Why Did Frank Giustra Launch a Magazine?

The cover of Modern Farmer magazine.
The cover of Modern Farmer magazine.

Frank Giustra dishes on why he bankrolled last month’s launch of Modern Farmer magazine, an indulgent, 138-page, perfect-bound ode to sustainable agriculture, diet and lifestyle

At a time when century-old print media brands shut their doors—or reinvent themselves online by jettisoning pesky legacy costs like circulation, printing bills and in-house editors—one of B.C.’s most daring and philanthropic business leaders is doing quite the opposite. Frank Giustra, the industry-transcending, globe-trotting son of immigrant Italian parents who made his fortune through bold junior mining deals and started Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., bankrolled last month’s launch of Modern Farmer magazine, an indulgent, 138-page perfect-bound ode to sustainable agriculture, diet and lifestyle.

“The magazine is a timely investment in terms of where my interests are today,” he says of his decision to finance the quarterly product. “It was a nice coincidence that I found out about this opportunity because it’s an aspect of the food industry that I’m involved with now—about people caring about where their ingredients come from.”

The magazine came across Giustra’s radar when word got out that he was angling for a media brand that encapsulated his recent interest in good, nutritious, responsibly raised food. Yes, he still travels the world, giving away tens of millions of dollars annually with friends like Bill Clinton in poverty and war-stricken countries, but he hasn’t done a mining deal in almost three years and the entrepreneurial bug is still kicking.

He’s spent the past few years investing in high-yield farmland all over Canada, as well as a sable-fish farm on Vancouver Island and has been buying up Canadian companies focused on local food production. There’s also his San Francisco-based company that makes organic chocolates and an Italian-sourced olive oil named after his mother. “Word got out that I was looking,” he says. Gary Ross, the former editor-in-chief of Vancouver magazine, pitched Giustra on a magazine idea and set up the initial meeting with a U.S. media group looking for financing.

The person looking for backing for her vision was founder Ann Marie Gardner, who is Modern Farmer’s editor in chief and has based the magazine out of farm-ringed Hudson, New York, two hours north of Manhattan but still close enough to tap all the comforts of the planet’s media centre. Modern Famer’s rich, considered aesthetic and resemblance to high-end print media brands like Monocle, GOOD and Dwell are no coincidence. Gardner was a founding editor of Monocle (launched by Canadian-born Tyler Brule).

“The audience for this magazine is me,” says Giustra. “I wanted to help create something that didn’t exist. I love to cook, I’d like to know where ingredients come from. People like me, in a certain manner, care about how animals are raised and are more suspect of processed foods every day.” He says the audience is growing and increasingly insatiable. And he’s right—the 100,000-copy run at $7.99 per issue of the inaugural edition is sold out in retailers like Whole Foods in Canada and the U.S. and the company is doing a second printing of No. 1 next month to meet demand.

His company also gave away almost half of the inaugural issue to sustainable food producers and food delivery customers with the hope that they subscribe to a magazine about local kale in addition to just, you know, local kale.

As for why he chose the supposedly dying magazine medium to launch a media brand about sustainable consumption, Giustra says it’s all about location and discovery. “We can put a magazine in a place like Whole Foods, where people who are looking for it will find it.” He also says that given his success with TV and film production, an extension into a TV show is very possible. The slick website and basic e-commerce store are at modernfarmer.com.