We had the good fortune of connecting with Kirsten K. Shockey and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Kirsten K., what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
Honestly, as cliche as it sounds I want to do work that makes a better world. I am a writer, creator, and educator. Each of these roles feeds the others. As such I have spent nearly a decade traveling to teach people to ferment their food and connect with their food in new ways. For many years, I have wanted to offer online courses as a way to engage people that want to learn but may never be able to make it to a live event. The excuses of no time and not feeling comfortable in front of a camera instead of a live audience kept this from moving beyond a “someday” idea in my head. The pandemic brought traveling and this stream of income to a halt. The Fermentation School was a direct result of the opportunity to finally get over myself and film classes. At the same time my colleague, friend and soon to be co-founder, Meredith Leigh, was facing a similar need to regain lost income. While we both set out to build our own platforms it became more and more apparent that to be found in the noisy space of the internet we would be stronger together. In this we wanted to take the idea further and build a global community of female and femme-identifying educators to share knowledge about fermentation across the food system. Now The Fermentation School is a women-owned and women-led virtual education company that amplifies the voices of independent creators to empower learning and build culture. In addition to our model, which prioritizes profit for independent creators, we are invested in the social impact of food system education, and in seeding research and teaching about food system resilience, either by assisting women in recording their knowledge and stories or making grants to fermentation and food system education.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My journey been a bit like wandering down a trail with many forks and choosing the direction by how things are playing out in that moment. I have not had a map, just a compass to remind me of my core values in all this. I simply thought I was starting a local farmstead sauerkraut company. It was a number of years ago and at the market we spent a lot of time educating people on fermentation—they were curious to understand a very ancient food preservation technique that was just coming back on the scene. This led to classes and eventually our first book, Fermented Vegetables. This book was written from those conversations with customers and students. Meanwhile, we shuttered the food business despite demand for the product because there are some many broken pieces in the food system and there is no way for a small producer to truly stay small, local and sustainable. This trajectory took me on the road a lot. Invitations to speak, promote the books and teach, became more and more frequent. The business, or income portion, of being an author comes from these opportunities, not from royalties. I don’t know if it is a hard lesson or just deflating to realize one cannot make a living wage as an author. It is a very time consuming endeavor that pays very little and yet I still find satisfaction in the work. I truly do come from a place of wanting to help people take control of some aspects of their food and health. I love teaching and the books are one of the many ways I can reach people. The pandemic, as for many, fundamentally changed how I worked. Suddenly the calendar year of book events that came with speaking fees was wiped clean as it was for everyone. It was time to pivot again. This time to online classes, a way to reach people anywhere, and not in-person. In the beginning this was very hard as most of the events tried to pivot to online and free — which meant I would no longer receive an income for time spent teaching. At first, I said of course, we were all figuring it out and rallying but soon it became clear that we had bills too. I realized that I had to put some of that time and energy into income producing outlets. As we built the platform at first for my classes and then for my co-founders classes we realized that this could become much more. We began to see a need to amplify the voices of independent female and femme-identifyng creators to empower learning and build culture. We use the term ‘fermentation’ both literally (offering courses on culinary & agricultural fermentation) and metaphorically (ex: a class about fermenting community through baking, or a class about running a decolonized business through the lens of fermentation processes.) As this platform is unfolding I realize now my passion is less about myself as the teacher but as a way to build a network of teaching and learning across to planet. I feel a shift to the role of a pollinator, while the truth is I still need to build and sell classes myself because The Fermentation School is a Benefits corporation that is structured in a way that gives the creator control and the profit from their classes. I see this working well together as the immediate goal is to populate the platform with diverse perspectives while creating passive income sources for creators, using collaboration to compete in the virtual education marketplace.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I grew up coming to the city every summer as a child. My grandmother took us to La Brea tar pits, Newport Beach, The Getty, and as a teenager in the 1980s the LA Garment district was a favorite.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My husband Christopher Shockey is 100 percent behind everything I do. The first book, Fermented Vegetables, was his idea. He is my co-author on most of the books I have written and supports the work I do in small and large ways behind the scenes. He is not only behind the camera of the online classes but also the producer at The Fermentation School making the whole community run smoothly for both the contributors and the students.

Website: https://www.fermentationschool.com

Instagram: @thefermentationschool or @Kirstenkshockey

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/the-fermentation-school/about/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thefermentationschool

Image Credits
Carmen Troesser (Kirsten Bio pic)

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