Defense on the range

C.J. Hadley wants her Carson City-based Range Magazine to help save American agriculture

C.J. Hadley’s mom probably never thought she’d have to follow Waylon Jennings’ advice about the things babies grow up to be.

C.J. Hadley’s mom probably never thought she’d have to follow Waylon Jennings’ advice about the things babies grow up to be.

C.J. Hadley, publisher and editor of Range Magazine, sits at her paperwork-laden desk writing an attack on industrial America.

What are Hadley’s weapons in defense of agricultural America? A sailor’s mouth, a cowboy hat and impassioned articles decrying the deterioration of rural communities in America. What is her ultimate goal? Nothing less than the salvation of the agrarian way of life in America.

Those grandiose dreams may seem silly, she wryly confesses. Still, she strives for her colossal goal through Range, her 15,000-circulation magazine that probes and illuminates the lives of food producers in America. Hadley, 61, who runs the magazine from a small office in downtown Carson City, says that she has to struggle to keep the magazine rolling. She calls it a difficult beast, but she loves her job.

“There isn’t any money in it, and there’s more work than this aging buckarette can really do, but no one else is even trying,” she wrote in the Winter 2003 issue of Range. “Why should they? It sucks your soul, destroys your personal life, adds benefit to people who hold stock in chocolate and uses a lot of Kleenex.”

Hadley appears an unlikely defender for an entire culture, although it undoubtedly needs saving. (Time magazine, for example, recently reported that 328,000 ranchers and farmers will lose their jobs this decade.) She looks like she hasn’t slept in a few days. Her short blonde-and-silver hair frames an impish face. An American flag decorates her blouse. John Wayne grins from a poster behind her desk. As she talks, Hadley animatedly gestures with her face and hands. Sometimes, when she’s silent, her body stoops resignedly. But she never stops. Drawing more energy from somewhere, she spits out more passionate declarations, justifying her battle in support of America’s lifeblood.

The idea for Hadley’s magazine took root in 1989 when five cowboys asked her to create a brochure for Congress about ranchers. Hadley began traveling rural Nevada to become familiarized with the topic. With each ranch and farm she visited, she became more and more aware of the injustice suffered by agricultural America. She released the first issue of Range in the spring of 1991.

“I didn’t know anything about it, really,” she says, laughing at what she calls her innocence.

Some environmental and animal-rights groups call Hadley a right-wing redneck. One letter to the editor denounced her as “the shill of industrial polluters.” It’s not, after all, politically correct to support such enviro-heavy industries as cattle ranching or farming.

But Hadley, who insists she is a left-wing liberal, touts a democratic society based on self-made dreams with ranches and farms filling America’s belly. She calls the cowboy “America’s national resource,” and she wants to defend the private, independent food producers. But there’s a big-picture philosophy behind her battles—if American agriculture disappears, self-sufficiency will become non-existent. She doesn’t want Americans to have to turn to other countries for steak dinners. The quality of the food isn’t important to her—Americans wouldn’t even notice the difference, she says—but she doesn’t want America to lose its economic independence.

“I would like to keep people working here,” she says, her voice reverberating remnants of an English accent. “We’re losing self-sufficiency because of this crap. … Civilizations have failed when agricultures have failed.”

Hadley also wants to address “the extraordinary ignorance on the part of well-educated people.” She hesitates and restates her opinion. It’s innocence, she says, not ignorance, because Americans don’t realize how capitalism will affect them five years from now.

“Am I bitter?” she asks. “Shit no. I’m frustrated.”

Warren Lerude, a journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, who has known Hadley for more than 30 years, says that Hadley has only become more passionate and dedicated to the struggles she has committed herself to over the years.

“She’s old school,” Lerude says. “She is her own person. She does what her intuition tells her to do. She’s not part of a corporate culture.”

Hadley wasn’t born or reared in America. She grew up in England. Her father was a steelworker, and her mother worked in a factory. She figured hers would be a similar lot. But one night when she was 17 or 18, her parents—who’d been drinking—asked her, “How would you like to go to America?”

Hadley was on a ship headed for Canada before her parents could change their minds. From Canada, she hitchhiked to New York. She worked a variety of jobs while she traveled, picking up a managing editor position at Car & Driver, freelancing for Sports Illustrated and later becoming publisher of Nevada magazine.

During that time, Hadley became aware of the dismal state of agriculture in America resulting from an increase in produce imports. She settled down for a long and fierce battle to preserve America’s agricultural community. Yet she does it as an outsider—she doesn’t own a ranch or farm.

“I’m not any of those things I admire—that’s why I write about it,” she says. “I’m trying to be hopeful that we can save farmers and ranchers before it’s too late. … We’re sinking. … It’s changing for the worse.”

At least her conscience is clear when she goes to bed, she says.

“Driving away from a ranch, I cry … because of the enormity of my task," she says. "I wish I was better at it."