By Katie Mills Giorgio, correspondent
Joe Mischka grew up on a farm in southeastern Wisconsin where his family raised farrow-to-finish hogs, and later, saddle and draft horses.
Those childhood experiences influence his life’s work as today he and his wife, Susan, publish “Rural Heritage Magazine,” a bimonthly magazine featuring articles about farming and logging with draft animals, small-scaled diversified agriculture, homesteading and other aspects of America’s rural heritage.
It is available in print through mail subscription, online through a digital subscription and through app stores.
“We bring to our readers stories and information to help them live more simply, sustainably and self-sufficiently,” he said, noting that they also publish about 20 book titles focusing on draft animal power.
They also produce a twice weekly cable television show on RFD-TV — on Mediacom channels 239 and 793, twice a week at 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays — that covers the same topics, and publish six calendars featuring draft horses, mules, donkeys, carriage horses and more.
It’s a family business that Mischka’s parents started on their farm in Whitewater, Wis., in 1980, when they published their first draft horse calendar, a tradition they carry on today.
Mischka joined the business in 1997, assisting his father after his mother died, and then fully took over the business in late 2003 when he and Susan moved from Wisconsin to Cedar Rapids.
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Mischka not only had background in farming, but also in journalism, making him especially well-suited for the role.
After spending years working as a reporter — for a time at the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, where he met his wife — Mischka’s parents hired him to research and write a book on the history of the Percheron horse in America, and later to set up their desktop publishing equipment.
“I then began working in electronic prepress, handling color scanning and image correction, page layout and other aspects of preparing customer files for printing,” he recalled.
“In 2007, we bought the magazine and television show, Rural Heritage, from a couple in Tennessee, and brought it to Cedar Rapids.”
He said they’ve been through ups and downs over the years, most notably when the 2008 flood damaged their home and business.
Keeping production costs low remains a challenge every year, Mischka added.
“Paper, printing and postage increase constantly. Costs of travel goes up all the time,” he said.
“In order to avoid raising our prices, we have to find ways to cut our costs. That is a constant challenge.”
They work with one other part-time employee and dozens of freelance contributors who write and take photos for the various publications.
And Mischka spends a lot of time on the road.
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“I travel a lot, shooting footage for our television program and writing stories for the magazine, visiting farms and events located in interesting rural communities in America,” he said.
“I get to interview people that have interesting stories to tell.”
He said when on the road, he might spend a day driving 600 miles, take photos the following day, then drive home.
“I try to combine shoots on a trip if possible,” he said. “So if I am driving to Atlanta, I will see if there are stories in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky or Tennessee I can cover as well.”
It’s a niche that Mischka enjoys.
“Not a lot of people have heard of our publications or television program, but those who have tend to be very loyal customers, readers and viewers,” he said.
“There is really no other magazine or television program like ours that supports and promotes draft animal powered, diversified small-scaled farming.”
He noted “order-fulfillment time is the fourth quarter, so from mid-September to Christmas we are in order-taking and filling mode.”
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Mischka Press Publishing and Bookselling
• Owner: Joe Mischka
• Address: P.O. Box 2067, Cedar Rapids
• Phone: (319) 362-3027