Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Six Good Questions: Good Food Jobs Edition

We are thrilled to be able to share with you an interview with the two ladies behind Goodfoodjobs.com, one of our favorite websites. In their words:
"Good Food Jobs is a gastro-job search tool, designed to link people looking for meaningful food work with the businesses that need their energy, enthusiasm, and intellect. We post opportunities with farmers and food artisans, policy makers and purveyors, retailers and restaurateurs, economists, ecologists, and more."
We read the site regularly: it's a delightful cross-section of the food scene in America, and we love keeping up with what's happening. Taylor Cocalis and Dorothy Neagle, co-founders of GFJ, are close friends and business partners. They met in 2004 at Cornell over 25 cent ice cream cones. They took a road trip together, and they had a great idea. Then they made it happen. Check out their answers to our six good questions.
dorothy and taylor at van leeuwen artisan ice cream, in brooklyn, ny. january 2012. credit: nicole franzen

1. What was the aha moment when Good Food Jobs made the transition from great idea/dream to a real thing that was really happening? How did it feel and what do you think encourages those moments?
TC You know the great thing about this is that we get to experience the aha moment over and over again. When did I know it was real? I knew we were going to do it the weekend that we came up with the idea, whilst on a road trip to Ithaca. We conceived of the idea on the way up, and spent the rest of the weekend in between meetings honing what it would look like, what to call it, and how in the world to get it started. Sure, it took WAY longer to actually get the site up and running (1 year, 3 months, and 22 days, to be exact), but I just knew we would make it work.
We had come up with two other ideas before this. The first was a canning shop, where we could teaching classes, and establish relationships with farmers to make use of their excess crops, and sell goods for people to preserve food at home. I joked that we could call it ‘Nice Cans’. But our lack of knowledge around the subject, the idea of having a hefty NYC rent, and a few days of making jam in July in my fourth story walk-up in 100 degree heat put an end to that idea relatively quickly.
A few months later, after a trip to our friend’s cheesemaking operation in the Hudson Valley, we thought ‘Let’s open a fresh dairy shop!’ You can’t walk a few blocks without hitting a cheese shop in NYC but nobody has a healthy supply of crème fraiche, cultured butter, fresh tangy yogurt and our favorite – ice cream – from local sources. If they do, it’s not a steady supply. But again, the lack of knowledge, danger of highly perishable inventory, and high start-up costs had us a little weary.
But surely we could do something to utilize our skills and make a difference.
When we started thinking about it, Good Food Jobs was perfect. Dorothy has a keen design eye, stellar writing skills, and interest in the environment, and I loved making food friends, had a whole host of crazy ideas about how to bring the community together, and had co-workers who jokingly called me a ‘life coach’.
But the beauty is that we keep having the aha moment: when we sat down with our now web developer (Efy from Webinhabit) and realized we could make it happen, when we finally bought the domain goodfoodjobs.com (which we had to pry from its original owner, located in the UK), when we posted the splash page that said ‘Coming Soon’, when – over the course of the summer of 2010 – we had 4,000 people sign up for our email newsletter via word of mouth alone, when we actually went live with the site in October 2010, when we got our first paid job (!), when we started paying ourselves a salary. And every single time someone sends us an email that says ‘thank you for doing this work that has inspired us’.
Those days feel good. When someone that you know says that they told someone about Good Food Jobs, and the person responded that they already know and love it. But we have 30,000 active members, and there are over 330 million people that live in this country alone. So we’ve got a long way to go.
But we’re pretty damn lucky, and we don’t forget it for one second.
2. A lot of folks we see with new and innovative good food businesses are exploring those places where friendship and business partnership meet. We like that you say your business plan was an excuse to spend a lot of time together. Can you tell us a little bit about that intersection for you guys.
TC: What we do would not be possible (for me, at least) without Dorothy. There are just certain things that would never get done (and even if they did, they would not get done nearly as well). A perfect example is our weekly newsletter. It’s such an important part of what we do, allowing us to reflect on the events of the week behind, or the weeks ahead, and provide meaningful insights and information to our readers. We think it’s a huge part of what we do, as it ascribes a personality to us and what we do, and helps to initiate conversations and let us show how much we truly care. Every week I write the newsletter, and every week Dorothy edits it. She might only changes a few words, or swap out a few sentences, or move things around so that they make more sense. But it is always infinitely better.
We are lucky. We used to live just a few short blocks away from each other, but shortly after we started the site I had the opportunity to move to Vermont. Although there are a few hundred miles between us we must correspond at least half a dozen times per day. The only thing that we have to work really hard at is to remember that work doesn’t replace friendship. We can go two weeks and have corresponded over a hundred times, and we still might not know what is happening in our ‘real lives’ because we’ve been bouncing web revisions, page designs, newsletter edits, and awesome email testimonials back and forth. It’s important to keep the balance.
A double rainbow looking over Taylor's garden in Greenboro, VT 2012
DN: I think that phrase about how working together can ruin a friendship has replayed vividly in my mind so many times, because it’s something you hear commonly and I was definitely afraid of taking that risk. My friendship with Taylor always felt so rewarding and solid, and I didn’t want to take that for granted. I don’t know if this would be true for everyone, but it has certainly been true for us that working together has made our relationship stronger, even when work sometimes takes precedence over friendship, or vice versa. Communication is key. As is the shared goal of something bigger than us.
3. What's your wildest dream for good food jobs? What would the perfect day look like?
TC: Oh boy. The goal of any business is to do so well at it that you make yourselves obsolete. If we help to revive the food culture in this country (and the world) so much that there is no need for an online vehicle for job searching in this field – because it’s so prevalent that people can just do it face to face without our help – then that will be a proud day for us.
DN: I think the perfect day is any day when we hear from people. Because inevitably we will get positive and negative feedback, and all of it helps us learn and gives us what we need to keep working. We’ll never be ‘done’ as long as people have something to say about what we’re doing.
a closer look at taylor's garden in greensboro, vt (taken july 2012); potato towers up front, followed by ten 5 x 10 foot double-dug beds
4. Do you have any metrics showing GFJ's usage and how it's grown? Reach? What are the factors that have gone towards this reach? (we'd love to hear a little about your advertising/marketing ethos and strategy.)
TC: We do! We’re not huge on numbers. I mean, we love numbers, but we care more about the qualitative analysis than the quantitative. But to give you an idea, we now have over 30,000 registered users. We send our weekly newsletter to over 24,000 people. We have posted over 6,500 jobs. And at any given time we have over 600 active jobs on the site now.
But someone wrote me an email today and in it she said, ‘You both offer inspiration and hope to people far and wide, and I have many MANY friends who have found new energy for their futures in food because of the work that you do for all of us.’ Those are the metrics that I use.
taylor, eating chocolate, surprise, surprise. february 2012
In regard to how we have grown . . . very organically. We only pay for advertising when we are trying to help the organization that is posting the ads (like a student-run gastronomy journal at Yale University, or in The Greenhorns Farmer’s Almanac), and have instead decided to devote our time, energy, and funds to get out there and meet people. When we were first launching we set up a ‘northeast college tour’, hitting up any colleges or universities that had a food studies program, or course, or Slow Food chapter, or organic farm. To this day we still get invitations to come back and address the students. For us, that $300 road trip was one of the best investments we ever made.
So thankfully our users do most of the work for us. We spend a lot of time curating and producing content that will be of interest to our community. And then they spread the word far and wide to people that they know / connect with, who have the same beliefs and interests as they do. We’re so fortunate for their faith in our work.
DN: The numbers always feel like a bit of a mystery to me, and because we don’t advertise on the site (which is part of our business model and mission statement) I like to think that we are not dependent on web traffic. But the truth is, of course, that in order for us to accomplish our greater goals, we DO need and want a lot of people visiting the site. Each week, we get between seven and twelve thousand unique visitors, and between sixty and eighty thousand page views.
5. Do you have a favorite moment or outcome that you'd like to share with our readers?
TC: Just recently we published a newsletter that was hard for us to write (http://us1.campaign-archive2.com/?u=99d1bf66dd5956720b2b5f22d&id=406d3c7989). It was on the subject of diversity, and told the story of our own battles realizing how we had unknowingly excluding a whole subset of the population by featuring a very specific subset of the population on our blog. The whole process was tough. We didn’t know what to write. We didn’t want to offend anyone. We didn’t want to seem insincere. But in the end we just told the truth. We imagine that in this circumstance most folks would think this ill-advised. After all, why would you want to draw attention to one of your flaws? But we have always prided ourselves on doing things differently. It’s almost never easy, but it’s always rewarding, and this case was no exception. We got so much positive response. And I don’t just mean people writing, ‘Oh you are so great.’ I mean real, genuine, positive response. People wrote in to thank us for opening up the conversation. They confessed to noticing this fault of ours and to feeling alienated. They responded with their stories of how this same issue had popped up in their work lives. They shared articles, and kind words, and made a deep connection. And that is why we love what we do.
a sample harvest from taylor's garden in greensboro, vt. september 2012
6. That's heavy. We give you props for tackling an issue that lots of folks have a hard time being comfortable with. We've seen y'all talk about stepping outside the comfort zone. We love that. Any advice for those trying to work the cutting edge of the local food economy and stay on top of what's coming next? 
TC: Do it. Just do it. Whatever it is. The idea doesn’t have to be perfect when you start. It will evolve over time. The important part is that you start the process.
And also, work on a farm for at least one season. Even though this might not be the direct line of work that you want to eventually do, it will inform the decisions that you make in your work and life in ways that you never expected. It’s the most worthwhile experience that I can think of.
DN: The whole concept of a ‘career’ is being completely redefined, across many industries. The best advice I hear is: work. Get some experience. It’s okay if it’s a lot of short-term, varied experiences. The great thing about all this change is that you don’t have to spend half your lifetime in order to prove yourself, only to find out that it isn’t what you wanted to do. A living that seemed cobbled together from many different part-time, freelance, short-term opportunities is no longer something to be pitied – it’s a new frontier, and it’s all about doing the work that sustains YOU. 
dorothy cooking in her brooklyn kitchen. 2010
A very very special word of thanks to Dorothy and Taylor for sharing so much with us. And thanks to you for joining us on this rad interview. We read GFJ all the time to see what's happening in the world of food. It's somehow reinforced (perhaps responsible for) this crazy idea we seem to have that "sustainable food system work" is a career path. Check out the GFJ blog here and we highly recommend liking them on facebook. And yeah, they're on twitter.We know heaps of you have good food jobs and are experiencing running businesses alongside friendships. What do you think? Has your experience been like theirs? Do you have questions for Dorothy and Taylor? We have a feeling they'd be open to follow-up, as long as it involves ice cream. 

1 comment:

  1. Kate, Lauren, and Meredith! You three are so great, and I'm so happy you're blogging! I didn't know about goodfoodjobs, but am happy I can refer folks to it now. Come visit/ I want to visit y'all. xox.