Mothers of the 'Real Food' Blogosphere
Among those carving out a niche in this new style of entrepreneurial motherhood are the Real Food Media Network bloggers, who write about the full-fat, nutrient-dense, freshly prepared and unprocessed eatables they call "real food." Kelly Moeggenborg, Ann Marie Michaels, Jenny McGruther and their fellow mom bloggers dish out traditional culinary and nutritional wisdom electronically -- and actually make money at it.
The Real Food Media Network places adds on 19 blogs by real food advocates, some of whom also sell e-books, recipe cards or menu services and teach cooking classes.The network has such a following that it's turning a profit and able to pay the bloggers, thanks to advertisers who see the blogs as a great way to reach the true financial decision makers in the house -- moms. Besides compatible food philosophies, the bloggers share sponsors and advertisers, co-promote each others' sites and cooperate on promotions such as giveaways and carnivals, where readers are asked to contribute recipes on a particular theme.
A Food Revolution Takes Shape
Michaels, 41, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 26. When she changed her diet to real foods including pastured meat and eggs, raw milk and lots of healthy fat, the arthritis and other health issues resolved -- and she stopped getting cavities.
"I regularly see toddlers drinking Diet Coke," says Michaels. "When it dawned on me how much fake food there is out there, and how many people are feeding it to their children -- and how I would have done this, too, if I hadn't learned what I have now learned -- I became a woman on a mission."
Starting at a Silicon Valley-based digital ad agency, Michaels worked as a new media consultant with corporate clients, moved to Los Angeles, started her Cheeseslave blog in November 2007, and in December 2008 set up the Real Food Media Network on a shoestring budget, a laptop and a phone.
A Food Conversion
Moeggenborg, 42, says she had a "food conversion" after a friend steered her to the Weston A. Price Foundation web site. (Price, who was a dentist and nutritional researcher, is something of a patron saint for Real Food bloggers.) "The next morning, I woke up early and sat reading on that site for a couple hours straight. What I read changed something inside me, there's no other way to describe it," she says.
Moeggenborg trained as a nurse and provided childcare for 20 years in her home near Grand Rapids, Michigan. She started blogging upon a friend's suggestion. "I thought it might be a good way to answer all the questions I was getting about Real Food in one place," she says. "My friends all knew I was researching issues like crazy and would ask me what to eat."
Michaels and Moeggenborg found each other by googling to locate other food bloggers who followed the Weston Price principles. They finally met at a Real Food festival in September 2008, where the idea of the blog network was born. Now known as Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Moeggenborg was the first to join the Real Food Media Network after Michaels. Other bloggers joined, then McGruther, the author of Nourished Kitchen, signed on in July 2009.
Thriving Network With a Sense of Community
These days, the Real Food bloggers claim a thriving community with an estimated 100,000 to 225,000 readers. (Hard numbers are difficult to come by, since each blog is independent and their readership overlaps, but Michaels says they do know they have close to half a million monthly visits.) They elicit enthusiastic reader responses on everything from making nourishing yet frugal meals, a Mothers Day menu, brewing low-sugar sodas and making lacto-fermented pickles. Some research for blog posts is repurposed as e-books.
That network and sense of community draws loyal readers -- a boon to advertisers. Michaels says she doesn't mind that the network has grown slowly, as she carefully screens potential sponsors and only uses those she can unreservedly recommend. "We're building trust with our readers," she says, so the advertising has credibility. She told me of an advertiser who doubled her weekly sales based on a very modest ad budget with Real Food Media.
The Dual Life of a Blogging Mom
The blogging life for Moeggenborg, McGruther and Michaels means balancing long hours at the computer, while at the same time addressing their children's needs and cooking meals from scratch.
"I'm a mom with too many jobs!" says McGruther, a 30-year-old mother of a four-year-old from Crested Butte, Colorado. She started blogging to occupy herself while her son nursed. In addition to a full-time job, she spends 30 to 40 hours a week on Nourished Kitchen (featured on CNN.com in March), sells recipe cards and books, teaches food preservation classes and is developing an online cooking class. She also devotes two Saturdays a month to recipe development, testing and photography. (Full disclosure: I subscribe to McGruther's cards and have guest-posted on Moeggenborg's blog.)
Moeggenborg spends 50 or 60 hours a week writing and promoting her blog, and while it's not yet making enough money to allow her husband to retire, it's bringing in a steadily growing income from advertising, sales of e-books and consulting on kitchen rehabilitation (what to toss, what to stock). Now with thousands of readers and more than 15,000 Twitter followers, she's also developing an online class.
"My goal in blogging at first had nothing to do with money, and it's still not my main motivation," says Moeggenborg. "But when I saw all the hours it took to do this right, I realized that I've got to at least earn a little income from it."
Selective About Advertising
Because she's part of the blog network and no longer chasing her own advertisers,Moeggenborg can be selective about who she allows to promote products on her site. She recently got rid of Google ads, over which she had no control, in favor of Real Food Media advertisers. "It's wonderful having sponsors who are right in my niche and who don't sell crap foods," she says. "It's a great feeling to know the person who grows your food, raises your meat."
Prior to joining Real Food Media Network, McGruther sold banner ads directly to sponsors -- profitable, but very time-consuming -- and got additional ad income from participating in the Food Buzz blog network. "Now when someone contacts me about advertising on my site, I simply direct them to Real Food Media," she says, having dropped Food Buzz. "A lot fewer headaches for me, and I can focus on doing what I do best -- producing high-quality content."
Paid in Profits and Self-Fulfillment
Real Food Media is profitable -- an impressive feat considering the thousands of food-related blogs out there. All of the earnings, Michaels says, go back into the company. "I'm thrilled, however, that I am able to pay other bloggers and that they are earning income from their blogs."
Michaels -- who is better known as Cheeseslave to her 21,000-plus followers on Twitter and 3,300-plus friends and fans on Facebook -- hasn't yet replaced her salary from corporate consulting, "but in time, this will pay off. The first few years of any business are always tough," she says. "Most people don't stick it out long enough. It takes many many many hours of hard work to build something."
Beyond the income, Michaels feels like she's finally getting to use her skills and education to do something she believes in. "Many of my former clients were companies selling things that I could not, in my heart, support," she says. "Now I get to choose the clients I work with and help them spread the 'real food' love."
The Best Rewards
The business also acts as a social support network for Michaels and the other bloggers. Michaels says it helped her connect with other moms who fed their families "traditional food" when she couldn't find anyone else nearby eating the way she did.
But, according to these mom bloggers, the best reward for the long hours and hard work is when they see how they're helping people. "Even if I never make much money with my blog, it won't be for naught," says Moeggenborg. "You can't put a price tag on helping someone, at least in a small way, to avoid whatever diagnosis might have been right around the corner, or to turn back from a lifestyle that would have led to another heart attack, or to be able to conceive, or to walk up steps without pain. It's a big thing for me. Real food is so powerful!"