MS: What was your pivotal moment in life that made you take this direction?
DJ: While it wasn’t the only reason I chose to take over the reins at Edible Nutmeg, I well remember sitting down at the local bar after a day in the fields, years ago. An older fellow was also sitting there and he struck up conversation.
MS: What made you want to be what you are now?
DJ: It was really a lucky confluence of life experiences. I spent much of my 20’s working in outdoor professions (which helped me cultivate an appreciation for that setting). After finishing school, I worked as an English teacher and spent my summers working for a local, organic vegetable farm. It was a wonderful balance for me, spending part of my time exercising my mind in academia and part of my time cultivating physical well-being (along with healthy and delicious vegetables). So when the opportunity arose to blend these things, I took it!
When he found out I worked as a farmer, he said that he’d been trying to find a local food grower to buy from for many years, without success, and wondered if I worked nearby. In fact, I did - just a couple of miles from where we were sitting. He was surprised to learn this, and I inquired how new he was to town. He told me he had lived in town for almost 30 years! (Coincidentally, that was almost exactly how long the farm had been in operation.) It was then that I realized how many people might be oblivious to the many wonderful small-scale growing operations all around them, and that producing a publication that exposed readers to them could be a valuable resource for our communities.
MS: How did you get started/where did you begin?
DJ: I was lucky to take over an existing business when I started publishing Edible Nutmeg in 2015, which had been founded in 2006. There was an established base of loyal readers, but what it didn’t come with was a knowledge of how to publish a magazine! The first couple of years were a chaotic learning experience, full of hurdles and missteps. It certainly was never boring.
MS: What are your favorite parts about what you do?
DJ: I wear a lot of hats for the magazine, but my favorite part is connecting with our story subjects, learning more about what they do, and why they do it. Due to the cost of printing, we rarely get to print the entirety of a story, and the original, full-length versions are often loaded with information, anecdotes, and other less critical story pieces that are both interesting and educational. I’m lucky to get/have to read the originals, and I wish we could tell longer stories!
MS: What are your short-term and/or long-term goals at the moment?
DJ: I’m pleased with what we’re able to do with such a small publication, but I wish we could be even more hyper-regional. For instance, if you live in Greenwich, you might not necessarily be interested in reading about a tiny, 5-acre farm in Salisbury, 90 miles north of you. Similarly, a wonderful restaurant in Greenwich might not be compelling reading to someone in Salisbury, who is unlikely to drive 2½ hours for dinner. I’d like to be able to bring our readers more stories tailored to their specific regions of Connecticut, and I’m always thinking about ways we can alter our distribution to improve that.
MS: Do you have advice for people interested in the same field?
DJ: Be careful what you wish for? I kid, but in all seriousness, print media is a tough business these days, especially if your revenue is tied to advertising. But if your interest is writing (rather than publishing), my advice would be to find your niche. There are so many aspiring writers in the food sphere. If you want to stand out, make your writing your own, and don’t stop writing. It is, as the quote goes, “1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.”
MS: What is your favorite food/drink-related memory?
DJ: Okra. When I was a kid, my mom used to steam it. It came out mushy and mucous-like. It was just so awful, and she made me eat it. (My mother was and is an incredible cook, which makes this memory stand out even more vividly in comparison.) As an adult, I swore it off entirely. Then, maybe 10 years ago, I met a farmer who had raw okra, and she forced me to eat some right out of her basket. It was crispy, sweet, and delicious! It is now one of my favorite vegetables and I beg every farmer I meet to please grow more of it. Just don’t steam it. Really, I mean it.
MS: What is your favorite quote(s) and why?
DJ: As someone who dedicated much of his career to reading and writing, I’ve had a lot of these, and they change from year to year as I learn and experience more. But, of late, a line from Truman Capote’s The Thanksgiving Visitor has most frequently echoed for me: “There is only one unpardonable sin - deliberate cruelty. All else can be forgiven.” It applies to everything: how you treat others, how you treat yourself, and how you treat your environment and the plants and animals you rely upon. I have lately used it as a litmus test for many decisions.
MS: What is your favorite meal and/or drink to share?
DJ: Honestly, just about anything. I’ve had periods of my life where I’ve been very strict about my dietary habits, but I always forsook my restrictions if someone else had prepared a meal for me. Sharing food was once so central to how we spent time and developed communication with each other. Now, meals too often feel rushed and haphazard - a mere refueling. We’re not cars. We’re social creatures, and shared meals without television or other infinitely blaring distractions give us the opportunity to slow down and reconnect with each other, regardless of how our individual days’ tasks might have sent us apart. When someone else has prepared the meal for you? Then it is also an act of giving. It sounds silly, but almost everything that is meaningful about being human can be condensed into a shared meal. Given how infrequently that happens for so many Americans, it is no wonder to me that so many of us feel disconnected and in disarray.
MS: What is your ideal day in the work life?
DJ: I love the days where I get to listen to someone reveal their motivations and inspiration for something they do, whether for work or anything else. Sometimes these moments happen by design, for a story. Other times, they happen by chance. They always inspire me, even if I don’t find the topic-at-hand very interesting, which I think says a lot about how profoundly our attitudes affect each other, even unintentionally.
MS: What is your ideal non-work day?
DJ: A day in the woods with the dog. Doesn’t need to be a far-off or exotic location. The dog always has a good time, regardless, and I’m certain the dog much better understands the meaning of life than I ever will.
MS: What are some things that keep you going?
DJ: I’m deeply grateful for the unending support of my family, as well as my dedicated partner (who has for years operated as my unpaid copy-editor!). They’ve been the sounding board for so many of my biggest decisions about work and life, and without them I would be far less certain about anything I do. But my dog is the true keeper of sanity - when everything else is upside-down, she wags her tail and reminds me to take more walks.
MS: How do you approach a work life balance?
DJ: This has always been a terrible challenge for me, all the more so in our permanently online life. As a media company, the amount of electronic communication coming in - email, texts, calls, social media, etc. - is easily overwhelming. I do my best to follow something resembling an “old” work style: I clock out. When it is time to stop the work day, I put my phone on silent, turn off my computer, and generally refuse to answer or deal with anything related to work. I’m not a doctor, so it can wait until tomorrow. Of course, when a print deadline is about to crash on me, all that goes right out the window! Print deadlines make me feel like a doctor in the triage ward. Like I said, it's always a challenge.
MS: What is something you wish people learned or knew more about in your industry?
DJ: Well, I do get frustrated when I hear the comment, “Why are there so many ads in this magazine?” We don’t charge readers for the magazine, so (of course) the money to print it has to come from somewhere! It’s the same reason other free services - social media comes immediately to mind - are chock full of ads. Unlike social media, at least we’re not tracking our readers’ behaviors! I think a better question might be, when someone is paying $8 or $9 for a copy of a big fashion or food magazine, why are those so full of ads?
MS: What does supporting local mean to you?
DJ: This is a complicated question. Of course, it means buying locally grown/raised food, and trying to support the small and independent businesses in your community. But it also means learning to live within the boundaries of your region. For instance, tomatoes are wonderful in Connecticut! But only in the later summer and early fall. They simply don’t grow well here outside of that seasonal restriction. So what do you do if you love fresh tomatoes in spring? I would argue that a truly dedicated locavore would learn to live without them during that period. This could seem like a burden, but our region has all sorts of incredible foods that are locally produced, year-round. Discovering them will do more than simply broaden the palate - I think it will give a greater appreciation for just how wonderful in-season foods are (especially ripe heirloom tomatoes!).
MS: Do you have advice or encouragement for ways to support local?
DJ: If lower environmental costs and better taste/quality don’t convince, I like to offer a purely economic argument. We all want to live in economically “fit” communities, with a healthy middle-class and thriving business and social networks. Buying local promises to provide that. When we buy our produce from the west coast, we send our money to west coast businesses. I have nothing against west coast growers - they need to make a living, too! - but if I have to choose between supporting the community in which I live or supporting a distant community that I don’t actively participate in, I’ll always choose the former. I’ve long argued that your dollar is your vote (especially in America). The businesses that you’re spending your money with are the businesses that you’re “voting” to have prosper. So you could buy your dog food on Amazon and vote for more businesses like Amazon, or you could buy your dog food at a local pet food store and vote for the benefits that come with having robust and successful businesses in your community. Sure, the latter probably costs a little bit more, but that extra bit of money is keeping a business alive in your town! To put it in a different light, when we buy goods from distant companies, we vote for them to succeed and for our own community’s businesses to slowly fail. Why would any of us wish that upon our own community?
MS: What is your favorite book and why?
DJ: I love a great many books, but I think Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael is probably one of my favorites. It reframed many of my core beliefs about modern society, and how humanity fits (or fails to fit) in our world. And unlike other formative books I read (such as The Fountainhead, which I now view as deeply propagandist literature), Ishmael has stood up to years of my questioning its ideas as I have developed new perspectives. And it has a talking gorilla!