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The Clever Root: A Magazine That Brings The Cannabis Plant Back To Its Roots With Fruits, Flowers & Farms For A “Clever” Audience – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Publisher/Editorial Director, Meridith May

December 9, 2015

“People want something beautiful in their hands, I see it over and over. And again, the requests we were getting, even before the first issue came out with all the buzz we received, but after the second issue, and no pun intended on the buzz (Laughs), after that issue did come out the requests have been in the thousands every week.” Meridith May

Clever Root-3 A farm-to-table food magazine with a unique twist; The Clever Root combines everything that grows, including the cannabis plant, to create a singular reading experience that is showcased in a beautifully done print magazine. It focuses on ingredients, chefs, ranchers and growers and brings the farm-to-table movement to life in new ways that both enlighten and entertain.

Meridith May is the captain at the helm of this new endeavor. As both publisher and editorial director, Meridith has a strong and steady hand on the wheel of her new ship as she not only guides The Clever Root, but also her other two vessels, Somm Journal, which summarizes consumer, restaurant, and wine trends and news for wine professionals, and The Tasting Panel, a widely circulated trade publication for the beverage industry.

I spoke with Meridith recently and we talked about The Clever Root and how it brings an industry-insider’s look at food, the trends and tools of the trade, and the different ingredients that are used, and how the magazine takes a “clever” twist to include an intelligent look at the booming cannabis industry.

All in all, The Clever Root is an astute and savvy magazine that is smartly-done and highly informative and entertaining. Just like the woman who guides it.

So, sit back, pour yourself a glass of wine and get ready to embark on a journey back to your “Clever Roots,” the ones that connect you to Mother Earth and all things that grow. And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Meridith May, Editorial Director and Publisher, The Clever Root.

But first, the sound-bites:


Meridith May On the genesis of The Clever Root and the “leaf” aspect of the magazine:
It all started when I received a call from the Department of Agriculture and the State Board of Equalization in California. The first thought I had when I got the call from the State Board was: uh-oh, do I owe back taxes? (Laughs) But apparently, they were getting the other magazines that we do, The Somm Journal and the Tasting Panel. And they liked the magazines and they asked me would I ever be interested in producing a magazine about marijuana and the cannabis industry. And this was the government calling. (Laughs) And I said no; I don’t really have any ties to that side of it, but I’m flattered.

On the name The Clever Root:
First, we were going to call it Grow and I called my trademark attorney and she said no. Please don’t do that. We thought of Something with a Leaf, no not that either. What I learned was you really have to have a name that no one else has and something clever. OK – The Clever Root. The name was that simple.

On why she felt the magazine needed to be a print publication:
That’s a great question. The Tasting Panel keeps growing and growing and after seven years we really feel like it reaches all of the important people in the industry throughout the U.S. And they want that print publication; those requests keep coming in every single day. So I thought, people want something beautiful in their hands, I see it over and over. And again, the requests we were getting, even before the first issue came out with all the buzz we received, but after the second issue, and no pun intended on the buzz (Laughs), after that issue did come out the requests have been in the thousands every week.

On the uniqueness of The Clever Root:
Again, it’s not food, it’s everything that grows: fruit, flower, farm and leaf. Whether it’s animal, vegetable or mineral, in the case of salt; it’s really everything that’s consumed and grown and raised and about how it relates to the working, professional chef.

On any stumbling blocks she had to face with the magazine:
We really didn’t face any stumbling blocks and yes, the stars were aligned; the right people were in the right place to pull me up and mentor me on the cannabis side, so I would have enough seed money, again no pun intended, to get this off the ground.

On her major source of revenue besides advertising:
My major income for all of the magazines is sponsorships and events. There are so many different things that we’re involved in with our clients, which is the wine industry for Somm Journal and the spirits side for The Tasting Panel.

On how she started in the publishing industry:
I started in media in 1977 when I began working at KISS FM radio in Los Angeles and I was VP of marketing after a few years in my 20s and I saw that I was quite ambitious, but I loved being in the media. So I stayed in radio for a while; started a little radio show about food and wine; started writing about food and wine for the Santa Barbara News Press and then was hired as editor for Patterson’s Beverage Journal, which was similar to the bible 20 years ago. Eventually, I was contracted to run Patterson’s and later on I bought the name from the owner and killed it and turned it into The Tasting Panel.

On whether everything in the magazine is sampled and taste-tested:
On no, it’s not a recipe magazine. Each individual writer who goes out and meets with the chefs; they might taste the food and sip, but I personally don’t. We also have a section called the Clever Marketplace where people send in samples of everything from pickles to coffee to ice cream and that’s sampled by our Clever Pantry editor. Everybody has their own experience and that’s pretty much the same way with our other magazines.

On what she might be doing at any given moment when she’s at home:
I’m probably spending time with my dog, my Border collie; either walking her or just being with her. But at home when I’m relaxing; yes, I’m on my iPad, watching some great new Netflix series with my husband.

On what motivates her to get out of bed in the mornings:
The stress of the new day; an exciting stress, but again coming to the office, overseeing the three magazines and having a great, wonderful team who are responsible for so much.
.
On her favorite magazine out of the three she captains:
I think Somm Journal is my pride and joy because it’s 100% mine and Clever Root is also mine, but I do have a partnership with several people, but I’m proud of it, very proud of it.

On what advice she would give to someone who had an idea for a new magazine:
I would tell them that they better have some backup money to get it, not only off the ground, but to even know who your audience is. To make sure you continue to get that support, because having a niche publication is one thing, but having a consumer magazine where you’re depending on anything from watches to car money; I mean, good luck.

On whether there are any other magazine ideas in the hopper: No, but if somebody called and really could support it and wanted to do a shoe magazine (Laughs), I could give free samples. No seriously, I’m done. I’m pretty sure I’m done. We also create catalogs for Southern Wine & Spirits, which is a major distributor in the U.S. for California and soon Illinois.

On anything else she’d like to add:
No, I just appreciate in advance that you use your magic for magazines, because I do get your emails and I do enjoy reading them and everything that you write about. I hope that you do your magic with The Clever Root and get the word out.


On what keeps her up at night:
Worrying about feeding my employees and making payroll, of course. It’s always about being responsible to the people around me and never letting anyone down. That would hurt me the most; letting my team down.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Editorial Director, Publisher, Meridith May, The Clever Root.

Samir Husni: I’ve read a lot about The Clever Root even before it was first published and everyone was billing it as a “farm-to-table” type publication. Yet, when I looked at the cover and I saw the tagline “fruit, flower, farm, leaf,” I knew there was more there than just “farm-to-table.” Tell me a little bit about the name; the combination of the three F’s and the L. What is the genesis of the magazine and the “leaf” aspect of The Clever Root?

Picture 15 Meridith May: It all started when I received a call from the Department of Agriculture and the State Board of Equalization in California. The first thought I had when I got the call from the State Board was: uh-oh, do I owe back taxes? (Laughs) But apparently, they were getting the other magazines that we do, The Somm Journal and the Tasting Panel. I’ve owned the Tasting Panel with Anthony Dias Blue since 2007 and I bought and relaunched The Somm Journal two years ago, which was the Sommelier Journal, and has been rebranded as The Somm Journal.

And they liked the magazines and they asked me would I ever be interested in producing a magazine about marijuana and the cannabis industry. And this was the government calling. (Laughs) And I said no; I don’t really have any ties to that side of it, but I’m flattered.

A couple of weeks later a colleague of mine who had left the wine and spirits industry and went into the cannabis industry as a distributor asked me: hey, have you ever thought of doing a cannabis magazine?

Well, the coincidences were just too much and I put the government together with my friend and I said the magazine would have to be food-focused. We have a wine and spirits publication, the Tasting Panel, which has a broad market, we have a geeky wine trade publication, The Somm Journal; I need to have a trade publication for chefs, and for people who are supplying chefs with ingredients. So, why don’t I have a magazine about everything that grows, including cannabis? And that’s how The Clever Root was born.

I really didn’t have that much on the cannabis side, so using the contacts from the government; we created The Ganjier and the stories about terroir and the selection for cannabis because the government really does want this to pass in California, but we’re a national magazine, so I reached out to the Colorado Cannabis Chamber and I reached out to Washington State and several other regions.

Meanwhile, back to the chefs; Food Arts magazine went out of business, as you know, about a year ago, and there were a couple of other publications for chefs that didn’t quite make it, so I thought there was a need for it, to bring them back into the spotlight. And to tie in everything that grows, unique ingredients, wild Alaskan salmon fishing; stories on salt, pigs, chickens, whatever, everything that grows and how it fits into the restaurant industry.

Samir Husni: How did you come up with the name, The Clever Root?

Meridith May: First, we were going to call it Grow and I called my trademark attorney and she said no. Please don’t do that. We thought of Something with a Leaf, no not that either. What I learned was you really have to have a name that no one else has and something clever. OK – The Clever Root. The name was that simple. My managing editor and I tossed a bunch of names together on the board and we just liked that one.

Samir Husni: I noticed from the magazine that you have an editor and then you have a cannabis editor.

Meridith May: Yes. The cannabis editor is specialized. I was pleased that we had a great team for both sides.

Samir Husni: We live in a digital age certainly; why did you feel that you needed The Clever Root to be a printed magazine?

Picture 16 Meridith May: That’s a great question. The Tasting Panel keeps growing and growing and after seven years we really feel like it reaches all of the important people in the industry throughout the U.S. And they want that print publication; those requests keep coming in every single day. With the Somm Journal we’ve quadrupled our circulation again, through these requests from the most important people in the wine industry; people who wouldn’t even think about subscribing to The Tasting Panel are subscribing to the Somm Journal because they think it’s important and that makes me feel so good.

So I thought, people want something beautiful in their hands, I see it over and over. And again, the requests we were getting, even before the first issue came out with all the buzz we received, but after the second issue, and no pun intended on the buzz (Laughs), after that issue did come out the requests have been in the thousands every week.

Samir Husni: I think in this year alone, this is the fourth cannabis magazine to come out, but I like the unique identity of The Clever Root. There’s MG (Marijuana Grower), also from California, and there’s Marijuana Venture…

Meridith May: Yes, those are business magazines.

Samir Husni: Yes, those are business magazines and that’s what I love about The Clever Root; its uniqueness. You’re more of a food magazine that happens to also delve into the world of cannabis cooking and cannabis in general.

Meridith May: Again, it’s not food, it’s everything that grows: fruit, flower, farm and leaf. Whether it’s animal, vegetable or mineral, in the case of salt; it’s really everything that’s consumed and grown and raised and about how it relates to the working, professional chef.

Samir Husni: So, were the stars aligned perfectly during this endeavor and it was smooth sailing all the way, or were there some stumbling blocks you had to face and overcome?

Meridith May: We really didn’t face any stumbling blocks and yes, the stars were aligned; the right people were in the right place to pull me up and mentor me on the cannabis side, so I would have enough seed money, again no pun intended, to get this off the ground. Now, there’s no more seed money left and it’s my job with my team to raise enough money to keep this magazine alive through advertising because it’s free to the trade, it’s $36 per year for subscription for the non-hospitality trade consumer and we’re getting a lot of the subscription cards back for paid subscriptions as well. The only stumbling block now is making enough money to keep the printer happy.

Samir Husni: Now that you have three magazines under your belt; besides advertising, what is your major revenue source?

Meridith May: My major income for all of the magazines is sponsorships and events. For the Somm Journal we put on Somm camps all over the world, where we bring in Sommeliers; we just brought a group to Champaign; we brought a group to Napa and then on to Washington State. We’re going to be doing Oregon next year and British Columbia. So that brings in money.

We sponsor events such as SommCon, which is a big Somm conference, and also at the Culinary Institute; we work with them on events. We also produce the International Chardonnay Symposium. There are so many different things that we’re involved in with our clients, which is the wine industry for Somm Journal and the spirits side for The Tasting Panel. We put on spirits competitions and we create unique experiences for mixologists and that brings in our extra money.

Samir Husni: You wear both hats of publisher and editorial director; how did you end up in this industry?

Meridith May: I started in media in 1977 when I began working at KISS FM radio in Los Angeles and I was VP of marketing after a few years in my 20s and I saw that I was quite ambitious, but I loved being in the media. So I stayed in radio for a while; started a little radio show about food and wine; started writing about food and wine for the Santa Barbara News Press and then was hired as editor for Patterson’s Beverage Journal, which was similar to the bible 20 years ago. Eventually, I was contracted to run Patterson’s and later on I bought the name from the owner and killed it and turned it into The Tasting Panel.

So I was always writing about things and that was my editor’s side and then when I realized how much fun it was to actually run a business, to bring the money in as publisher; now I kind of oversee the editorial team as well as the entire business. I’m not writing as much anymore.

Samir Husni: I noticed that there wasn’t an introduction letter in the magazine, but rather there was a letter about both the Clever audience that you’re trying to reach…

Meridith May: And a letter from our Managing Editor, Karen Moneymaker and she is the soul behind the magazine. She is my teammate when it comes to making the pages come alive and working with the designer. She helps me assign stories and come up with articles, so I prefer that she be the voice and the face of the magazine at this point. I’m sort of the executive producer.

Samir Husni: (Laughs) I was going to say that you’re the cornerstone.

Meridith May: (Laughs too)

Samir Husni: Do you test everything, all the articles and the recipes?

Meridith May: On no, it’s not a recipe magazine. Each individual writer who goes out and meets with the chefs; they might taste the food and sip, but I personally don’t. We also have a section called the Clever Marketplace where people send in samples of everything from pickles to coffee to ice cream and that’s sampled by our Clever Pantry editor. Everybody has their own experience and that’s pretty much the same way with our other magazines. Whoever is meeting with the winemaker or the master distiller is having that experience in tasting.

Samir Husni: Does that include trying the cannabis samples?

Meridith May: Well, you can’t help but say when in Rome…

Samir Husni: (Laughs)

Meridith May: It’s Humboldt County, you can’t help but sample when you’re sniffing and smelling.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your house; what would I find you doing? Reading your iPad; reading a magazine; watching television with a glass of wine in your hand?

Meridith May: I’m probably spending time with my dog, my Border collie; either walking her or just being with her. But at home when I’m relaxing; yes, I’m on my iPad, watching some great new Netflix series with my husband.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed every morning?

Meridith May: The stress of the new day; an exciting stress, but again coming to the office, overseeing the three magazines and having a great, wonderful team who are responsible for so much. I don’t get to see the little details anymore, which is sad. I guess, just making sure that the engine is running.

Samir Husni: Out of the three magazines, do you have a favorite? Is the baby the favorite now because it’s still in its infancy?

Meridith May: No, I think Somm Journal is my pride and joy because it’s 100% mine and Clever Root is also mine, but I do have a partnership with several people, but I’m proud of it, very proud of it.

But Somm Journal is just gaining ground and growing so fast; I’ve never seen anything like it with Tasting Panel. And I hope Clever Root grows that way, the support is there so I’m going to keep nurturing it.

Samir Husni: And what advice would you give to someone who came to you and said: Meridith, you do three magazines; you’ve been an advocate for print in this digital age; you do a lot of events; I have an idea for a magazine? What would you say to them?

Meridith May: I would tell them that they better have some backup money to get it, not only off the ground, but to even know who your audience is. To make sure you continue to get that support, because having a niche publication is one thing, but having a consumer magazine where you’re depending on anything from watches to car money; I mean, good luck. The competition is fierce out there, so you really need to have somebody in place that can get money for you.

Samir Husni: Are there any other magazine ideas in the hopper?

Meridith May: No, but if somebody called and really could support it and wanted to do a shoe magazine (Laughs), I could give free samples. No seriously, I’m done. I’m pretty sure I’m done. We also create catalogs for Southern Wine & Spirits, which is a major distributor in the U.S. for California and soon Illinois. So, these catalogs are my coffee table books. That’s really our other company is the custom publishing.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Meridith May: No, I just appreciate in advance that you use your magic for magazines, because I do get your emails and I do enjoy reading them and everything that you write about. I hope that you do your magic with The Clever Root and get the word out.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Meridith May: Worrying about feeding my employees and making payroll, of course. It’s always about being responsible to the people around me and never letting anyone down. That would hurt me the most; letting my team down.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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One comment

  1. What a nice blog it is! I have read Samir Husni’s conversation & feeling happy with your Magazine. It was good to me 🙂



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