In her current role as a radio producer for the world's pioneer food radio station, Heritage Radio Network, Caitlin draws on her experience as a high school teacher. We can imagine that both jobs require a certain amount of courage, and it's clear that Caitlin has plenty of that. In addition to working as the Program Director for Saxelby Radio Scholars, HRN's scholarship program for high school students, she is the Program Coordinator and Producer for the New York State Craft Beverage Grant. The first feature happens to include Taylor from Good Food Jobs, highlighting the small brewery that she and her husband are opening in the Hudson Valley.
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
I always wanted to do something that mattered. But until a few years ago, I felt like most of the food content in the world was frivolous. I knew I wanted to work in food when I started interning at the Heritage Radio Network, where the conversation around food is different. It was a reality check of how important food and food issues are-beyond the celebrity chefs and 20-minute easy recipes.
How did you get your current good food job?
I emailed Erin Fairbanks, the Executive Director of Heritage Radio, completely out of the blue. I wanted to transition to a job in radio and was willing to intern for free initially, but it is tough to get even unpaid internships in New York City. Erin met with me and asked me to come in for a trial day. I was so worried that she was going to tell me 'no' at the end of it, but she asked when I wanted to come back next. I couldn't have been happier.
My internship at Heritage Radio propelled me into the world of radio production freelancing. I work with people on a for-project basis to produce podcasts and individual radio pieces. I produced Refinery29's "Strong Opinions Loosely Held" podcast. I am still working with Heritage Radio, now as the Project Coordinator and producer for a craft beverage grant from New York State Department of Tourism. I'm working with Jimmy Carbone of Beer Sessions Radio to produce four radio specials in the field around New York State. The episodes explore the stories behind the best beers, spirits, and ciders and all the people behind a craft beverage, including the lesser recognized barley farmers and anti-fracking organizers who keep the waters supply clean.
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
Before this job, I was a public high school teacher. I taught English in St. Louis Public Schools and a KIPP charter school in New York City. Being a teacher is incredibly challenging, and I was working all of the time. I am still extremely organized, which is critical in being a successful freelancer. That job also gave me lots of experience and a passion for working with high school students, and I get to keep doing that with the Saxelby Radio Scholars program. In that program, I teach 11th and 12th graders to produce their own radio pieces about food. It surprises people because they can be difficult, but teenagers are my favorite people.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
When I left my career as a teacher and a college counselor, it was really scary to pursue my dream job in radio. As I said, I'm a very organized and planned person, so I had a plan of doing an unpaid internship in radio (at Heritage Radio Network), then I already had a summer job lined up taking American high school students on a service trip to rural Peru. Then, four days before I was to leave for my job in Peru, my dad died suddenly. I had to quit the job in Peru, and I went home for a few weeks. When I came back, I was a complete mess. I didn't have anything lined up to do, and I had no structure to my days. The people at Heritage Radio Network - Erin, Allison, and Jack - were there for me all the way. They sent my family a huge, delicious ham from Heritage Foods, they gave me a place to go and work when I needed it, and they let me have a creative outlet at my own pace. A few months after all that, Erin hired me to work part time at Heritage, and I became the Program Director for the Saxelby Radio Scholars. I can definitely say that without those opportunities, I don't know how I could have made it through.
Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate?
I am very grateful for so many people I have been able to work with in my radio career. That's one of the best things about freelancing. One thing I've found in the people that I like to work with the most is that they are always encouraging my growth and continual improvement in my work. This means that my boss has to be comfortable with me not knowing something and using the project to learn it. That means a lot to me, because then I am rewarded from the process, not just the end.
What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
Food is really popular right now, and I feel like those in the food media industry should use that excitement to educate on issues rather than just make more and more fluffy click-bait.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
Travel! Pay for my travel and I will make a radio piece about anything you want once I get there. I produce my own podcast, Borders Radio, that was inspired by my wanderlust but has turned into being about so much more. It's about challenges that people overcome and boundaries they push to become the person they want to be or to cause them to learn something new about themselves.