In August of 2010, the first issue of what was then Country Wisdom News appeared in Ulster and Dutchess counties, having grown from an emailed newsletter to a printed four-page monthly broadsheet. Today, in September 2020, we’re Livelihood magazine.
Remember the excitement of turning 10? Two whole digits! Life’s full of adventure and fun, partly because of your growing proficiency at navigating this life stuff. And it’s that kind of spirit —mastery mixed with a beginner’s mind—that’s informed this venture all along, as we created a new print publication in an era when many were predicting that the medium was dead.
“Nah,” says publisher Chris Hewitt. “Print’s not dead. It’s bad news that’s dead.”
Hewitt’s faith in his own ability to transcend “conventional” was already forming by the time he discovered, in fifth grade, that he could write backward with ease. “That was the beginning of understanding just how deep my family’s history went in printing,” he says. “We’d adapted. By the time I was 12, I was running an offset press.”
Hewitt’s parents owned T&T Graphics, a commercial print shop on Long Island. At 19, Chris started doing something he called Envirographics, using soy ink and 100% recycled paper. “My parents thought I was crazy,” he says, “until I started getting clients like the Rainforest Alliance. When the checks started rolling in, they said, ‘Hey! Good idea.’ For me it was about the environment. They came to realize soy inks were just better for business.”
His sister Melissa, then T&T’s graphic designer, knew there was nothing crazy about it. The two combined their influence and succeeded in getting all Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) removed from the shop.
Two years later, in 1995, the siblings and Hewitt’s then-girlfriend, Nicole Fenichel, were “just brainstorming ways to save the world, and came up with the concept for what would be their first publication. Their parents supplied the keys to the shop, the three co-conspirators the materials and labor, and in 1996, X-Press magazine was launched.
“X-Press, for Generation X,” says Hewitt. “Hey, we were kids. It was a quarterly, with sections devoted to society, arts, and culture, health, environment, and spirituality, the big idea being that those are interwoven aspects of the same thing.” When they submitted the first issue to national distributors for consideration, as the first publication speaking for and to their generation, it was an immediate hit.
“We were in 22 US states and five Canadian provinces, in Barnes and Noble, and big outlets like that,” Hewitt remembers. “So then Nicole and I decided to take a four-month trip around the US and Canada to interview people about the magazine.”
The journey ultimately landed the couple in Rosendale in 2001. Their publication was rechristened The Movement (slogan: The Movement: It’s happening!) and sold in outlets like Esoterica Books in New Paltz.
“Maybe we actually should have called it ‘about to happen,’ Hewitt laughs. “I love that variable, X. The boomers didn’t know what we were going to be, but a lot of us took inspiration from their activism in the 60s. In 2003, hundreds of thousands of us gathered to protest war in Iraq. Then we came home and changed the world in our own backyards.”
Inspired by Gloria Steinem’s tactics at the helm of Ms. Magazine, Hewitt had been trying to publish without advertising and let the content speak for itself. “You’d think I might have realized she already had money when she did that,” he notes. To help keep his family afloat, Hewitt worked in the vibrant local publishing ecosystem, learning about the revenue model. A big lesson came when he asked for a salary increase to match an increased workload and was promptly let go.
It was a blessing in disguise. A friend offered him a job digging a ditch the very next day, and the work paid 25% better. Hewitt dug the digging, and soon found himself taking his Master Gardener certificate through Cornell Cooperative Extension.
“But I was still passionate about publishing,” he says. ”And digging the dirt, I realized something about myself and the world: the plants, the honeybees, the soil are what we all have in common. There are always the arguments, drama, and hate letters; in fact, our activism hit a lot of people’s hate buttons. But we all have the soil in common. I realized I needed to start a good news publication about what we all share: good news about land, home, and community. I realized everybody wanted to read that good news.”
Country Wisdom News got early support from legacy Rondout Valley business-folk who knew Hewitt and believed in him: Bob Johnson of Accord Feeds and the late Cassie Schoonmaker of Saunderskill Farms. “That family has been farming for 12 generations, and they’ve seen everything: wars, depressions, every kind of weather,” Hewitt observes. “And when you listen to the detailed history, you find it’s been generosity and reciprocity that allowed their survival—the good they do that comes back to them.”
From its humble beginnings as a newsletter attached to Hewitt’s for-profit property management company, CWN became a broadsheet, then a tabloid, then the magazine you’re holding in your hands. Hewitt merged it with his Hudson Valley Current nonprofit and changed the name to Livelihood in 2017, with a focus on local economics, simplifying his multifaceted roles and endeavors. Columbia County was added to the organization’s coverage area in 2019.
The future? Hewitt says readers can expect to be kept abreast of the evolution of local abundance and reciprocity economics, along with the soil, bees, and growing things that are still the crucial common ground. “Publications are very vulnerable, and COVID-19 almost wiped us out,” he says. “We had to do some sharp pivots. But here we are! And now, maybe more than ever, we all need to remember what we share and stay on top of the latest good news.”