The Good: Glossy, Looks good, Decent photography
The Bad: Completely esoteric, Expensive, Shockingly addy
The Basics: After reading several issues, Hobby Farms is just too addy and light on substance to stick with.
I like to look into things that are completely new-to-me from time to time. As a result, with magazines, I try to find ones that are completely outside my experiences to peruse to see just how clear, interesting and engaging they are. Today, I went to the library and started checking out issues of Hobby Farms magazine, which is very much outside my realm of experiences. I looked through and read five issues and I’ve concluded several things as a result: first and foremost is that I am not now, nor likely ever shall be, a hobby farmer. And while I enjoy rural living, there is some measure of living in the country I am not in tune with, namely raising animals for fun and (occasional) profit.
This is what Hobby Farms magazine is all about. The bi-monthly magazine is glossy, full color and focused almost entirely on what it takes to raise obscure animals (llamas, goats, pigs, etc.) for fun and profit. This is a very specific magazine for a very precise demographic. It did not take me long to realize that I was not the key target demographic for this magazine and while I found the magazine generally informative, this seems like it ought to be one of the casualties of the internet as it is both so ad-filled and so specific as to make it a tough sell for using the paper on, even if it is only published once every other month. For the purposes of this review, I used the September/October 2009 issue of the magazine and while I looked through and read several other issues (thus the broader statements), some of the precise counts come only from that issue.
The 96-page Hobby Farms is a very specific magazine for a very small rural demographic of people who raise obscure animals and a few types of plants for those animals (like special feed corn) and the few groups that would want to capitalize on that demographic plug their wares pretty heavily between the pages of this magazine. Considering forty-one pages of the magazine are advertisements, this is a dismally expensive magazine for those looking for substance. At $4.99 one is paying mostly for ads as the 41 page count was only full pages of advertisements. Of the remaining fifty-five pages, over half have half-page or column advertisements. Hobby Farms is dominated by advertisements by tractor manufacturers, horse garment manufacturers, obscure animal feed makers (like the manufacturers of goat food), and similar products for rustic life, like epoxy and blue jeans. Because so much of the magazine is dominated by advertisements, there is little space for the substance of the magazine.
Each issue features regular columns on livestock, farm financing, gardening, tools, farm philosophy, and a question and answer section for reader’s questions. These are all targeted toward owners of farms, but are written in such simple terms that whatever jargon exists in the industry, it will not intimidate the newbies who are reading the magazine. The livestock column answers veterinary questions about all forms of livestock, from cows to ostriches which the readers might have on their hobby farms. The emphasis on animal health is clear and the columns clearly differentiate between problems the readers can handle on their own and problems they must seek a vet for. The farm financing column gives hints every two months on ways to keep the hobby farm profitable and grants and loans which might help the farmer retain their land and animals. The farm garden and tools sections are equally simple and direct columns each month which focus on how to devote land to products which feed your obscure farm animals and the tools to use to cultivate the land and keep the animals there safe and secure. The “How Do I …” section is a step-by-step series of directions for useful do-it-yourself tricks on the small farm, like how to sharpen a chain saw. The magazine smartly emphasizes safety and the directions are written simply and precisely, so any person can do what they are suggesting for the month (presuming they have the proper tools). The philosophy section is usually musings on farms as well as reviews of things like books on small farms and the like and that is interesting, but written with an obvious bias toward a specific religion which might make some readers uncomfortable.
In addition to the regular columns, squeezed in amid the advertisements are pretty standard departments. Next to column and half-paged advertisements are editor’s letters which preview the content of this month’s magazine (as well as contemplate the current state of small farms), letters from readers (which correct elements prior issues might not have gotten quite right, as well as offer alternate solutions to problems which prior columns explored), and readers’ farm stories which alternate between quaint and informative about various issues on farms. What I find problematic is that some of the “departments” are just excuses for more advertisements, like the way the “service index” and “Classified Advertising” are considered part of the substance of the magazine. It is less problematic that pages are wasted with photographs of farmers and their animals to show off what people are doing with small farms than the sheer volume of advertising that masquerades as substance in this magazine.
However, what substance there is to Hobby Farms is decent. In addition to all of the standard columns and departments, there are four adless features each issue. Topics like raising llamas, growing maize for human and animal consumption, farming year-round and how to raise dairy goats make up the current issue. These articles are accompanied by full-color pictures and approximately five pages of text. They are written to be thorough, direct and precise. Still, the level of diction in “Hobby Farms” is not at all impressive and anyone with a fourth-grade or above education can do exactly what the magazine prescribes. In the current issue, I felt after reading “Dairy Goats 102,” even I (a suburban person) could take on a herd of goats for milking!
The problem here, though, is that the featured articles represent only about fifteen to twenty pages of substance each issue. Because the magazine is so ad-filled, it is easy to be dismissive of it. As well, none of the information here outside the financial programs is truly indispensable or timely to the hobby farmer. Instead, the information could easily be found on-line and the community nature of so much of the magazine seems to make that (a website with articles and reader-tested solutions) more the ideal than a magazine.
And while I originally considered this a very average publication, when I began to count up the sheer amount of ad volume in it, I came to the conclusion that not only could I not recommend this, but that it helps further the argument that the magazine is a dying medium. This could rightly be one of the next casualties of technology and because hobby farmers do seem to be in tune with the environment, it is quite possible they would appreciate that.
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© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.