In 2004, friends Dorothy Neagle and Taylor Cocalis Suazez created Good Food Jobs, an innovative “gastro-job” search tool, with the compelling tagline “satisfying the hunger for meaningful work.” The site offers a highly personalized support system to both employers and job seekers in every aspect of the food industry – from agriculture to education. We spoke to Dorothy Neagle, one half of Good Food Jobs, about taking a stand against unpaid internships, the vulnerability associated with job-hunting, and revolution in the food industry.
Good Food Jobs is a two-woman show. The co-founders are not only good friends but also ice-cream aficionados.
INHABITAT: At first glance, Good Food Jobs is a job site where people can post and find work opportunities involving food (whether it be service, production or other) in some way. Yet it is also much more than that. Can you describe the mission behind the endeavor?
DOROTHY: When we started Good Food Jobs, we were creating something that we ourselves had a need for: a one-stop-shop for job opportunities that were not just related to food but were also personally fulfilling. One of our fundamental goals was to expand awareness around what a good food job was, and how working in the food industry went beyond the kitchen – that’s why we created eight categories for the jobs (Agriculture, Business, Culinary, Education, Media, Nonprofit, Production, and Other).
INHABITAT: What is each of your own career trajectories? How did food, design, and values-driven initiatives intersect in each of your own paths?
DOROTHY: My background is in Interior Design, and I spent my early years out of university working for an architecture firm in New York City. But I had a secondary goal in life that began to creep forward over time, a strong desire to merge environmental activism with my daily work. I quickly became unsatisfied with the client-driven goals of working in design and architecture, and I turned to food because agriculture and food culture are inherently planet-driven. Having met Taylor while studying at Cornell, we ultimately put our heads together and took the leap to start GFJ.
INHABITAT: We are in an era where both the traditional workplace and the expectations of workers are changing (seeking meaningfulness in what they do, flexibility, user-friendly and collaborative, open workspaces, for example). How is Good Food Jobs disrupting the traditional job listings site and offering members (who sign up for free) more?
DOROTHY: Good Food Jobs is a community space. When people find us through word-of-mouth or Google searching, they often remark that they feel as if they’ve been welcomed by something they had always yearned for but didn’t know existed. We personally answer every email in our business inbox, and we frequently catch typos and errors in job postings because we’re personally reviewing each one before we publish. We also took a stand against unpaid internships in 2014 (we no longer post them) and this year we’ve required that all employers be more transparent about the wages offered in their jobs. We make these changes incrementally as a result of feedback from our users.
INHABITAT: GFJ primarily serves not only job-seekers, but also companies, institutions, restaurants and farms – to name a few. When it comes to the website design, imagery, newsletters and social media channels of GFJ, how do you reach and engage your target demographic?
DOROTHY: I’m not sure what our target demographic is…human beings? Since we’ve never conducted a formal PR campaign, or placed more than an occasional advertisement, we rely on human connection to help us spread the word organically. Our daily work is basically customer service, and we take it very seriously (but not too seriously). When GFJ resonates with people, it’s because we’re identifying and opening up real conversation about some of our most vulnerable human experiences – and what makes you feel more vulnerable than looking for a job?
INHABITAT: There is the perception that a GFJ job applicant likely exhibits a certain set of qualities and values. Can you speak more about your mission and your definition of a “good food job” – “a pursuit involving the efforts to nourish one’s own life, and the lives of others?”
DOROTHY: Our tag line really says it all: satisfying the hunger for meaningful work. When you feel compelled to align your daily life with your deepest need for connection and fulfillment, it’s either because you are personally craving that change, or you experienced an event or situation or interaction outside of yourself that prompted the craving. Either way, doing work that is helpful to your own mind and body and spirit is inherently helpful to the mind and body and spirit of others, and vice versa. GFJ recognizes and acknowledges that need, and hopefully provides some possible avenues for meeting it.
Good Food Jobs features weekly “Words of Wisdom” in its newsletters, which are downloadable via the Good Food Jobs site.
INHABITAT: GFJ posts jobs from around the country and even international postings. How do you work with employers that are looking to find, via GFJ, talent with not only specific skills but maybe also a certain mindset or approach?
DOROTHY: Our job posting form has built-in advice for crafting a job description that will help you to reach the kind of folks that are truly passionate and love – or want to love – what they do for a living. We offer free trials and discounted job packages, as well as standard discounts for nonprofits, small farms, and other budget-challenged businesses. We’re constantly striving to bridge the employer/employee divide by offering honest, supportive advice.
INHABITAT: In recent years, in the United States there has been a huge interest in how things are made, by who, where, and by what standards-whether it be what we eat, or the textiles that we wear against our skin. Magazines like Kinfolk, Good Food Jobs, “artisanal” shops, the campaign Small Business Saturday-all seem to speak to this growing nationwide interest. What is your take on this, and how do you see this evolving, not only in places like Brooklyn, but in small towns and cities across the country?
DOROTHY: I think it’s fantastic. It comes from a real place. Many businesses will jump on the marketing bandwagon, and try to ‘identify the trends’ and adjust their ‘branding’, and that can feel false at times. But regardless of the motive for increasing the sustainability of the products that affect our daily lives, the end result is positive change. I don’t have a crystal ball, but it’s my hope that establishing these kinds of practices will become habitual, and create a new standard of quality that we all strive for and come to expect.
INHABITAT: What are some recent trends you see in the fields of agriculture and the service industry?
DOROTHY: There’s an increasing need that we continue to encounter, and that is for respect and courtesy on all sides of the hiring process, in spite of the shortcuts that technology affords. I also see a tremendous opportunity to create healthier, more supportive work environments, especially with service-oriented positions that have traditionally been viewed as entry level or low/no-skill. Educating our employees through their daily work, and recognizing that we can learn from them, as well, is the key to continued growth. Agricultural work continues to be a growing field, and there are now so many more ways to get involved in fresh, local food – from urban farms to grocery delivery services to creating links between farms and restaurants, it hasn’t even begun to answer the demand that exists.
INHABITAT: At a time of rapid change in the country, how do you think this will impact how we grow, market and enjoy our food?
DOROTHY: It’s really hard to say, but I can tell you that in spite of the change swirling around us, our focus at GFJ remains the same: bringing people together around the shared hunger for meaningful work. I think that what we all hold constant in uncertain times is what will ultimately make the biggest personal and professional impact.
Photos courtesy of Good Food Jobs
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.