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Kathryn Hansis
Words of Wisdom Illustrator
Good Food Jobs
January 20, 2015

Do you look forward each Tuesday to the GFJ weekly Words of Wisdom? Download each one to your desktop or print and pin them to your wall? Although the words themselves inspire us, the stunning artwork is what transforms them into little bits of treasure. Kathryn moonlights as a freelance illustrator, crafting a new image for us each week, but she also has a full-time gig as Lunchbox Program Manager for Green Mountain Farm-to-School. And if you're like us and can't wait to see more of her brilliant imagery, feast your eyes on her Instagram feed, @khansis.

When did you know that you wanted to work in food?

I volunteered on a farm in western Massachusetts back in 2010 and spent the whole day picking rocks out of the soil to prepare for planting. It was the most satisfying day's work I had done up to that point in my life, and I didn't even get to see anything growing. Other than that I can't pin it to one specific moment, but rather a series of moments throughout the last decade or so that have kept me going, mostly surrounding the realization of the healing qualities of good food.

Learning to cook for myself has been the most gratifying thing I've done for my own health and well-being, and I hope I can some day say the same about growing and raising my own food. When I was studying to be a graphic designer in college, I somehow got hooked on Marion Nestle's books. Researching everything from nutrients to food politics in my spare time, I used my interest in food as the focus of my final design projects.

From there I decided if I was going to work as a designer, I'd make sure it was somehow related to promoting good food. I also decided I wanted to learn as much as possible, from the ground up, in order to really understand the full scope of the food system so I took a break from designing in order to experience the world through farming and cooking. My first good food job was for a fantastic one-woman catering operation in Hawaii. It was the first job I found after buying a one-way plane ticket. I was the fry girl at the farmer's market.

How did you get your current good food job?

Writing specifically about how I got my drawings featured right here on GFJ, I simply started doing what I loved to do and the right person happened to see my work and liked it. The day I moved up to Vermont to start on my new adventures in good food, I had started a drawing a day to keep me motivated and inspired. My then-fellow Vermonter, Taylor saw my drawings and the rest is GFJ history!

I've had the most luck finding meaningful work by surrounding myself with people whose beliefs about food and way of living are in line with my own. I made the decision to leave behind what I knew and felt comfortable with in order to find out what I wanted to learn, become the person I wanted to be, and do the work I wanted to do. I left a job in Boston working for a food truck to learn more about the food system in northern Vermont and to really get up close and personal with a world I had only read about. As a result of relocating to an area where many other people and organizations have similar beliefs about food as I do, I was able to connect with a series of food and farm related jobs. It was through connections and word-of-mouth that I am in the place I am now, but I would have never made those connections if I had stayed put.

How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?

I've had a laundry list of jobs over the last few years ranging from an event planner for a non-profit magazine to frying egg rolls at a farmer's market. I've worked as a cook, a farm hand, a food truck manager, a graphic designer, and a dishwasher; at non-profits, on farms, for publishing companies, and in commissary kitchens. I've done freelance design work, weeded gardens, catered weddings, managed a food access program, and edited magazine articles. Every experience I've had has given me  insight into where my strengths lie and a new perspective on how I can combine the  skill set I have with my passions for good food.

I've also had the opportunity to work mainly for small organizations or start-ups which has given me experience seeing the good, the bad and the ugly of starting and managing a small business venture. Since there's always something new to learn about the realities of the way we all live, I find it incredibly interesting to try out new ways of making a living. It's also given me a great appreciation for the work that others do.

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?

I broke my leg after the first week of my first job working on a farm. I thought it was the universe trying to tell me something, but I didn't listen. I spent nearly a year sending out my resume and living with my parents. I was so desperate to get back out there that I went to my first kitchen interview on crutches. Miraculously they hired me.

Aside from that, the greatest obstacle for me has been not really having a truly specific goal in mind. While I know I want to work with good food and promote health and well being by being close to the food that feeds us, there isn't a track already designed on which I can just coast. While this certainly makes it exciting and worth the ride, it constantly keeps me on my toes to seek out new experiences. I feel like I'm carving out my own path every day and figuring out how I can learn the things I want to learn, while still making a living. I also struggle with having the confidence to explain to others that my actions are deliberate and well thought out; that I'm not lost in my pursuit. Even if it might seem like I'm floating through an array of work, I see each of my jobs as a course that taught me a meaningful lesson about where to venture off to next.

What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?

I think it's an exciting time to have an interest in food, in the sense that if you have a desire to work at a "good food" job - no matter what your skill set is - there is room for you. I definitely see a huge opportunity for any organization or person working to bridge the gaps in our local food system; specifically distribution, education, policy and law. I also see the increase in awareness of using food as medicine as one of the most valuable things we can re-learn as a society. If I could be doing anything else, I'd like to work towards a life focused around healing through food.

If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?

Books, dried herbs, the means to travel, or handwritten letters (I'm a huge fan of snail mail). If you want to go on a road trip or be my pen pal, I'm in and would love to hear from you: kathryn.hansis@gmail.com

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