow food without spending a fortune, and without a hazmat suit.

Each issue was like a visit from a crusty old neighbor, eager to share advice, stories and an encouraging pat on the back. The magazine addressed gardeners as food producers (albeit modest ones), not as mere consumers.

I wish Rodale’s Organic Life well, and I hope the art of growing food continues to have an important place in the new magazine.

At the same time, I know I will miss the old Organic Gardening magazine, where food gardening came first. I know I am not the only gardener who feels that way.