September 12, 2011
This month as we celebrate our third anniversary, it’s the perfect opportunity to converse with AFE alum and The Friedman Sprout’s founder, Amy Scheuerman.
by Rachel Perez
Amy graduated in 2010 from the Agriculture Food and Environment program with a concentration in Nutrition Communications. While at Friedman, Amy wrote for Edible Boston magazine, interned with Mass Farmers Markets, and created The Sprout. She now works in the New Media department at America’s Test Kitchen, a multi-media company that produces several TV shows and authors well-known Cook’s Illustrated magazine. She also consults for the Culinary Guild of New England, a Boston non-profit organization for culinary professionals.
What sparked your interest in food writing and agriculture?
Growing up, one of the ways my father and I connected was through cooking. I also enjoyed writing for my high school and college newspapers, but it didn’t immediately occur to me to combine those two passions.
My interest in agriculture came when I moved away from farm-free Key West to North Carolina for college and discovered farmers’ markets. I loved chatting with the farmers. Their work struck me as much more real than other professions. My friends and I created art, advertising campaigns, and computer programs…these people created food.
I started blogging about the farmers I met and the meals I made with their harvests. Eventually, I decided quit my job (I was working as an environmental chemist of all things) and learn about it from the ground up. I immersed myself in food, working on an organic farm. Then I came to Friedman.
Why did you choose the AFE program?
It was hard to pick between the AFE, FPAN, and Nut Comm programs. After speaking with FPAN students, it seemed internationally focused, and I gravitate towards domestic issues. I felt a strong background in agriculture would suit me more than one in food policy. AFE students are required to complete a concentration, I chose nutrition communication to balance my two interests.
After one year at Friedman, what sparked the idea of a student newspaper?
During classes, we discussed influencing the public to eat healthfully, or understand farmer’s perspectives. I thought I could make an impact by writing about food, farming, and sustainability.
I did a dual summer internship with Edible Boston and Mass Farmers Markets. I enjoyed the communications work involved in each job, and wondered why we didn’t have anything like this at Friedman? With a large enough student body interested in nutrition and sustainable food, we should have an outlet for all those people to build their communications portfolios. So I called fellow student bloggers I knew and said, “Let’s meet and see if we can start a newspaper.”
How has The Sprout experience contributed to your current jobs at the Culinary Guild and America’s Test Kitchen?
The Culinary Guild of New England is spread out, so there’s no physical location. My role in The Sprout required leading people with different agendas, and putting their different ideas together. This has been invaluable for working with a decentralized non-profit organization. For America’s Test Kitchen, The Sprout taught me constructive editing; Not just changing what someone says, but getting them to understand why.
How did you score jobs at America’s Test Kitchen and the Culinary Guild of New England?
Networking! After graduation I called all my previous contacts.
Ilene Bezahler, the editor-publisher for Edible Boston, connected me with the Culinary Guild. After working for 6 months, I asked, “Do you know of anyone who work for Cooks Illustrated?” They said, “Yeah, the science editor is on our board of directors. We’ll give him your resume.”
What are your projects in the New Media department at America’s Test Kitchen?
The New Media department manages the ATK blog, social media pages, and America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School. My job is incorporating content from editors and education specialists into the online cooking school. This can be boring, (cutting and pasting) or interesting (creating HTML templates and editing recipes). As the school expands their course offerings, I hope to have a larger part in development because of my nutrition background. I also help customers choose the perfect class – Almost as satisfying as perfecting the course design!
Has working at America’s Test Kitchen changed your perspective on agriculture, food, or nutrition?
I don’t know if my perspective’s changed, but through these jobs I am noticing food trends. It’s interesting how in-demand healthy cooking is right now. People write in and say, “I really wish you would start a magazine on healthy cooking,” or “Can you start classes on healthy cooking?”
What makes a good food writer?
I agree with John (Doc) Willoughby, former executive editor for Gourmet and currently at America’s Test Kitchen. He feels you cannot focus on just food writing you need different takes on the field. So my background in nutrition and farming from Friedman rounds out my writing. For others it could be a culinary degree, or a Registered Dietitian license.
Here’s my concern: Do you need to be a good cook to be a good food writer?
Not at all. At America’s Test Kitchen I work with a bunch of people. One person brings an expertise in education to the table. She couldn’t tell pesto from marinara, but she’s an amazing writer.
Do you prefer writing for online media or print media?
I prefer online media and think it’s where the industry’s heading toward. It’s a dialogue; Reader’s comments can direct what you write next. I find that fun. Although for print writing, there’s the challenge to write for a specific length and style.
Amy, any advice for current Friedman students?
Use your networking resources! Reach out to alumni or people you interned with, because it’s not the best job market right now. I wouldn’t be where I am without offering to write for absolutely anyone. Be willing to call people and say, “Hey I’m in this spot. Do you know of anyone who might need my skills?”
*Read more at Amy’s blog, The Earthbound Kitchen.
*This interview was condensed and edited.
Rachel Perez wants to savor her last semester as a dual Nutrition Communications/Tufts Dietetic Intern, MS student. She has a background in clinical nutrition, enjoys writing, and likes to tinker in the kitchen. She documents her musings at Coconut Crumbs blog.