Pattie Baker - Sustainability Writer and Project Manager at FoodShed Planet

[quote style=”boxed”]I would have volunteered more, starting at a younger age. I think I would have found my passions and strengths faster and been able to do “good” in a bigger way sooner. I didn’t realize how valuable, satisfying, and fun it is to volunteer; how diverse and talented the people I would meet would be; or how much my skills would expand and sharpen.[/quote]

Pattie Baker started as a marketing communications professional with global corporations, morphed into a full-time writer for corporate and editorial clients, and somewhere along the way became an advocate for sustainability close to home and around the world. Did 9/11 have something to do with it? Definitely. That’s when she decided that, if nothing else in this uncertain world, she would “plant a positive seed” and learn how to grow food for her daughters. Things somehow took off from there.

Baker proposed the formation of a sustainability commission when the metro-Atlanta community where she lives became the newest city in the United States, and she was appointed by the mayor to lead the commission. She served on the steering committee of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan for that city, and ensured that principles of sustainability were built into it. She helped start the first community garden in her city, advocating for it to include a significant commitment to the local food pantry right from the get-go. She helped start or revived numerous other food-growing gardens at schools (including one for refugee children-of-war), places of worship, community centers, and even at a food pantry itself, all with a commitment to helping those in need of food, knowledge, and community. She created innovative fundraising programs that exceeded goals, while building and leading strong, committed teams along the way.

The important part? Baker developed these projects to be scalable and consistently documented them on her six-year-old blog, FoodShed Planet, in regional and national publications such as Urban Farm magazine, on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution site, and on Better World Books’ blog so that anyone anywhere could glean ideas and be inspired to make a difference where they live as well. She calls it “local action/global traction.” With a Klout score of 53 and thousands of daily blog visitors from all over the world, Baker considers using social media tools to be a powerful way to transcend geographical parameters to make a bigger impact–and a particularly effective way to achieve work/family/passion-project balance.

Baker was featured in O: The Oprah Magazine (11/11) in an article about people with passion, and she creative-directed and wrote a book named Food for My Daughters: what one mom decided to do when the towers fell (and what you can do, too), which received a rave review from Global Green Living Expert Sara Snow. Baker believes her ability to make a measurable difference in the world has only just begun and looks forward to leveraging greater resources, creating bigger partnerships, and connecting more people “for good.”

What are you working on right now?

I continue to write globally-available articles, and I serve as the first national Change Agent for Better World Books (which is a certified B-Corp), where I am pilot-testing their national-roll-out sales support materials for Change Agents. What’s more, I am ensuring that all my current “passion projects” have sustainable leadership so that I can hear and heed my next calling on this joy-based journey. Having recently finished up writing a year-long daily corporate blog that leaned heavily “green,” I am specifically looking for the right marketing communications intrapreneurial or leadership opportunity with a corporation or non-profit in metro-Atlanta that is committed to doing good worldwide.

Where did the idea for FoodShed Planet come from?

The initial intent of FoodShed Planet was to simply share what I was learning about a food system gone haywire. It went on to become a broader-based space where I could share detailed research, first-person experiences, interviews with industry leaders, reviews about books and movies, and more, relating to all aspects of sustainability.  I attempted to learn basic knowledge that has skipped not one but two generations, to make sense out of a rapidly changing world, and to create my unique place in it.

What does your typical day look like?

Wake up is at 4 AM. I work on “passion projects” (usually new ideas). I feed the family. I write for clients. I conduct interviews via phone. Do hands-on site-surveys and research for upcoming articles or projects. This can mean taking a beekeeping class, touring a coffee roastery, or teaching myself how to cut wine bottles. (Learning to cut wine bottles took me a good solid month until I was able to accomplish that cleanly, but then went on to enable one of my favorite fundraisers ever, “Wine and Dine”Bottle Garden”.)

I connect with people online and off about articles and projects. I swing all over metro-Atlanta to scratch my curiosity itch (“I wonder how that veggie garden at the children’s hospital is doing . . .”) I drag friends or colleagues along on what they call my “outings.” I harvest from my garden and cook dinner. I read (non-fiction, usually related to something I’m writing). I spend time with my family. I check on the hamster. Okay, that’s getting too detailed now, isn’t it? (The hamster’s favorite food is bok choy from the garden, in case anyone cares.)

How do you bring ideas to life?

I get ideas that just burn inside me. (Seriously. I have a few of them right now.) I trust my gut completely, and I know that if I’m feeling that desire to try something new, there is a reason. I know I don’t need all the answers before I start–in fact, I only need the question. And the question always starts the same: “What if . . .?” In fact, that’s often the subject line of my emails to potential team members when one of these ideas happen.

I invite people along, and we have fun, and the energy grows. It’s really just as simple as that. I accept that many ideas won’t work, but the findings will inform us in a way that will be useful down the road on some other idea. As time goes on, we’re getting more efficient at bringing ideas to life. I strongly believe “fun” is the critical ingredient. Really, that can’t be stressed enough. Fun matters.  The other things that matter? Path and pace. If we’re not having fun, the path or the pace is not right. The idea in question may need more time to percolate.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I really like social media in general. It has enabled me to accomplish so many things and tap into what many other people are doing all over the world while still achieving balance in my life. I am looking forward to discovering more and more ways it can be put to work “for good.” And, of course, I obviously love how people are rallying around the multifaceted opportunities of re-localizing our food supply.

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

I got this job one year, starting on New Year’s Day, delivering those little Pennysaver newspapers–you know the ones I mean? The free ones that had ads in them? This was in the 70’s. Anyway, I had to bag hundreds of them and then deliver them, making sure I hung them on the front doorknobs of each home on my route. I delivered only on Sunday mornings and had to have my route completed by something like 9 AM. I lived on Long Island in New York and I truly believe it snowed every day that winter, which meant the stoops I had to go up (we called them stoops, not steps) were often covered with ice and snow, especially early in the morning. Oh, and I delivered the papers in a shopping cart, which was very, very hard to push in the snow. And did I mention I was maybe 12 years old? This was a hard job (mucking the stalls at a stable and running the wheelbarrow up a huge ramp to dump it, all for 8 dollars a day, turned out to be harder, but that was years away yet).

Anyway, so I was trudging along, pushing my shopping cart and pretty much hating it when all of a sudden I saw bird tracks in the fresh, white snow. I smelled bacon and coffee. I heard the gentle tinkling of a wind chime, and the sun was shining. I was on my own schedule, the air was crisp, and I suddenly felt that this wasn’t a bad job at all–in fact, I felt like it might actually be the best job in the world. I have loved having freedom to determine the best way to reach my goals, and working outdoors in the early morning, ever since. And I learned how to find the simple, beautiful moments in every job I’ve ever had. That job, while challenging, was a real gift.

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

I would have volunteered more, starting at a younger age. I think I would have found my passions and strengths faster and been able to do “good” in a bigger way sooner. I didn’t realize how valuable, satisfying, and fun it is to volunteer; how diverse and talented the people I would meet would be; or how much my skills would expand and sharpen.

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

I imagine the goal first, and then I back-track to find the way to make it happen. And I absolutely, irrevocably trust the journey. The world conspires in our favor when we dare to dream, in ways we cannot even imagine.

What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Losing a big client has a large impact on my small business. I have tried over the years to not let any one client be more than 50% of my business. I would strongly recommend this to others.

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

I really like the idea of a non-profit-related micro-enterprise to grow fresh ingredients for artisan products (such as mint for mint chocolate chip ice cream), with a portion of profits going to the students or non-profit (or a collective–crowdsourced mint? Why not?). I think a project like this would be fun, would engage cause-marketing-focused consumers (which, studies show, is the overwhelming majority of people, especially in our younger generations), and would literally change lives. The Mint Project. Returning Communities to Mint Condition, One Pint at a Time. You see? I’m already working on the marketing. And, yes, if you must know, I’ve already planted some “test patches” of mint around metro-Atlanta, and am noodling around on a blog–this is one of those 4 AM passion projects!

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

Transparency in labeling. I just want to have as much info as possible about everything so I can make informed purchase decisions. I already go about it by voting with my dollar for the companies and products in which I believe.

Tell us a secret.

I was named editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper, but a week before school started I gagged and quit the newspaper. I was scared out of my mind and I felt like I was in over my head, and I had not yet learned to ask for help and to use my resources. I never even reached out to my parents. I have few regrets in life, but this is one of them. However, I often think of that girl when I take on new things and I think she would now be proud of me.

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

I love Twitter–it’s fast news, and I like being able to follow whomever I want. I love Pinterest–I am very visually-oriented so it communicates a lot of info to me in a very pleasing way. And, frankly, I’m happy as a clam when I’m blogging. I know I’m supposed to say WordPress is better, but I still prefer Blogger (my first of many blogs was named Stone in the Pond), probably because that’s where I started and it feels like “home” to me.

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

This is an easy question. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, without a doubt. It made a huge impact on me. I even wrote about it in a guest blog on Better World Books. My favorite line from the book is when Jobs is told that the gorilla glass is impossible and he says, “Get your head around it.” I find I say that to myself all the time now.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

In general, I think Twitter works best when you tailor who you follow to your own interests and goals, so it’s hard to make recommendations for others.

However, I can give a blanket recommendation for Betty Londergan @blondergan. She is the Global Blogging Ambassador for Heifer International and is traveling all over the world and writing about it.  She is a fantastic writer and gifted photographer, and brings fresh eyes to everything she experiences.

Also, you can’t really go wrong with the Dalai Lama, can you? @DalaiLama. He tweets things like “We must recognize the great capacity we all have within.”

Third one? I think Ruth Reichl does a beautiful, Haiku-like job with Twitter, and it’s nice to have such a life-affirming sentiment to start the day. Plus, I miss her industry influence ever since Gourmet folded–she was publishing some beautiful articles about urban agriculture, and I would have loved to have written for her. @ruthreichl.

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

This morning. My husband made me laugh out loud really hard. We try to protect our privacy (this from a blogger!) so we hadn’t given our phone number out when we purchased a clothes dryer that was being delivered this morning. We realized, however, that we didn’t get the “call” that would say what time the machine would be delivered. He said, “We were hoist by our own petard!” which is this ongoing funny refrain we’ve been using throughout our 22-year marriage, it seems.

Who is your hero?

I’m going with two women and one man for this question. Betty Londergan (mentioned above) and “Farmer Sue” Shaw of the Art Barn at Morning Glory Farm. These women are following their passions, having fun, and changing the world while being kind, funny, and generous along the way. I am very grateful to call them my friends, and I hope to be able to conduct myself with as much grace as they do as I greet my next set of challenges and opportunities.

Oh, and the man? I just finished reading the 600-page book by Walter Isaacson about Albert Einstein and I believe that brilliant man truly trusted–and enjoyed–the journey. My favorite quote of his is: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” May there always be those among us who imagine the impossible–and then make it happen.

What are the three most important qualities you look for when choosing a team member?

Positive attitude, dependability, and kindness. You know what? Just make that kindness. All the other things follow when people are kind. And I do think it comes down to kindness in this world.

What accomplishment makes you proudest?

Truth? I still can’t believe I taught myself to ride that unicycle for my 40th birthday. That’s when I learned how persistent I truly am. Recently, I really loved how my book turned out, especially because it is a gift for my daughters for when they are mothers themselves, plus I think others will find it helpful as well. I had forgotten how much I loved project-managing something of that scale, so it opened some new doors of possibility for me as I look to build a bridge to an increasingly-global future for myself. (By the way, you can find out the six things I learned while unicycling on pages 228-229 of my book!)


Easiest way to connect with me is to go to Links to everything else are there.
Pattie Baker on Twitter: @PattieBaker