If you’re reading this blog, you likely know that food-related jobs today are no longer confined to restaurants, food production, food service, farms, and farmers markets. They’re found in school gardens, college food studies programs, meal delivery businesses like Blue Apron, nonprofit organizations, and elsewhere.
Just as the range of potential opportunities is expanding, so are the avenues leading to them.
One such avenue is Good Food Jobs (GFJ), founded by friends Taylor Cocalis (left) and Dorothy Neagle (right), who met when they were students at Cornell University. As of June 7, 2017, the website’s counter reports that 37,987 jobs have been posted since GFJ was founded seven years ago. On this day, the openings range from a staff butcher at a Brooklyn specialty grocery and a nutrition director at a North Carolina preparatory public school to an orchard manager for an upstate New York craft hard cider company and a human rights investigator for an organization that advocates for farmworkers in Florida’s tomato industry.
Their website describes GFJ as “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. On our blog—The Gastrognomes—we profile the most interesting and unlikely food professionals that we find and publish their stories to inspire you.”
Curious to know more, I contacted GFJ and recently had a conversation with Dorothy about how Good Food Jobs came to be, who uses it, and more. I knew from the website that she’d grown up on a small farm in Kentucky and was ready to escape rural life when she left home for Cornell University, where a master’s degree in design led her to work in interior design in NYC. Taylor had studied hospitality management at Cornell, then completed a master’s in food culture at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Parma, Italy, and then landed in NYC, later running the education department at Murray’s Cheese.
Question: Where did the idea for GFJ come from?
Answer: Taylor and I had become such good friends after we met. You don’t always find people who enjoy food in so much the same way, and the unique ways you connect with food. So we talked about starting a business to be able to continue our friendship. Several years after college, I realized I yearned for more opportunities to work with people directly and to find a way to contribute to environmental conservation and sustainability. Taylor and I thought about a brick-and-mortar shop, but we knew there would be more risk. With an online business, there would be no expiration dates or a big need for capital, and I could use my design background.
The idea for GFJ came from Taylor. While she was at Murray’s Cheese, people would come in from their jobs in all kinds of fields and take a class because of their passion for some aspect of food or drink. They would say to her, “I’d love to work in food, but how can I do it?” And people called her from both sides—people needing a job and people needing to fill a job. Sometimes she would suggest to them that they start a website much like the one we then decided to do ourselves.
Q: How was Good Food Jobs launched and how has it grown?
A: It started as an idea in 2009 and we launched it in 2010. We started Good Food Jobs because we knew others like us also wanted something that didn’t look like success in a traditional way. The need was there, and we just stepped into it.
Today we have almost 95,000 active users (including 55,000 subscribers to our weekly newsletter) from all over the country and beyond. We’ve grown primarily by word of mouth. We’ve done very little advertising. In the beginning, we made trips to local colleges with gastronomy or environmental courses, and we did some events in New York and California, but today we’re both more rooted now that we have young children and Taylor now has a second business, running a small brewery with her husband. She and I run GFJ from our home offices—hers in the Hudson Valley and mine in Westchester County.
Q: With an online business, how do you manage to connect with GFJ readers?
A: It’s hard because we don’t have a lot of opportunities to connect with people face-to-face. Yet we hear from folks every day. We want people to contact us and we answer all our emails. When we used to do events, we met with a lot of students and a lot of career changers looking to transition.
Q: Looking at your website, I see 1,260 jobs—full and part-time—plus internships, volunteer gigs, and remote jobs posted on GFJ today. Who’s using Good Food Jobs to post or hunt for jobs?
A: When people think about food, they think of chefs and waiting tables. We have eight searchable job categories including media, education, nonprofit, agriculture, and more. GFJ is meant to send the message that all food jobs are not culinary. Anyone with a unique skill set and a passion for food can find something. A lot of people are starting businesses too—the world seems more open to small startups. And opportunities are so wide open now, including those related to environment and issues like local food, food deserts, and hunger. Employers pay to list their positions; job seekers do not pay.
Q: I also see several other interesting sections on GFJ, such as one with profiles of food professionals who found their positions through Good Food Jobs, as well as another listing educational resources such as colleges, farms, and other programs offering a wide range of opportunities and credentials in areas as disparate as pastry arts and permaculture. Who knew there were so many programs?
A: We like to encourage experimentation and advise that people consider taking classes, working in a farmers market, spending a summer on a farm, or doing informational interviews. Every experience you have you can learn something from and take it into your next steps.
Q: Finally, what is it about food that draws you and Taylor and all the people who use GFJ to do work that has a connection to food?
A: We believe that food is the perfect outlet for fulfilling employment because of its potential impact on culture, economics, and the environment.
About the author: Martha Wagner is a Portland, Oregon-based food and health writer, gardener, and passionate advocate for sustainable living, wellness, and organic agriculture.
Photos courtesy of Good Food Jobs; top to bottom: Taylor and Dorothy by Lise Metzger, http://groundedwomen.