In one year I went from thinking I should be making documentaries to crowdfunding my way on board a train across the country to create a series of them.
April 2014. Chicago. The Purple Pig.
The Purple Pig is one of those places that doesn’t post its menu prices on its website. It’s not a place where you find yourself at 2 p.m. on a weekday with a journalist’s salary unless you were me, someone who was in a quarter-life crisis and didn’t know it.
I was meeting with a former professor of mine, someone who has come to be a mentor to me. I had meant for the conversation to be a chance to catch up. But as are most meetings with your mentors, it turned out to be about life instead.
“Purpose” was our topic of conversation, in particular, what mine would be. This was not a new subject for us, as she had helped me figure out my senior year of college whether I would move with my friends to NYC to pursue acting, or continue down the path of journalism. Ultimately, I picked the latter, and was working as a Capitol Hill reporter in Washington, D.C.
“Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?”
I thought about it for a moment. “Eventually I’d like to move into documentary work. I want to be telling stories that inspire people to act.”
She looked at me. “Why can’t you do that now?”
I can’t remember now how I responded, but her question stuck with me.
August 2014. Wisconsin. My Grandpa’s House.
My parents taught me to love learning. I enjoyed and thrived in school, and most of the family vacations I can remember consisted of nature hikes or visits to museums where we would be taught about the life and art in front of us.
It was on a family vacation that I realized I had stopped learning. And with it, I had stopped loving what I was doing.
During the course of the trip, my Instagram became a place where I recorded stories from my family history. That history includes an apple pie, a recipe handed down from my Great Grandmother Clara, which my dad and I baked for my grandpa while we were visiting.
I wrote a blog post about a stop on the trip too, a little story about a really cool brewery in Milwaukee that is providing jobs and studio space to local artists. The post reminded me of the work I had been doing as a metro reporter and multimedia journalist at the Indianapolis Star.
That was when it clicked. I remembered my mentor’s words in Chicago. And I knew it was time to make a change.
October 2014. Washington, D.C. Green Buzz Agency.
I went to a team of rockstar video production professionals who were producing compelling documentary style content because I wanted to learn from the best. And I got lucky in the job search because it turns out they wanted to work with me too.
It was my first week at my new job. I was pulling together sound bites from interviews for a video about Fulbright students and I saw a note at the bottom of a piece of paper that said “MTP.”
I Googled it. I clicked on the link to the website for the “Millennial Trains Project” and watched a few videos about the program. I read some of the past projects from previous train journeys and I knew immediately what my project would be.
I don’t know how I knew exactly what I wanted to do, or even why I felt compelled to be a part of the train trip. I think in a way, the project is a complete expression of myself, and to see the train trip as an open door was what allowed me to see that on the other side, there was a story I had to tell. I have always been interested in creating a show that explores the heart of American cooking, what makes our cuisine different from the dishes of other cultures that have found their way onto our tables. Over Labor Day Weekend, I had visited a friend from college who now lives in Cincinnati, and we explored some of the innovative new restaurants that are defining the city’s food identity and part of America’s culinary revolution. It struck me how people came from all over to try the food of a restaurant located in a neighborhood that struggled with food security. And I think all of that came to mind when I saw the opportunity to get on a train and tell this story, the story of the future of American communities and the food we eat.
I remember my heart racing, as it tends to do when I get excited about discovering something. I had to apply for the upcoming trip and I had to do it soon–crowdfunding for the May 2015 trip would begin in less than two weeks.
What followed instead was a month of self-doubt. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it, it was that I couldn’t convince myself that it was worth it to put myself out there and ask people to contribute. The thought crossed my mind many times that I could very publicly fall flat on my face if I didn’t reach my crowdfunding goal. I stalled, knowing I was falling behind as others launched their fundraising campaigns for their projects.
What ultimately caused me to embark on this journey was again the advice of someone else.
“Would you regret missing the chance to do something you love even if you end up failing?”
And I knew that the answer was yes.
See the Indiegogo Page for “The Great American Cooking Story” Here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-great-american-cooking-story
February 2015. Washington, D.C. The Arsenal.
I had a huge amount of support from friends, family, acquaintances and colleagues when I launched my campaign–many of whom are reading this now. Thank you to all of my donors, who brought the project momentum at a critical time.
To get to $5,000 quickly, I needed a big, lump sum investment. So I sought out the sponsorship of an organization who had an interest in my subject matter, and in reaching a Millennial audience with stories about food, hunger, revitalization and community. I offered logo placement in the credits for a donation of $1,000 or more.
I spent hours at night and on weekends drafting funding proposals and sending emails to major grocery stores, restaurant groups, hunger nonprofits, gentrification organizations and more. If there was even a chance they’d be interested in my project, I reached out.
After a few weeks and a handful of phone calls, Tyson Foods came on board. They helped me reach the rest of my goal and they’ll help promote the series once I’ve completed it.
And with that, I was set, celebrating with friends in the middle of a D.C. blizzard in the restaurant where I shot my pitch video.
May 2015. The American South. A Train.
This is the part that has yet to be written. In just over one week I’ll be on my way to Los Angeles, the city where the train journey begins. I would not be here without all of the support of the people who have not only believed in this project, but who have encouraged me to pursue it.
Thank you, to everyone who has had an impact on me, and to everyone who donated. I can’t wait for you to see what comes next.