Interview: Ireland based, Turf and Grain Magazine
A lot can be said for the beauty and simplicity of Turf and Grain Magazine. As a reader, I have always been drawn to its uniquely eclectic and inherit capability of emulating raw personalised stories, cultural expressions and celebrations of human creativity into a physical form that immediately transcended into keepsake status, perched permanently within my living room.
Below is an interview with Founder, Simon Worth, who softly explains the history of the brand as initially a personal exploration of cultural turmoil, the challenges independent publications face and how the brand has manifested into the truly idyllic publication that it is today.
To visit Turf and Grain visit: https://www.turfandgrain.com
Q: Tell me a little more about the origin story of Turf and Grain and the influence of Northern Ireland?
A: I started Turf & Grain in 2017, having interned at several publishing houses and magazines in the UK and the US. Through these placements I gained experience almost exclusively as a copywriter and editor, but when I returned to Belfast I had virtually no experience in terms of marketing, gauging commerciality, or design with regards to publications. Nonetheless I witnessed first hand that a very small team could make a very substantial and engaging publication. I noticed that Ireland maybe missed an independent magazine and that there might be space for it and decided to simply go for it.
That it would be a magazine about the people of Ireland was something that came from within me – having lived in Canada as a child and in France as an adult, I feel like there were many facets of Irish culture that I had perhaps missed growing up, or references and history that I simply didn’t understand. In my early twenties I began to have a real appreciation for Ireland, and decided to act upon finding out more about all that was going on here. There are so many fascinating cultural dynamics in Ireland – how the Republic of Ireland feels a little more European than the north, how the politics of the last 40 years in Northern Ireland has been so clearly formative on communities in Belfast. I am part of the post-conflict generation – and a lot of people in our generation are reacting to the reality of where Belfast is at in a very interesting way.
Interviewing friends or people I knew was the first step, and having interviewed, shot and curated their stories I brought out Issue One as a sort of zine/concept piece. Surprisingly it sold really well, and it made me realise that there was an appetite for the kind of content I had curated.
A few years later, we have five issues, have won awards at the national level and have shipped magazines all over the world to people interested in reading about Ireland’s present cultural moment.
Q: For people who aren’t across the positioning, what is the core messaging at Turf and Grain?
A: It’s been a really interesting journey – what started as a personal desire to learn more about the current cultural moment in Ireland began to transform as I began to involve other people. The original messaging was that stories, experiences and ideas were so valuable, and that everyone has a story to tell that will teach you something new. We haven’t lost that, but as our community of collaborators has grown and how our readers view us as a platform has meant that we have picked up new meaning as we have developed. It really feels like Turf & Grain is, or is part of a movement of appreciation, investment in community and respect. We don’t want to just write about communities and pay lip service to change, we want to be part of it. I wrote a poem in issue Five, where the first stanza speaks to this.
Let our words be a letter, Proof of love, Our reminder To be no better on paper than we are in person. So from going from one person’s desire to learn about his own country to a community and reference point for appreciation and acceptance through listening and engaging with the experiences and ideas of others is where we are at. I’m proud of the direction we are heading in.
* Imagery courtesy of Turf and Grain's Instagram
Q: As a reader, a clear theme is celebrating each other and showing gratitude – how has this value shaped the manifestation of the brand into what it is today?
A: In Ireland, people are traditionally very humble and are reluctant to set out their own stall to show others what they can do. It’s almost like you need to be world class at something before showing what you can do to others. This in my opinion is what makes us great, but also acts a huge barrier for the growth and propagation of our cultural scene.
Perhaps due to the conflict in our recent past, there is an almost built in reluctance to acknowledge that Belfast has become a very attractive place to live and work. I find that people often negatively compare Belfast to other cities, and set their sights on leaving as soon as they finish school or university. I like to ask them how Tokyo, or Berlin or Copenhagen got to be how they are today – and riddle them that they are only such dynamic places because people stay and invest in their communities. The grass will always be greener on the other side if you don’t water what’s around you!
There are so many inspiring individuals and organisations in Ireland, and so much going on that might just not be on many people’s radar just yet, or who don’t get much media coverage. We really want to be a platform for our reader to find out more about what is going on in Ireland, and to appreciate this place, and also a platform for those we feature. It feels great to make a product about the people of Ireland, for the people of Ireland.
Community is something that has become very important to us since I started the magazine in 2017. I used to do a lot of the work completely by myself, and with each issue I have found new wonderful collaborators and our community has grown. Now we have a small team of people really invested in Turf & Grain. I see this as my biggest achievement, as it is amazing when people approach an idea that wasn’t necessarily their own, buy into it and take ownership. (I’m sure you see that a lot when you present branding to your clients, and then watch them incorporate it to their business). Now Team Turf is a key element of how we run things, and of our brand message.
Q: Being in the print media sphere and as an independent magazine, how do you strike a balance between functionality, sustainability and commerciality?
A:The financial aspects of an independent publication are definitely the most challenging, but we have principles and without those Turf & Grain would lose a lot of its meaning.
Investing in the local business community - Working with a printer based in Ireland is really important, as we want every part of the money spent in production to stay on the island of Ireland. We are fortunate that there are several really good quality printers who have been able to help us produce our magazine on recycled and sustainable paper. Fairly small print runs are quite expensive, but printing on good quality stock gives longevity as it lends to quality, and being kind to the environment is just the right thing to do. Our customers know and appreciate these facts, and contrary to most weekly and monthly publications Turf & Grain is the kind of publication that doesn’t get thrown out and I love seeing copies from several years ago a mainstay in some of the best design hotels in Ireland.
Further to this - we only sell online and through hand picked independent stores in Ireland. No distributors. So we only have about 30 stores stocking the publication – but we have a great relationship with each – they are by far our biggest champions, and we make sure they get great commission on each issue sold to keep the relationship fair. Our stockists trust us, and so do our customers.
Despite being an independent we make sure to pay each of our contributors too – something a surprising amount of publications don’t do. It feels great to pay designers, photographers and writers fairly – you are investing in these people and their craft. It’s a non-negotiable.
The combination of these factors ensures that financial sustainability is absolutely our greatest challenge, but our customers value the methods of how we work and how we produce Turf & Grain just as much as they value the stories within its pages.
Q: What is the ideal future for the brand and where does your focus lie for the next say 3-5 years?
A: I think we need to simply continue to develop what we are already doing really well – making issues of Turf & Grain that feel essential for the cultural moment in Ireland, put together by some of the best emerging writing and photographic talent on the island.
We also want to continue to grow Turf & Grain’s presence as a platform and as a community – physical space such as a studio for our team and collaborators would be a step that I would love for us to take. We are also starting clubs like a book club and a sea swimming club as a way to meet our readers and grow our own appreciation for community and for our special wee island.