Brewing Communityis a series of guest posts in which readers, writers, artists and fans are invited to share their experiences of community. Whether online or in person, these groups bring a great deal of support and sometimes stress to their members. The aim of this series is to share the joy and find ways to brew stronger communities. If you have some experiences you’d like to share, please let me know.
Earl Grey Editing would not be here today without the talent of web designer Melissa Hartfiel. However, web design is just one of the many hats she wears. She is also an incredible creator of community. Today she shares a bit about the communitiesthrough which we met, and what led her to create Food Bloggers of Canada.
When Elizabeth reached out to me and asked me if I would like to share my experience with community I knew I had to say yes.
You see, if it weren’t for community, I would never have “met” Elizabeth. I use quotation marks because, as of yet, we still haven’t met in person. I live in Canada and she’s in Australia. But we’ve known each other for nearly 12 years and it all started back in 2003 with a small, online community of booklovers known as Bookcrossing.com.
We met through the forums and a small group of us discovered we had not only the common love of reading, but also of writing, and, for many of us, photography as well. Most of our little group wound up starting private blogs on the LiveJournal platform that we shared with one another, and when I look back on it, it was our way to keep in touch. We shared so many details of our lives in those LJ posts that I would never even think of blogging publicly about now!
We exchanged books, care packages and Christmas cards with one another, started photography projects together and cheered each other on through NaNoWriMo slogs. And all this while we were located in all corners of the globe: Canada, Switzerland, Australia, the USA, and the UK. As social media started to emerge and LiveJournal and Bookcrossing started to decline, we found other ways to stay connected, like Facebook, Twitter, our own websites and now, Instagram.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet a few of these ladies in real life and, as the years have gone by, I’ve even had some of them become clients as well as friends.
The story doesn’t end there but fast forward to 2011 and a much more sophisticated internet!
While I had been blogging through my business site for a while, I was craving a more personal outlet and so I started Eyes Bigger Than My Stomach — my personal blog. It was a way to share my food photography, my travels, and my other creative endeavors that weren’t client related.
That’s when I started looking for a community of food bloggers to join — something that would give me resources and other bloggers to talk to and share experiences with and learn from. I found a few but they were all based out of the United States. The resources were great but always referenced US law, which is quite different from Canadian law. Many of the opportunities to work with food-related companies were only for American bloggers. I looked for similar organizations in Canada that focused on Canadian bloggers and there really wasn’t one, sooo…
I asked two friends if we should start one.
And so we did.
In September of 2011, the three of us (my current partner Ethan Adeland and Mardi Michels, who has since left the executive team) launched Food Bloggers of Canada (FBC), a membership-based organization for Canadian food bloggers to network, get access to resources to help them with their blogging, and find paid opportunities.
In the last four years we have grown by leaps and bounds — we are just shy of 2000 members — and now manage a thriving community of Canadian food writers, food photographers, food stylists, cookbook authors, recipe developers, restaurant reviewers, and dietitians & nutritionists.
What do they all have in common? They’re all Canadian, they all love food and they all blog about it!
Belonging to a community can be extremely fulfilling — especially when you take advantage of all of the opportunities to connect with your fellow members — either online through forums or Facebook groups or by meeting face to face. It provides you with a built-in support network when you’re starting out, need advice, are learning something new, or just struggling in a rut. It’s a way to make new friends, find people to collaborate with and even make professional contacts.
Starting and running a community brings you all of that but there’s so much more. For us, the biggest responsibility, and hands down the most difficult, is making everyone feel welcome, supported and equal — as well as keeping the peace.
As with any large group, there will always be a small handful of people who are always negative. Minimizing their impact on the community is always a priority but can be really hard when the internet can encourage drama.
There will always be people who will challenge the community’s rules and sometimes you can feel like a police officer, always on patrol, always having to make hard decisions.
And cliques will form. We have a very strong internal policy that we are inclusive, not exclusive because we both know how painful it can be to feel that you’re not included or one of the “cool kids”. So while we work very hard to encourage friendships we also work hard to ensure anyone who joins us is made to feel welcome and valued.
FBC now provides me and Ethan with a full-time income (albeit a very small full-time income that’s supplement with freelance work!). We do that by helping brands who want to create blogger outreach campaigns and work with our members. Now that our living revolves around FBC we’ve also realized that it’s more important than ever for us to ensure we have a happy, active and engaged membership. For us, that means constantly evolving, staying on top of the digital publishing world and constantly engaging with our members to see what they need, what they’re looking for. It also means supporting our members publicly — we maintain multiple programs designed to promote their work across Canada.
But the rewards have been huge. We have made so many new friends, we have watched other friendships grow, we have found so many great projects to collaborate on professionally with our members, and we get to bring them incredible opportunities to help them grow and be successful. And that is truly rewarding.
Melissa Hartfiel is the co-founder and Managing Director of Editorial for Food Bloggers of Canada. She is also a graphic designer, illustrator and food photographer and owns her own boutique design company, Fine Lime Designs. You can follow her creative exploits and her love for food and food photography on her personal blog, Eyes Bigger Than My Stomach. When she’s not travelling around the rest of Canada for work, Melissa lives just outside of Vancouver, BC, and in her spare time you can find her mucking about by the Pacific Ocean with her goofy yellow lab, Sam-The-Dog. She drinks a lot of tea, eats a moderate amount of chocolate and watches too many British murder mystery shows on Netflix. She is also on the eternal quest for the The. Best. Mac and Cheese. You can connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.