Jessie Johnson – Founder of The Sustainable Seafood Blog Project

[quote style=”boxed”]Everyone is an expert on something – find the people who know what you need to know and ask for their help! Your organization will be stronger for it.[/quote]

Jessie Johnson is the Founder of The Sustainable Seafood Blog Project (SSBP), which brings food bloggers together in a conversation about sustainable fishing practices. She also maintains a personal food blog called Life As A Strawberry and works as a professional graphic designer.

Jessie graduated with Honors from Knox College and is working on her MPA at Cornell University. Her research focuses on food security, sustainability, and the social impact of cooking.

What are you working on right now?

The biggest projects right now are finalizing the Sustainable Seafood Blog Project’s new website design and finishing an e-book draft. The SSBP is about to initiate a new class of blogger partners – which basically just means a group of bloggers launch their SSBP-related posts on the same day – so I’m also working on coordinating that with all of our new Partners.

Where did the idea for The Sustainable Seafood Blog Project come from?

I wanted to use my personal food blog, Life As A Strawberry, as a platform to talk about food systems, because all of my graduate research is focused on food. I noticed that no one else was using their blog to talk about food in an academic or inquisitive style – there were thousands of food bloggers out there talking about food every day without addressing where it came from or what its importance was. I saw an opportunity to bring together a group of bloggers committed to sustainability and start a conversation about our food system on an enormous stage. I think people often forget about food bloggers or write them off – but collectively, we reach millions of readers each day. I wanted to use that untapped resource to spread a message of sustainability.

What does your typical day look like?

There really isn’t a “typical day” when you’re working in the world of food blogs. I spend time each day on social media for both my own blog and the Sustainable Seafood Blog Project, and I also spend an hour or two tracking down potential new partners for the Project and communicating with our existing partners about ideas for growth.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’ll start out making a really organized list, but I’ll end up scribbling all over everything and drawing arrows from one idea to another until I have a totally illegible kind of “idea map.” When I hit that stage is when the idea seems fully formed to me. Then I call my mom. She’s like me, very detail-oriented, so I like knowing she can help me hash out all the little pieces that have to come together to make the big picture work. If we lived closer we would totally start a business together.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I’ve seen a few companies that are dedicated to helping start-ups. Some will charge you a monthly fee for use of office space, mailboxes, equipment – all the things that could be hard to get ahold of if you’re starting a business on a low budget. I saw one place where you could reserve office space two days a week and still attend seminars run by experienced entrepreneurs – if I lived there I would definitely be taking advantage of that!

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I wouldn’t say I’ve had a “worst” job – but I’ve definitely had a lot of weird ones. I packed textbooks at a shipping warehouse for a few summers, for example, and I’ve also worked at a farmer’s market, as a tour guide, and as a music library catalog-er. I think what defines whether a job is good or terrible is the atmosphere you work in – many “boring” jobs have had great coworkers, but jobs that look the best on paper were sometimes disappointing because I worked with people who couldn’t accept new ideas.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would have spent more time on the SSBP naming and web development process. The site we started with was a piggyback on my personal blog, because we didn’t have the money for a dedicated domain name and hosting right away. But in hindsight, I would have liked to launch the Project in its final form, rather than having to develop a stand-in site and then go back and re-do everything when we could get our own domain. Fortunately, the stand-in site didn’t seem to impair the project’s growth. But I’m excited to have our own web space now!

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Ask for help! When I’m attacking something that I don’t have experience with, I call everyone I know who’s good at it and ask for tips. I’ll also spend hours and hours online researching things like business plans, media kits, or web design until I have enough of a handle on something to move forward with it for my own organization. Everyone is an expert on something – find the people who know what you need to know and ask for their help! Your organization will be stronger for it.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I had no experience with web design when I started my blog. It wasn’t a “failure,” but it was definitely a setback. I taught myself how to code by asking people who were good at it to teach me and by taking some free online courses like the ones at Codecademy.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’ve always wanted to start an iced tea bar. I’d let people choose their tea, brew it right there, and shake it over ice like a cocktail. I’d also serve snacks. Because snacks are the best.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I would make sure every American had access to fresh, nutritious food. I’d do a total overhaul of the SNAP and school lunch programs and start free cooking classes in communities across the country.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I was in a Disney Commercial for Fantasia 2000 when I was 11.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

Twitter, because it’s an amazing way to network with people in your field and to get snippets of information from social media experts, similar businesses, or publications. It helps me stay up-to-date on things without having to spend hours of my day looking over long articles.
HARO (Help A Reporter Out) is another great website. It sends you daily emails from reporters seeking sources for different articles, and if you fit the profile someone is looking for it can be a chance to get some free publicity for your business.
Screenfly is a recent discovery, but as someone whose business is done primarily online, it’s an invaluable tool to make sure all of my websites are working properly. You can test your website at different resolutions all from their website, and preview how your site looks on any device. I only have Apple products, so it’s helpful for me to see what my Android or Nexus visitors see and make changes accordingly.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

My dad gave me a copy of Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. I loved it. They investigate which types of changes are easy to make vs. those that are hard to make (and why!), and they draw on some really interesting studies. I highly recommend it.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

I like @michaelpollan and @PlaceAtTheTable because they make sure I’m in the food loop everyday. I don’t have time to read through all of the great food writing that comes out each morning, so I can count on those two to hit the highlights. I also like @Vocus for their social media expertise – it’s important to be well-versed in social media as a blogger and they take a lot of the guesswork out of it.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

I actually don’t remember what caused it! But I know I laughed this morning. Hopefully it was at something funny and not just out of sleep deprivation. It’s always a toss-up.

Who is your hero?

I don’t know that I have a hero, but there are a lot of people I admire. Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, and Tom Colicchio are all doing great things to educate people about hunger, food security, and food systems right now. Also, my parents have always been incredibly supportive of my goals and ideas – I couldn’t do what I do without them.

How do you find time to manage the Sustainable Seafood Blog Project when you have other projects, too?

I make a lot of lists. I’m very methodical. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re busy, so I find that making a very specific list and attacking one thing at a time makes the work seem less daunting and helps keep me on track. Even when I’m not crazy busy, I always have post it lists covering my desk! It keeps my goals visible so I can stay focused.

So you’re a food blogger. What’s your favorite restaurant?

It depends on what city I’m in. In Portland, I love Gravy, Higgins, and Hopworks Urban Brewery (and about a thousand others). In Chicago, I love Little Goat Diner and Gino’s East (gotta get that deep dish!). I’m still exploring the restaurant scene in Ithaca, but I’ve enjoyed everything we’ve had here so far!

Seafood Blog on Twitter: @seafoodblogproj
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Email: [email protected]
Jessie Johnson on LinkedIn:
Jessie Johnson on Twitter: @lifeastrawberry
Jessie’s Personal Blog: