This zine brought to you by a converted animal trailer: an interview with the Hard 50 Farm Zine Mobile and Pioneers Press

This zine brought to you by a converted animal trailer: an interview with the Hard 50 Farm Zine Mobile and Pioneers Press

Art is at its most powerful when it’s in your hands. I’m talking about the toolkits, the how-to’s, the recipes, the step-by-steps. We can pull the curtain back to reveal the process of self-expression. Magical and dangerous things will happen.

The Hard 50 Farm Zine Mobile takes the means for revolutionary self-expression away from their three-acres of Kansas farmland and onto the road. Their story is especially inspiring because they’re taking a sedentary format– in this case, a zine* library– and stretching it to new homes. In an animal trailer. (They also run a makeshift animal rescue…it’s cool, you’ll read about it below.) This has become a revolutionary outreach method for Jessie Duke and her publishing house Pioneers Press. When not at libraries or community events via their big bright red trailer, Pioneers funds the publishing and distribution of radical zinemakers around the world. Similar to other publishing houses, they table at zine fests and related events. The issue with this? It’s choir-preaching. It’s not core to the beauty of what a zine can do: empower anyone with the tools for self-expression.

Read on for a powerful phone interview done with Jessie in September 2014 talking about the process of getting the Zine Mobile functional, the challenges of funding it, and why exactly it’s so important to spread the tools for artmaking as far as they can go. Just a note– this interview was done just before Pioneers Press went to court with Microcosm Publishing, so there’s some reference to it at the end of the interview. Read here for a deeper dive into that story. (Spoiler alert: things turned out cool for Pioneers.)

*Zines are self-produced publications that range hugely in content: could be your poetry, the best ways to make oatmeal, or about the history of police resistance in your town.

The Hard 50 Farm Zine Mobile on...the Hard 50 Farm.

The Hard 50 Farm Zine Mobile on…the Hard 50 Farm.

Want your zine to be trucked around to hundreds of great people via the back of a transformer-like trailer? The Hard 50 Farm Zine Mobile and Pioneers Press are accepting donations for their distro. Send here: Pioneers Press – 816 N Main #200 – Lansing, KS 66043 or shoot them a message here.


I’m excited to talk to you about the mobile zine library; it’s an incredible way to do community outreach and engagement, and people might not even recognize this is possible for a label to do. I’m curious how that started for you guys.

JD: It was kindof similar to what you were saying: the literary arts are very similar to visual arts in that there is also a dialogue around how institutionalized it is. The mainstream channels are only looking for certain types of writing or books. Being able to do these projects on this smaller scale and actually get them out directly to readers instead of going through bookstores or a mainstream distributor is really important to me. I feel like we are able to reach a lot of the audience that need the books we’re publishing… versus sending these books out to a distributor and having them go out to Barnes ‘N Noble or something like that where the person who’s looking for this book is probably not going to look there anyway. So we’re trying to find ways– besides our website– to let people know that these types of publications exist. And not only that they can be an audience for them, but that they can make them themselves.

We don’t personally have a whole lot of money, but that’s been another thing that’s really important to me. Not only does this show people that you not need the mainstream channels or critics to be able to say that you are worthy of being published, but you can also make it affordable. It’s one thing to be able to say: “Yeah, you can publish your own book. You can figure out how to do your own layouts and go through a self-publisher like LuLu or something online.” But that’s still incredibly expensive. So it’s like, how do we let people know that this can be done on a smaller scale in ways that are less expensive?

So the idea for the zine mobile is that we’ve got this pretty awesome collection of zines that we’ve put together over the last couple of years. But we live in this rural area and we have a very tiny house. Basically, we can’t afford to have a space where we can invite people to into our home. So how do we get these zines out into the world? And not just to places where it’s expected, like at a zine event or a punk show or something? How do we get this medium to a more mainstream population and show them that they’re capable of doing this? That there’s art and literature out there for them that is accessible financially? You can make and participate in this, and you don’t need a lot of money. So that was the idea of how to get this stuff out to normal folks.

Can you talk a little bit more about that? What audience did you have in mind with this?

Again, [we’re not interested in] taking it to places like a farmers market, or somewhere where somebody might already be familiar and have some idea of what a zine is. I’d really like to go to places like a retirement community or somewhere like that. Where people don’t know what a zine is, where if they see the word they might say “Oh, what’s a zign?” That’s who I want to reach! And as a reader of zines myself, it’s about finding new communities to get stories from so that it’s not [so insular]. We’ve gotten tons and tons of submissions over the years for distros I’ve worked for, and you still get a lot of zines by a person in their 20s who’s talking about pizza and there’s all these little comics and things in it. And that’s great. I’m not saying that I don’t think that that story should stop being told, if that’s their experience. But it’s like, what else? I’d rather find voices that the zine community hasn’t heard from already.

The point you bring up about it just not being at a zine fair is a really good point because the people who are going to be there are already familiar with the format, and that possibility. Half of what makes zines incredible is their process of production. So if you’re losing that part of the punch and it’s mostly relying on content, it is important, but maybe a little less impactful to the people you’re taking it to.

Yeah. It maybe requires a little bit of handholding in the beginning. We’ve had that, where you can see the lurkers who think- “That trailer looks like it might be dangerous,” or “What is a zign?” We make sure to bring my kids to the event and be as welcoming as possible. We are working on presenting an art gallery style title-card that shares what the materials used were, and how this zine was put together. A lot of it is ‘cut and paste, photographs’ but a lot of it is also ‘this is letterpressed.’ The hope is if somebody is going through them, they’re looking through a collection and might see something that really grabs them– a look that they’re really into– they can say “Oh, i’ve seen this same term come up over and over again. How do you do letterpress? I want to do zines, and this is the way I want to do them.” And then we can give them the zine on how to letterpress! I really want to keep including part of that whole system, that whole ability to help– from production to distribution.

Jessie Christian! The owner of Pioneers Press, the Hard 50 Farm Zine Mobile, and interviewee in this very blog post!

Jessie Christian! The owner of Pioneers Press, the Hard 50 Farm Zine Mobile, and interviewee in this very blog post!

How do you deal with the stigma of the space? We just talked about how museums can be really stigmatized spaces even though they don’t seem that way to a lot of people. There are all of these associations of class and education. Similarly, house shows might seem like comfortable spaces but might be just as stigmatized to people. How do you confront that? Do people have to come into the trailer to be in the space?

It’s a converted horse trailer, a trailer for moving livestock around in…which, works really well for us because we also have rescue animals. So it’s this amazing place where we can tie our aesthetic together and have this utility. Like, on Saturday it’s going to the library for a library event, and the next day we have to take the sheep to the vet. It works really well. Because of that, it’s kind of a rust bucket. I’ve painted it and done the best that I can with it, but I can still see *laughs* certain people being turned off by it. It’s great to be able to get our stuff to fill the trailer with boxes of zines and take it to a location, but it’s not very accessible. That bothers me. You know? You have to be able to step up into this space. So that’s one of the limitations that we have with the zine mobile. But we’ve designed a bunch of shelves that can hang on the outside of the mobile, and the next part of the project is to buy a big outfitter-style tent, the kind they use in civil war reenactments, a safari tent. [The idea would be] to have a lot of wide open spaces with the shelving so that it’s like you’re still in a covered area, but it’s more easy to have people come in, have a wheelchair be able to get through, and so we’re able to reach a lot more people that way. You also kindof have this fun, circusy feeling if you add a tent to it. And I feel like it’s going to make it less frightening maybe.

I was looking at the Rocket Grants page for you guys. Is that an illustration of what that will look like?

We don’t have the tent yet. There’s lots of pictures of a set-up at events that we’ve done so far without a tent, or with just a regular tent that people would use at a farmers market or something. That’s one of the cool things– because of what it is, you can back it into a parking space or you can start adding tents. So if you’ve got a tiny little space in front of a gallery that’s got a show up that’s doing printmaking and then you’ve got zines, we can tailor the collection to whatever event we’re doing. And you can expand. So you can do a really tiny event, or you could go all out if you’re at a farmers market or something.

What was the benefit of going with the trailer versus taking a small amount of zines in a milk crate and driving around? Clearly you also have a ton in your library. Were there any other formats you guys experimented with?

We looked at buses and things like that, and it seemed so much harder to be able to convert it into something that would be accessible for a lot of people. With adding a step, it’s a lot easier to get in and walk through the zine mobile. We didn’t have to take out a lot of seating or anything like that. It’s basically bare wood floors on the inside. One of the cool things is that we can pre-pack all of the shelves and set up how everything is going to look at home, and then it takes ten minutes to set up once we’re at the event. Setting up a table at a zine fest is one of the most stressful parts of an event for me, trying to get all of the zines presentable and on shelves. This way we can preload the shelves, throw them all on the floor in the zine mobile, drive across town and hook up the shelves all over the inside and outside of the trailer so it’s ready to go.

How can we make this as easy on ourselves as possible? And easy for our audience as possible? I think it’s odd in that….we took it to a bike race in Lawrence, Kansas and we set up the zine mobile there. And it’s like so…red. And big. And strange in an urban environment to see this piece of farming equipment that it really grabbed people’s attention. It was a good thing.

I like how that juxtaposition sometimes could really be to your benefit. In terms of your funding, I looked into the background a little bit. How did your funding support the development of your project?

We had a fairly large zine collection. I knew we were going to be getting a donation from the Utne Reader Magazine, they had selected a bunch of zines for review and had been saving them for years. So I knew we were getting those. I kept thinking that we were going to need to do something. It’s kindof heartbreaking to me to have zines sitting in a box somewhere. It’s not doing anybody any favors that I have this zine collection. So when I found out about the Rocket Grant, I was putting together the whole application. It was great to figure out how to explain the project to somebody else. And when we went in, it was like– we’re going to do this project, are you going to help us do this project? If you say no, we’re going to do the project anyway. We were so excited at that point that it was like, if they help us out, great, and if they don’t it’s a bummer for a second and then we’ll just figure something else out. We have definitely burned through the money that we got through the grant, and now it’s kindof on us. We started taking the trailer out and within two events we have blown all of the tires, so we had to replace them. It’s summertime! And people want to have the zine mobile at events, so we start to schedule in all of these events without thinking through how totally broke we are right now. What if the zine mobile breaks? Or what if the Jeep we have can’t tow it? How do we keep it going, and take care of the maintenance of it? At all of the events we’ve done so far we’ve brought five or six of [Pioneers Press’] published titles to sell at places, but it’s been very set to the side and we’re focused on sharing the collection with people. So we certainly haven’t made more than $20 at these events. So, how do we keep this going? How do we afford to have a zine mobile? And that’s still kindof something we’re working out, trying to figure out for ourselves. We’re considering having it be set up as a pop-up shop in places, and have that money go into funding general maintenance on the trailer. I think mostly the collection will grow on its own. We have more donations now and people are sending us single copies of their zines as they make them. So that part won’t really cost money– it’s about just being able to keep it rolling. Eventually I’d like it to go outside of our little 100-mile radius, and go to the Portland Zine Symposium or places like that.

In some of the background research I found information about the Flyaway Zine Mobile but couldn’t figure out how it’s related. Is it a sister project?

No, it wasn’t related to us at all though I was super inspired by the Flyaway Zine Mobile. It went into new hands and I’m not sure who is taking over the project now. It was in a tour van and it was just the cutest thing. Debbie [Rasmussen] would fill all the pockets, where you would put maps and things, full of zines. They filled every available space. For us, when we knew we’d have this collection, seeing what she was able to do with the tiny little space was like “This is great.” You don’t have to have some woodworker do some crazy buildout thing. You could just get old record player boxes or typewriter boxes and open them up. Don’t make this a bigger deal than it needs to be. If we’re trying to make it this perfect thing so we wouldn’t freak out people who are used to going into some big-box book store– we’re never going to get there. And that’s kindof not really the point. Let it be scrappy. That’s more true to what we are and what we’re doing, anyway. And then it will be done. Or we can keep thinking about needing more money to support our mission and never actually have a zine mobile. *laughs*

I find in that kind of thinking it can get so easy to get hungup on being perfect. And not just experimenting and realizing that you can always keep improving. The idea that you will have something finished and that it will be good, or good enough, probably isn’t realistic to how you work. You’re constantly iterative and want to be thinking how you can accommodate feedback you got today in how you do it again next time. Developing your model to accommodate that is really smart. How are you spreading the word in these networks as you’re moving through? How are people reaching out to you and finding you guys? Is it through Pioneers or separate?

It’s mainly been through Pioneers Press and there’s also been some word-of-mouth. It was awesome, there were people who were involved in the Rocket Grant review panel who got in touch and were excited about the project and really helped us find events. That was really cool to have that support where it was rather than have it be like “Well, here’s your money;  now make it work.” Getting connected with events lets us be able to then say, “Look, these are the pictures of what our set-up is. We’ve done these events successfully. Here’s how some of the feedback from community members went.” So then it’s a lot easier to show somebody else. Not just for grant application projects, but this is important for when you’re starting to launch something and explain to someone how it’s going to work. You’ve got it in your mind and the confidence that it’s all figured out, but trying to get that so that your potential audience or supporters will be able to understand what the hell you’re talking about– that’s such a hard point to be at. Once you’re able to say, “Look, we’ve done this, we didn’t screw it up, here’s what it looks like. Here’s how we’re going to do it better once we come do it with you.” That’s been a lot easier to pitch it to people. A lot of people will come to us randomly, or come through the Rocket blog website and say that they’re doing this thing, and want us to come out there. And we’re like “Maybe!” *laughs*  Can you help us with gas money or whatever?

Inside of the zine mobile

Inside of the zine mobile

And do they? It’s probably a little non-traditional for them to think about it that way.

We’ve had events waive the tabling fee or things like that in order for us to participate and cut down on the cost. If someone invites us to an event, and it’s going to be in a church basement and there’s 15 other tablers but they really want us to come. We do everything we can to get out there. It doesn’t matter if they have 10 people that show up. If we’re invited, it means a lot to us. We try to make it work. At some point when people ask us to be at things like that, I would love to be able to ask if they need the trailer to be there. At this point it’s so hard to leave the state with it, we’re kindof stuck until we have some more money coming in for it.

Our latest thoughts on being able to do this project funding-wise are around this non-profit we’re trying to form. We’re realizing more and more how the work that we want to do around zines is so much more related to outreach and helping people. [Ultimately some] people will find zines or make their own. I’m so bad at capitalism and I pretty much don’t table [for Pioneers]. The other staffers do it because I feel so weird about it. I just want to give everything away, but that doesn’t work because we have artists and authors we’re working with who are trying to make a living off of their art. So it’s not helpful if their publisher is like “I don’t know, I feel weird, I know this book is going to mean a lot to you so I just want to give it to you.” That model does NOT work! So the gang is kindof like “you can’t table.” So we’re trying to make it so I can do work that makes more sense, so that I can be in a role where I’m kindof a support system, so me in our group is more of a support system. Who makes a bunch of money off of zines and small press books anyway? It’s not like any of us are intending to get rich off of this.

But it makes a lot more sense to me to be able to focus on our work in another way. So we’re setting up the non-profit and I think that’s going to help a lot. People ask us regularly how they can support us and if they can donate to us. But we’re a for-profit business, that doesn’t make any sense. But it’s clear that we have this animal rescue, and have this community outreach zine mobile thing, but all of the money- anything that Pioneers Press makes- goes into supporting those things. And that’s not going to work. So [it’s great to be] able to actually get donations when people ask, or want to volunteer, and be able to say “yes” and be comfortable with that. We want to have people come out and volunteer. I can’t know that I’m going to get some money at the end of the month and the people who help won’t be. That makes me feel weird. So we don’t have people help us *laughs* We have all these things we want to be able to do, and all of these big plans, and big projects in the works but it just makes more sense to not try to do that with a for-profit business. So that’s our latest scheme. Hopefully that will work out.

And just to clarify, are you pursuing a non-profit for the zine mobile or for Pioneers Press?

We’re kindof like launching a whole new project. Some of the work that we’re doing now will go over and under the umbrella of the non-profit. The zine mobile and taking care of the animals will both go to the non-profit. It’s funny to me to keep the balance this way, because a lot of the same people are working on it. We started reaching out and have our board members all picked out and everything. It’s so amazing to think of bringing in all these other people who will be able to help and offer expertise, and be engaged in this project instead of it just being me and a handful of my friends hanging out in this farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. It’s hard to participate in a local group or community out here where we are. It’s hard for us to get to either of the cities that are near us because there’s so much going on. And we need to get home before dark because of the animals. So we’re really kindof isolated out here. To be able to make the project bigger than what we’ve been doing and bring all kinds of people from all over the country to do it is really exciting for us.

Tell me a little bit more about the animal rescue portion of that?

We have this unintentional thing. We had rescue pitbulls that were just our house-buddies. And we live on a highway and have three acres of land. When we first moved here it was kindof just this “Hey, we have this big property. What if it was a farm, and we had animals at it?” It was totally just city-kids-gone-wild-in-the-country.

Where do you get animals? Everyone at the house is either vegan or vegetarian. We could go on Craigslist and find animals that were going to be slaughtered (we live in Kansas and there are a million animals on Craigslist who are going to be slaughtered.) It’s not hard to find. So let’s get a couple of goats. Goats are amazing when you hang out with them in a petting zoo. Again, we had very limited experience. It was really irresponsible and stupid. So we got a couple of goats, we had these pitbulls, we had a cat– and it was just like, people started catching on in the community. It’s small enough that people know us as bleeding hearts animal rights kids out on the highway now. They got us. We had a teenager come over because his parents were about to euthanize his dog because his landlord won’t let him keep it in the trailer anymore, and so we got Bear. But it’s like that– people just started bringing us these animals. In the beginning we thought we could actually do something amazing with each of these animals. It doesn’t cost a whole lot of money to take care of them. Let’s just get as many animals as we can care for. So we have a couple of sheep that would have been slaughtered from a farm that I interned on. I wanted to know more about it if we were going to have more animals on the property. So I interned at a couple different farms that had animals on them and learned as much as I could. That was super helpful. The farmers around here have been super helpful if we have a sick animal or something. I mean, I don’t have health insurance. My kids don’t have health insurance. So it’s not like if somebody’s hurt on the farm we can afford to go to a vet. I also couldn’t afford to take my kids to the emergency room. We just sortof do the best that we can.

So far there’s been a couple of times that something happened that was beyond what me or my mom (who’s a nurse) could handle, and then we kindof gathered pennies, sold as many books as we could, and took the animal to the vet. Adam [Gnade] sometimes calls it an ‘animal sanctuary’ and I’m uncomfortable with that. It feels to me like when you have a punk house, and you have a bunch of people coming in because they have no place to go. But instead of having grubby kids, we have sheep. We’re all doing the best that we can. Nobody’s going out and spending money on frivolous stuff. Everything either goes into publishing more books or into buying bags of food for all of the cats that we found in gas stations in this shitty town we live in. If an animal shows up at our house, or we go to a gas station and there’s a cat living in the dumpster there, we’re like “Well, this animal was put in our path. It’s our job to take care of them the best that we can.” But we’re definitely not on Craigslist anymore looking for animals to rescue at this point. But it’s really, really important work to me and it’s what keeps me going a lot of the time, having to get up every morning and take care of these animals. I had a really hard time with depression over the winter. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had that part of my life. You have to get up. You have to get up, you have to go outside. You have to do physical labor, you have to take care of these animals. Nobody else is going to do it. You have to do it. And they’re so appreciative. There’s no drama or bullshit, they just think I’m Jessie whose got the hay, and I’m so awesome! I get so much out of having them around.

We’ve outgrown every aspect of this barn we have. There’s too many people in too small of a house. There’s too many books, too many zines. I know that timewise we could care for more animals than we have now. So we’ve been trying to find a larger farm. But our animals have a ton of space right now and are pretty happy, but it would be cool to be able to take in a couple other buddies.

Between your library and the animals– so much has grown through word of mouth. Can you speak at all to that element of community or word spreading? That’s not something a lot of people have.

I think we have had a lot of help come that way, and a lot of opportunity. A lot of times we’re in such a desperate situation money-wise that if somebody is like “Hey, what do you think about this project?” and it doesn’t seem like it’s a good fit for us, we would maybe pass out of hand. Now we’re really interested in trying out new things and I think that’s part of it. We’re so open to anything that it’s just– out of all the things we have going on and all the issues and all of the really amazing opportunities and privileges that we have, that’s something we really have going for us. I don’t know why that is– but people find out about us. And they reach out to us and want to help, or want to participate or learn how to do similar things on their own. And that’s really important to us. That’s the biggest reason for us getting up every day. We get to have these really personal interactions with people, and not just pack up zines and throw them into boxes to send out to everybody. For instance, we’re very conscious that this is a zine that somebody made that is really important to them and they put themselves into, and somebody felt like they wanted it. It’s about remembering this very human and personal connection to all of these things. These aren’t customers. We never refer to people who order from us as customers. That’s not how we think about it! Somebody took the time to order this thing from somebody else in the world. Every person that orders from us gets a note. We try to go to everything we get invited to. We’re not going to make money. So being able to engage people who are interested in what we’re doing or want to do similar things is what we’re getting paid in, almost.

Do you guys have any workshops or facilitation that comes with the zine mobile?

We haven’t done that yet. And that’s why we need to have a nonprofit, so I can go to another business or something and ask if they are willing to donate supplies [for a workshop]. So it’s not like I’m asking things of the community and I’m going to make money off of it. And I’m not, but there’s this expectation of that. We would want to be able to print materials for people to take home and things like that. We’ve done a lot of initial brainstorming on what those programs would look like. One of the people we had who we just added to the board is a teacher who teaches zines and gets together materials in order to teach zines to students, and also zines for students to learn on their own. So that’s where we’re going– starting out, trying to put together materials we can use in a teaching setting. And then figuring out the best way to do it. Is it going out in the community? Going out into schools? It’s a lot easier to sit on a panel or do a basic lecture at a zine fest or something like that. We’ve done some things that are more like that, and you almost start feeling like you’re preaching to the choir. All of those things are going to happen regardless of what Pioneers Press does. Somebody will be able to get up and do the ‘Zine 101’ talk in a space like that. And I really want to be able to go up to the Bingo Hall *laughs* and do it there. So it’s about trying to boil it down to the most basic elements and figure out what the easy entry points for someone will be. It’s gonna happen. And it’s funny because how to launch it, and we know it will only be partially right, and then we have to go back to the drawing board.

Adam Gnade (The DIY Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin' Sad and other titles, many on Pioneers) outside of the zine mobile.

Adam Gnade (The DIY Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad and other titles, many on Pioneers) outside of the zine mobile.

As Jessie, is being at this point when you’re ready to step into a non-profit, how does that line up in your story and experience? I feel like there are so many people who would never think about that or know that those options exist. How do you feel about this next step?

I had a really, really bad winter. Now that I’ve started getting healthy, I had to look at what in my life was beating me and what wasn’t. I have this shitty lawsuit that I’m involved in that’s also kindof made me participate in systems and experience the thing that I never thought I would be involved with. It goes outside of the realm of possibility for me. It involves all this money, contracts and all this stuff that is so gross to me. I was very unhealthy, I was working all the time. I wasn’t spending really good, quality time with my kids– they’re two and three– so at the beginning when I was launching a company, there was just this baby I had in a sling on my back while I’m working and doing farm chores or whatever. It wasn’t really hard at that stage. And then having toddlers all of a sudden where they now dump out all of the staples, or dump out juice on a box of the books you just got printed. We have to figure out how we’re going to do this. I had to look at what was important to me and what wasn’t. Being able to support myself and my kids is not something I can get rid of. And I don’t want to work and have my kids be taken care of by someone else. But how can I do this, be a good mother, and support the authors that we’ve brought into our fold, and do it well? It’s about figuring out what I hate doing. Figure out what is really emotionally draining and horrible. And cut the bullshit. So if me trying to struggle through bookkeeping is one of the things that’s keeping me from cleaning the barn or hanging out with my kids and reading books, and I hate doing it, and I don’t do it well- then why would I do it? I need to bring in someone else who can help me who enjoys doing this kind of bookkeeping and is going to have fun with this.

There’s part of it where I wanted to be involved in all these things, but I wanted to have control over all of them. And it’s like, why? I’m not able to take care of those things well if I’m not able to let my dad take my kid for the afternoon because I’m sure he’s not going to take care of him as well as me. Or I want to put together all of the contracts. Or I want to do all of the interviews. But then these projects are all struggling. And I was really struggling. So no, this is stupid, I don’t need to be the only one who does all the stuff. That’s where I’m at now: this would be so much more fun if we had way more people involved in it, and had way more people figuring out how to solve the problems we have. I don’t need to be in charge of all these things anymore. And that’s been kindof amazing for me, an amazing step in my personal development. Why don’t we just keep it fun having it be more collective work instead of me having to mastermind everything? I had been working at a collective that was SO badly managed, and had all of these issues. So when I left that really terrible experience– and it was years that I was involved there– it was me, and Adam, and Thadd who wanted to do all the work by ourselves. We didn’t want any help from anybody that would bum us out. And eventually we just said “we’ll leave the city, we’ll go live in a farmhouse, we won’t talk to anybody else, we won’t make friends.” I feel like we had to do that as part of our healing process: hide in Kansas for a few years. And now we’re ready to come back out and start participating in a community again. And it feels really good, that we’re going to have friends, and help support other people’s projects and not be like “The only thing there is is the zine distro and we’re all going to work 24 hours a day, no one will sleep, we’ll hang out with the babies and that’s it.” That’s not healthy. Now, helping other people with their projects and not having to be the boss and be ultimately responsible is so fun! It’s like getting my brain back. I can process so much better. Oh god, I took the first vacation I’ve taken since I had kids, basically. And I didn’t get on the computer or answer e-mail or anything for a week, and once I got back to work I just got so much done in a small window of time. Oh, I wish I hadn’t taken 33 years to figure out that if you’re rested you can get more done. If you’re healthy and you’re taking care of yourself, this vessel is going to allow you to do more things. Oh, duh.

I think that’ll resonate with a lot of people. I mean, it resonates with me that the next move for sustainability is an outgrowth of self-care. It answers to what your growing needs are. And I think that there’s just so many projects and ideas that are not built for sustainability and burn out so much faster for that reason. And it sounds like you’ve had experiences working within collectives like that as well.

Self-care as part of what our work is is something that’s really important to us now. We’ve taken such terrible care of ourselves and hit rock bottom, that we’ve realized it needs to be an important element of the work that we do.

Can you clarify for me how Pioneers Press ties into the zine mobile as well?

It’s just an extension of the work we’re doing at Pioneers. One of the things we’re not quite sure of yet is how Pioneers fits into what we want to do now. If we’re really excited about the zine mobile, and really excited about having a bigger farm and having skillshares on the farm around art or farming or self-publishing, and we’re doing this big DIY-lifestyle non-profit….we’re kindof setting an example through the way that we live, and then inviting people to participate in this with us. The big farm! There’s food to share! If that’s what the focus is, to develop programs where we’re teaching families how to grow food together so that they’re not ignoring young mothers with kids or young parents with children– how does Pioneers fit into that? And that’s what we’re still trying to figure out. If we step back a little bit and think about not having a publishing house, it’s sad for us. We know that we want to be able to keep doing it, but at what level? It’s moving into the background a little bit. We’re finding ways for it to sustain itself a little bit, so we don’t put as much energy into it and put our energy into things that are more nurturing to us.

And also, we’ve got this lawsuit going on so the decision might be made anyway. If things go badly in the lawsuit, we’ll lose Pioneers. I’m sure on some level we started getting really excited about other projects when we knew we might not be able to keep working on [Pioneers]. If we keep being able to be productive and not get fatalistic about things because this project that means a lot to us might go away, we had to just be like “whatever is going to happen is going to happen, but we need to know what we’re going to do next if it’s gone.” So by shifting that focus, we’re finding things that are seeming like they’re going to be more fitted to our personalities. Pioneers might not come out of this.  People knowing that we are involved in this lawsuit, and the details we’ve been able to put out is helpful.

Want your zine to be trucked around to hundreds of great people via the back of a transformer-like trailer? The Hard 50 Farm Zine Mobile and Pioneers Press are accepting donations for their distro. Send here: Pioneers Press – 816 N Main #200 – Lansing, KS 66043 or shoot them a message here.


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