Charles Kuralt could have launched a magazine that looked and felt a lot like the current. Porch + PrairieThe slick quarterly is a passport to America that many have lost and others never knew existed. Porch + Prairie, however, remembers.
In addition to an abundance of stunning imagery from western mountains to rural routes to, of course, wind-swept prairies, the magazine celebrates people that seldom make the headlines elsewhere: veterans, farmers, craftsmen, tradesmen, and small business owners—many of the people who form the backbone of the republic but whom coastal media conglomerates seldom notice.
For founder and editor-in-chief, Peder von Harten, the magazine is a labor of love—and duty. “I travel a lot and one thing I’ve noticed as I venture through small towns is that they are often rich with great stories and history, yet few people ever write about them,” he says. “When you meet the folks in these villages, an obvious sense of pride and community resonates. It makes me feel compelled to share their stories with others who won’t know what it means to live in small towns or rural America. Growing up, I never dreamed of seeing 90 percent of the places I’ve been,” says the 38-year-old, “so I feel that I have an obligation to share their lives with others. Maybe by doing so we can, at least for a moment, come together.”
Von Harten lives and works in Oxford, Mississippi. He also runs Nicholas Air, one the fastest-growing private jet services in America. It’s his life of travel, then, that ultimately led to the creation of Porch + Prairie.
“I remember approaching N.J. Correnti, Nicholas Air’s Founder and CEO, about the project,” says von Harten. “He knew from his time growing up in Arkansas, and then in building his business in Mississippi, that there was something special about the people that we’d encounter in rural America. This is a passion project for our team in a lot of ways, so it was important to me to see how much N.J. supported our efforts and to see how those opportunities to experience new places, mostly because of his generosity, has led to great storytelling.”
When you scan the magazine, it doesn’t fit easily into existing genres of highly specialized verticals—the titles often residing in three buckets: how-to, where-to, why-to. Instead, it takes the reader on a surprising road trip much the way Kuralt did with a hint of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.
“Porch + Prairie shares the stories of the people, places, and businesses that keep our nation running and we don’t shy from celebrating the reasons for American pride,” says von Harten. “Our pages include many stories of the farmers and ranchers who work countless hours to put food on our table, or they might feature an unknown story of a veteran’s combat experiences. We’re able to live the American dream because of their service…it’s good to remind people of that through rich storytelling. It’s a great honor to be able meet these people and give them the attention they deserve. These are people who don’t have public relations firms or agencies pitching their stories…instead, we go find them.”
Von Harten’s editorial direction comes largely from reader interaction. Every issue prompts feedback which is used to create the blueprint for future issues.
“In just a few short years,” he says, “we’ve gone from being a brand with a very defined editorial focus to one that has had so much reader engagement that we end up going in the direction our readers take us. We get a lot of emails that start with, there’s this place you should write about, or I need to introduce you to so and so.”
While much of the content feels heartland, it’s clear von Harten doesn’t like boundaries and doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as being like any other title. Like America, Harten sees the magazine more as a melting pot.
“While much of our magazine seems to focus on middle America and the mountains,” he says, “Porch + Prairie has featured stories from coast to coast—though I am naturally drawn to the stories from flyover states,” he says. “This territory is home to the lion’s share of our farmers, ranchers, manufacturing, and perhaps most importantly, our veterans, so I’m immediately drawn to those places and people. I like to think we’ve been rewarded as writers because we get to share fascinating details about a section of the world that big media has never cared to cover. If that’s our calling, then I am perfectly happy with that.”
Finding stories with heart is at the center of von Harten’s mission, and he credits that with the magazine’s success. “For the stories that center specifically on people or communities, there is a great deal of emotion that we strive to capture through our writing and, admittedly, it’s difficult to do at times. You can write about how a community was rebuilt after a tornado, but it’s difficult to put into words the crack in a woman’s voice when she describes one of the monsters at her doorstep. It’s hard to find the words to convey a soldier’s emotion after holding his 2-year-old daughter for the first time because he’s been away at war. That’s the heart we want to convey in each story. Why? Because we want to make sure that no one forgets.”
While you aren’t apt to find the magazine on big city newsstands, von Harten is happy with circulation growth and knows where to hunt and hook his readers.
“We’re in front of many thousands of eyes now with each issue as our subscriber base continues to grow,” he says. “We will keep building upon that as we’ve added many more distribution points, such as hotels, lodges, and specialty destinations. Nothing sells this magazine like people getting their hands on it.”
It is the same for photographers and writers who feel compelled to showcase their work in such a stunning magazine.
“Creators that have come to us wanting to be a part of something special is another aspect that has been especially rewarding about this venture, particularly as they share the journey of Porch + Prairie with their followers and fan bases. I never want to grow so big that we forget why we are doing it, but at the same time, I know we are at the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to sharing our story with so many Americans who are searching for a literary home.”
For von Harten, it’s more than just about combining memorable prose and stunning imagery. Instead, the magazine is a tool for inspiration and a chance for people to be engaged.
“We want our readers to be moved to act after putting down an issue of Porch + Prairie. It doesn’t matter if that means traveling more, or investigating our history at a deeper level, or maybe supporting a non-profit of their choosing—perhaps a veteran’s charity. We look at Porch + Prairie as an invitation to our readers to get more involved in our country by celebrating its history and supporting its future.”
Read the magazine and you can’t help but find reasons for optimism—whether it’s in seeing a hidden piece of the Rockies, finding an old Winchester, or meeting someone extraordinary.
“These days, media gives Americans a whole lot of reasons to feel down about our country. The good news, the division between people, this side against the other. Porch + Prairie will always be there to remind our readers about the incredible things their fellow Americans do each day and just how special this nation truly is.”
They don’t make any excuses.