Curiosity Matters: Planning, Strategy And Farming

Molly Aaker talks to Rupert Newton, who shares ideas and gives advice based on his 20 years of experience in communications planning and creative strategy.

Rupert Newton has worked as a creative strategist, with an expertise in communications planning in the marketing and advertising industry for nearly 20 years. After developing his career in the UK, Rupert brought Michaelides & Bednash’s pioneering communications strategy approach to America. He co-founded a marketing strategy company called The Joneses, pairing brand and communication strategists to work with HBO, NBC Universal, Diageo, Virgin Atlantic, and a plethora of other notable clients. Most recently he has focused his energy on facilitating a different kind of growth, that which comes out of the ground, as part of an organic farm cooperative, Newton Farms, in the Catskills.

You’ve worked as a planner both on the media and brand side for almost two decades, bringing breakthrough ways of thinking and planning. How do you see young planners doing that today?

I think the role of young planners is to challenge conventions, rules and any formulaic process they are handed. Strategy is a creative exercise, it should be about open free-thinking while you immerse yourself in the topic, bring new cognitive models in when you’ve noodled around for a while. Read books on recent advances in psychology and neuroscience. Cultivate creative interests outside of work. I think if I’d really focused on articulating an insight, and the subsequent idea, very clearly and simply, it would have helped me earlier on. It’s a fantastic discipline. The worst thing any planner can do is complicate things. Think practically about how to bring the creative strategy to life in the real world. Whatever it is would you participate in it? If not, it’s probably crap.

What planners, agencies, blogs or activities inspire you?

Oh, hmmm, I was just reading Caught by the River, I think Fact Mag is great, I just read Infinite Realities which was fascinating, the other day I went to see Douglas Rushkoff speak, last weekend was Unsound in Brooklyn so lots of deep sub-bass action, I’ve read the Guardian for over twenty years, amazing to think it used to circulate less than 400k copies in the UK as a newspaper, and now has nearly 40 million readers digitally …I started as a media buyer and used to take the piss out them for only being read by teachers and social workers (obviously I didn’t say I was a loyal reader), so all I’ll say is there are 40 million sandal-and-socks wearers in the world, (myself excluded).

I recently read Homage to Catalonia, there is a funny moment where the Fascists and the leftists are entrenched opposite each other on a steep gorge, just too far for anyone to shoot accurately. So for weeks they resorted to hurling insults back and forth, except for one enterprising leftist who would use a megaphone to soothingly say things like, “Buttered toast…we are sitting down to delicious slices of buttered toast”. Of course they were not, they barely had any rations or firewood, Orwell archly credits this man with persuading conscripted Facists to desert. Probably went on to be Spain’s top PR man…

You recently started a farm cooperative in upstate New York that grows organic vegetables. What made you decide to open the farm?

I grew up in rural England, my Dad was a forester, conservationist and musician. I also worked on dairy farms as a teenager, so I’ve “got form” as the British cops say in reference to a suspect’s previous convictions. Then in 2010 I reached a point in my life where a few things fell apart and a few other things just fell into place. Overall I’d say it was just seizing an opportunity that presented itself and running with it. I’ve become very interested in “biological farming” a system for farming with a deep understanding of the ecosystem, that restores soil health while producing the best quality crops. You can read about it here, Remineralize the Earth.

Planners like to talk about human truths. It’s a human truth that what we eat shapes our bodies, lives and culture. What insights about your own life have you discovered from organic farming?

Taken at face value most people think about rural life as a fantasy escape, as the anti-thesis of wired urban life. But the connectivity of nature is a metaphor for the internet, or vice versa, nature is electrically charged and vibrational, so more similarities than you might think. Nature was “connected” a long time before we were digitally, something the ancients used to understand very well. Did you know a single plant can move nutrients from up to 100′ away? Did you know you can measure the electrical conductivity of soil and this will tell you how efficiently nutrient transfer is operating between soil life, bacteria, fungi and plants? I know someone in the midwest who pipes ambient techno into his greenhouses and swears the plants are havin’ it. For me all this just confirmed what we always knew, that everything is just part of a larger whole.

As an organic farmer, you are going back to nature and essentially embracing simplicity, slow food and an older way of life. But as a planner in advertising, you are part of the fast moving cycle of consumerism. How do you balance these two worlds? Are they more alike than one would think?

Haha, I completely reject your first point, I think you’re stereotyping there. Naughty planner! Organic is problematic in that I think it conjures up fantasy imagery of bucolic Thomas Hardy-esque farms, and, I think the organic movement plays up to it as a persuasive sales technique. Personally I question the smug middle class milieu of the farmers market, I find the organic food as luxury product/status symbol off putting and limiting. Long term I hope to be part of the change that makes quality, non-chemical, bionutrient-dense food sold in Walmart. I see this as progress, not “going back” or “an older way of life”, why would anyone want to do that? There was no health care and people died young, often in excruciating agony.

Yes, I was stereotyping. What is your ultimate goal for Newton Farm Cooperative? What change would you like to see? And what’s your strategy for trying to achieve it?

Well, it’s a cooperative so it’s a shared goal. If only I’d grown up reading the Daily Telegraph, it would be so different..

Finally, all this food talk is making me hungry. Where can we find the food grown at Newton Farm Cooperative and how can we get involved?

We’ll be supplying The Meatball Shop on the Lower East Side, and any new locations they open, Diner, Five Leaves, Dressler, Marlow and The Bedford in Williamsburg, Two Boots pizza’s downtown locations, there’ll be others too. We’ll get pretty busy with the Facebook and Twitter when the season starts so you can fan or follow for updates and contact us there.

We have a special deal this season, give us 5 hours of work and you get one free night’s stay at the farm. It’s a beautiful old farmhouse in a high mountain valley near Phonecia. We even have a recording studio in one of the barns, so you know, it might get loud.

Contributed by Molly Aaker – Originally published on Curiosity Matters

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