Have you ever been given the advice that the questions are as important, or more so, than the answers? Becky's questions are meditative. They resonate across borders. And we're reminded once again that the answers are rarely the most powerful part.
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
A couple years after college, I started reading about food and nutrition. I don't remember how it started, specifically, but I experienced an awakening - a real-food revelation - that many GFJ readers who grew up on heat-and-eat dinners likely experienced. It suddenly occurred to me that the way I nourished my body, where my food came from, how it was grown, and the stories and struggles of the people who brought it to life?they all mattered. A lot. Probably more than most other things in my life. I started gobbling up food-related books and podcasts and web articles off-the-clock (ok, and sometimes on it, too). I wanted a better food system. I wanted to be a more responsible consumer. But it didn't occur to me that I could work in food. I didn't have any experience with food. What would I do? Farm? (Clearly I hadn't yet found Good Food Jobs.)
Several years, a relocation, and a career change later, my passion for food persisted. In fact, it pestered and nagged. When I discovered GFJ, I was amazed and inspired to find a whole community of people out there, just like me, who wanted to make this their life's work. Could I be one of these people? I wondered. But I was content with my job, my comfortable salary, and my generous benefits package?and scared of the uncertainty of changing career paths. Would I have to take an apprenticeship with no pay, to get my foot in the door? How would I pay my student loans and phone bill? Who would take a chance on me? I skimmed GFJ daily and teetered on the edge of action, paralyzed by the fear of failure.
And then Life gave me a shove. My father passed away unexpectedly. Suddenly it was clear: life is too short to let fear hold me back. I couldn't stomach a lifetime of What if? So that was it. Decided.
A week later, I found my good food job posting.
How did you get your current good food job?
I think the job found me. One week after I set out to find it (totally unsure what "it" was), I read about the job opening in PASA's weekly newsletter. So did my mom. And then again on my GFJ alert. I was living in Massachusetts, but I'd been following and admiring the work PASA was doing in my home state (Pennsylvania). I was feeling around that time that I'd like to be closer to my family, and the job description seemed to be written just for me. 'OK, universe - I'm listening!' I remember thinking.
The day of my interview, I snuck away from my office on one of the busiest days of the year, during new student orientation, to Skype in a tucked-away, unused (I hoped) classroom that was about 90 degrees, because the AC had been turned off for repairs. Whether they couldn't tell I was sweating bullets or they admired my dedication to toughing it out, I'm not sure. But I got the job.
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
Connection is the underlying theme of my life and work projects. When I was working in the music industry, I got totally jazzed (see what I did there?) on connecting aspiring artists with people and opportunities to help them thrive. My work in higher education, with peer mentors, allowed me to provide students with tools to make meaningful connections with each other, with the school, and with their dreams. It was also really focused on practicing personal wellness - emotional, physical, spiritual.
My job at PASA is similarly all about helping people find connection - connecting consumers with the local farmers who grow their food; connecting the dedicated folks that run Buy Fresh Buy Local campaigns in their communities, so they have a support network; connecting dedicated local-food providers with a way to communicate their commitment to local and sustainably grown food. At the root of these connections is a shared pursuit of wellness - physical wellness, community wellness, social wellness. I get to work with so many passionate people using food to build a better future. (And yet my food puns are surprisingly still under-appreciated. Some days, I wonder if they carrot all?)
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
I had a lot of fears. The fear of leaving my community and friends behind. The fear of moving, without a place to live. The fear of "failure." I did a lot of soul searching to figure out what that meant. Would I have failed if I took a job and didn't like it or wasn't good at it? Would I have failed if I hated rural life and moved back to the city? Would I have failed if I didn't have any money in my savings account in a year? I decided that my very worst fears (the worst that could happen) were starving or going homeless (which felt pretty real at the time, considering I was contemplating an unpaid farm apprenticeship, with little savings).
But once I realized I had enough people in my support network who wouldn't let that happen, I ran out of excuses. To "fail," it turned out, meant to never even try. At the start, before I 100% committed to taking the leap, I interviewed by phone with a nearby farm for an apprenticeship. It paid a little and would allow me to keep my current apartment. "So you want to leave your desk job and farm," the farm manager said, not asked. I knew how it sounded. I tried to assure him of my commitment to working hard, despite my inexperience. I emphasized my enthusiasm to learn. I told him all about how important this opportunity was for me. I asked good questions. "I see. We'll get back to you."
I wasn't "a good fit," he wrote in an email, a week later. I felt stupid. I felt like a phoney who had no business or hope trying to break into the food and farming world. And so I did call it quits . . . but fortunately, that didn't last. When I felt the shove (see question 1), it was too strong to ignore. (I came to later find out from someone who had worked on that farm that the manager was not the sort of supervisor I would have enjoyed working for anyway. It was a really good lesson about blessings in disguise.)
This, it turns out, is the message Tay and Dor share time and time again, in the GFJ newsletters, which continue to serve as inspiration for overcoming the obstacles along my journey.
Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate?
Oh, jeeze. I've been so lucky to work with and for some amazing human beings that I am grateful to continue to call friends (shoutout to Carol, Tamia, Chris, janicanne!).
Just one thing? They trusted me. Fully, openly, and sometimes even contrary to their own styles and preferences, they gave me the autonomy to create my own systems; they asked for my input on decisions that affected us both; and they let me make my work a unique reflection of my passions, preferences, and quirks-a reflection of me. They knew that trust begets trust and so it was actually in their best interest. They're smart people.
What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
Closing the gap between those who provide (grow/sell) good food and those who need it, so that everyone can make a living and eat well. Farming must be profitable. Food must be affordable and accessible. Waste must be reduced. The food landscape is fraught with injustice and inequity, and therefore ripe with opportunities for impactful, meaningful work.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
Anyone reading this who knows me is counting on me to either say carrots (because I have a carrot tattoo, a symbol of my commitment to good food) or pickles (because I freaking love pickles). But let's be real, my landlord wouldn't accept either as rent payment. I dream of being part of a community whose members provide for each other with the goods and services they have available to them. I know they're out there, and maybe someday, I'll find one. The closest I've come is being a part of a Time Trade Circle, in Boston. Using time as currency, folks contributed what they could and asked for what they needed. I received services I couldn't have afforded otherwise (tailoring, reiki, classes) and helped my neighbors with projects that were fun for me (gardening, hosting a potluck, setting up an art show). Is this too hippy dippy? Maybe I should have said pickles.