Meet Caroline Ferguson

ferguson_headshotFood is so close to my heart, so intrinsic to everything I do, and so deeply woven into my life path that it took me a long time to realize it was what I cared about most.

Since childhood, food has been what I think about, how I express my creativity, and how I best know to care for the people I love. Growing up on Bainbridge Island, a close-knit community in the middle of Washington’s Puget Sound, meant a childhood surrounded by natural beauty. When I was growing up, picking herbs from the garden and looking for shellfish on the beach felt as normal as a trip to the grocery store. Summer meant slow family meals outside under the Douglas firs, and the start of blackberry season might as well have been a national holiday. I developed a fascination with food, starting as that weird kid who read cookbooks before bed and ending up as the main cook in the family in my teens.

Still, when I started college at Seattle University — where the quality of the food (by Bon Appétit Management Company) had been a factor in my choice! — I decided to study education, knowing that much of what I loved about cooking would be lost if I pursued the grueling life of a chef. By that time I had a vague sense of the downside of industrial agriculture. It troubled me that food — a source of nourishment, community, and creativity in my own life — seemed to be harming the Earth, but I wasn’t sure what I could do about it.

Halfway through my first quarter of college, I wandered into the campus newspaper office to sit in on an editorial meeting. It was a whim that changed my life. By winter I had been hired as a staff writer. When I had my first opportunity to write about food, my hand shot up so fast to claim the story that I nearly whacked a volunteer writer in the face. As I moved up the ranks from writer to editor to manager to editor-in-chief, I expanded the paper’s food coverage in every way I could. My junior year I started a biweekly online column covering food issues relevant to college students: cooking advice, sustainability and seasonality, food insecurity, intersections of food, race and class, foraging tips, and much more. We also started a campuswide beat system, which put me in regular contact with Seattle University’s Bon Appétit team as I kept my ear to the ground on developing food news.

Meanwhile, my extracurricular interest in food flourished. I participated in a weeklong service immersion volunteering on local farms and touring the Elwha River’s watershed reconstruction, and I had a service learning stint with the Nature Consortium teaching children in Seattle’s Yesler Terrace neighborhood to cook and grow their own food. Most importantly, I took an internship at Seattle Met Magazine, working primarily in their local food department. After six wonderful months at the magazine, the food editor and I created a new internship position so I could continue to work with her, during which time my focus started to narrow in on agriculture.

By the time I graduated in 2015, I knew that I wanted to enact positive change in the food industry, but I wasn’t sure how. So I did what any aimless twentysomething would do: I took my savings and decamped to the south of France to WWOOF on a permaculture sheep farm. Our main project was constructing a geodesic greenhouse dome, but it wasn’t long before I’d taken on the role of primary cook for the group. While I was in France, I applied for a job at Amandine Bakeshop, a soon-to-open patisserie just blocks from Seattle University. In a stroke of luck I got the job, and when I came home I started working under chef Sara Naftaly, who, along with her husband Bruce, had been an early champion of the farm-to-table movement in Seattle. Alongside a team of bakers I learned classic French pastry technique, developing a particular interest in wild yeast sourdough. I also managed the bakery’s social media and website and handled food recovery, donating leftover pastries to the Salvation Army and the women’s emergency shelter I volunteered at.

Meanwhile I continued to grow my food writing career. I maintained an online column for RENDER, a feminist food and culture magazine based out of Portland, and wrote cookbook previews for Seattle Met. I became a regular contributor to Edible Seattle magazine, doing farm tours and writing long-form features celebrating the Pacific Northwest’s farmers and food producers. Recently, I was lucky to have the opportunity to write a feature for Seattle Met’s July issue about the negative impact of slaughterhouse consolidation on the region’s small-scale meat producers (as the other Fellows will attest, I can really nerd out in a slaughterhouse).

When I learned about Bon Appétit’s Fellows program, it felt like the destination that my wandering path had been leading toward. I had doubted that I could find any role that integrated my background in education, my interest in sustainable and local food, and my love of writing and research, but the fellowship is all of this rolled into one. More than anything, though, I’m excited to be working for a company that understands that sharing meals together should be as good for the planet as it is for our spirits.