Flash forward to 2011. My how things have changed. Food is hot! Artisan and local foods have surfaced as a glowing consumer trend; there is a resurgence of small, sustainable, local agriculture; food security is becoming a household term and just look at Farm to School grow. And these six years later, with food in the spotlight, food jobs are also gaining ground. It's a terrific sign of the success of the food movement (for lack of a better term) and growing sense of awareness about what our food is and where it comes from. And sure, as a graduate student about to pop back into the 'real' world, it's comforting to know that your field of interest actually exists, and yes, there are jobs in that field.
After knowing food would be my career path, my struggle has been on choosing a specific field. I think it will be an endless battle between food policy (like improving school food or increasing opportunities for small farmers) or the actual field (as in a lush pasture grazed by livestock who's milk I can then turn into cheese). The good news is that opportunities abound for the grower and the policy maker, so people like me get to have their seasonal carrot cake with organic cream cheese frosting and eat it too!
So yes, my completely non-quantitative guestimations point in the direction of more job opportunities around food. I am sure I could wrangle some statistics about food-related jobs that would prove an increase, but that would just be too much work. Instead, I will go with the obvious: food job websites. I visit them everyday, and if it weren't for Sustainable Food Jobs and Good Food Jobs, I might have felt completely hopeless that my decision to go back to school for an advanced degree in 'food policy' was a grave and terrible mistake. Instead, each day I can pore over a list of organizations, hot restaurants and foodie start ups that want to hire someone just like me. It's like a dash of self-assurance every single day.
Sustainable Food Jobs, using a simple blog format, posts food and farming related job opportunities across the country. Any organization can submit a job posting and the positions listed range from farm apprenticeships to food writing to delivery persons to marketing specialists. SFJ posts jobs for free and advertised positions tend to have an agricultural bent, as opposed to a restaurant or foodie angle. Launched in 2009, the site was created by a recent college graduate with an interested in "sustainable food" who saw the need to collect job openings in one place. Three cheers to you and thank you for your work!
In 2010 the "gastro-job search tool" Good Food Jobs opened its internet doors, providing a community for "farmers and food artisans, policy makers and purveyors, retailers and restaurateurs, economists, ecologists, and more" to connect to valuable work with food. With a smooth aesthetic, a small fee to post job descriptions and a blog highlighting folks already working in the field, Good Food Jobs sends a nice message: look there are jobs and there are people succeeding at these jobs. Positions posted here tend to have a foodie flair (cheese mongers, wine aficionados and line cooks), although there is a fare share of food policy, farm apprentice and business-related openings too. At the very least, the growing number of posts each day helps reassure those of us who have chosen this avocation that we are moving in the right direction, with momentum to boot! [Sidenote: Reading business descriptions, restaurant names and position titles posted on Good Food Jobs is in itself a savory treat...Pie Lab, 'wichcraft & Little Gem Restaurant just to name a few].
Lastly, I would be remiss to exclude the amazing opportunities created by Food Corps as they hit the ground running this August. Food Corps, based on the AmeriCorps model of national service, is training young leaders in garden-based education, farm to school and sustainable agriculture (and so much more) to lead on-the-ground projects in ten states. Talk about amazing. Food sure has its day when it becomes the focus of a national service program. Check out their video below.
The best part about these websites, beyond the fact that they mark food as a valuable career path, is that they provide a wide range of options and show the connections between the diverse ends of the food world. I am grateful for this, to see postings for vegetable farm managers listed next to non-profit executive directors and all mixed in with the need for people to sell artisan chocolate and teach at school gardens. In some ways, it gives us all level footing as equal pieces in this puzzle that just may bring about a better world through food.
As for me, as soon as my academic-yearning self sat down in a chair in a classroom in Boston two years ago, I instantly wanted to be outside raising animals. Something about coming back to school (to satisfy that part of my brain wanting for policy, improving school food and figuring out how the world works) made me realize just how much I also need to satisfy that other half of my brain that craves raising food, constant physical exhaustion and waking up with a to-do list of chores longer than two people could attempt during one round of daylight hours. So it's a balance, and I am sure it always will be. But for now, I've just committed myself to a nice, long season on a goat farm: making cheese, mucking stalls, collecting eggs, milking goats, selling at the farmers' market and helping a small farmer grow her business. For now, the perfect mix of learning, doing, thinking and existing outside. But thank goodness all those other jobs are out there for when I swing back to a desire to sit at a desk and do a different kind of work.