Organic Life Editor James Oseland on Launching a Magazine and Growing Up Punk

The Saveur alum is starting fresh at Rodale


Current gig Editor in chief, Rodale's Organic Life

Previous gig Editor in chief, Saveur

Twitter: @jamesoseland

Age 52

Why relaunch Organic Gardening as Organic Life?

I felt very instinctually that there is an enormous audience out there for a brand that encompassed all of the things that they were so innately engaged in, from gardening and small-scale farming to cooking to well-being to matters that concern their homes and home lives. Organic Gardening is a legendary brand, and the spirit of that is very much alive in what we're doing, but we've created a very, very different kind of magazine and experience.

How did you develop an identity for the new brand?

The epiphany came about two months into the process. I was driving back from Rodale Institute [in Pennsylvania] on this back country, two-lane blacktop, and realized that what we needed to create wasn't a magazine about FDA bylaws and what most people automatically think of as organic, but instead, we needed to create a brand that was about the original definition of organic, which is hewing closely to nature, listening to the rhythms of nature and trying to emulate those rhythms as best we can.

What kinds of content will readers find in the launch issue?

We're a magazine of just about everything filtered through the organic lens. In our premiere issue, we have an expansive, 18-page feature about walking that covers everything from walking as necessary to health to walking as a political metaphor (going back to the great walks of Gandhi and to Martin Luther King, etc.) to walking as a kind of gateway to deeper spirituality. There's a classically constructed food story about a chef who now has an organic farm outside of Sydney. The last section of the magazine, which is going to be printed on newspaper stock, is called Almanac, and it's basically stuff that you've learned elsewhere in the issue brought to life in this very kind of gazette sort of fashion.

You also have a memoir coming out about growing up in the punk-rock scene.

It's a book, at its heart, about transformation. I was a lower middle-class, suburban kid in Northern California and somehow felt like, "I'm not so sure about all of this." Punk rock allowed me a conduit into the outside world. In the many years since then—almost 40 years—I've been pleasantly haunted by it and wondered why that was the case.

You were well respected in the food space as the editor of Saveur. Why leave that?

I love Saveur very much. It's a part of my heart and also a very wonderful job that I did for just over eight years. What people tend not to know about me is that, in fact, the issues and the topics that we cover in Organic Life are even more closely hewn to who I am, to where I come from as a product of 1960s and 1970s Northern California all the way through now.

Do you think that the concept of an "organic lifestyle" has moved beyond being just a trend?

It's something that's here to stay, not only here in America, but beyond our shores, too, in Canada, in parts of Europe, throughout the world. And the fact is, we're creating this new brand with a company that was right there at the first brick. Maria [Rodale's] grandfather invented the term organic farming.