Getting Creative in the Great Recession
A ragged economy inspires two political organizers to start a baking company.
Three months ago, Sara Fatell and Causten Wollerman were two semi-employed young adults fighting an increasingly difficult job market. Fatell was working part-time at a non-profit; Wollerman was surviving on unemployment, working an assortment of political consulting jobs, and attending Georgetown University.
By chance, they met up at a party. A friend mentioned baking, and an idea was born.
A field trip to the Washington-based Enhanced Business Information Center ensued. Soon they had a business plan, a name for their socially conscious bakery, and an ally named Gladys, a business counselor assigned to their case. Grassroots Gourmet was born.
“It’s like bang, bang, boom it was that quick,” said Fatell. “I think definitely the economy had something to do with this – because if we’d had full-time jobs, we never would have talked about it.”
Causten’s kitchen became home base. By Thanksgiving, bourbon pecan pies, apple cakes, and triple chocolate cookies began to flow out of his double oven and onto the tables of their target clientele – local non-profit and political organizations.
This is just one story from the youth trenches of the Great Recession. Just as the Depression shaped those who grew up in the 1930s, today’s economic landscape will alter the narratives of today’s 20-somethings. Statistics and reports do not paint a pretty picture: An October report in BusinessWeek branded today’s 20-somethings “the lost generation,” chronicling stories of stalled dreams, delayed independence, mounting student debt and increasing frustrations. A study by Yale University professor Lisa B. Kahn [PDF] suggests that graduating from college during a bad economy will have persistent, long-lasting negative effects on wages. In October, unemployment for individuals ages 20-24 hit 15.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As the economy leaves some in the under-30 category floundering, there’s evidence that this recession could also push young people in positive ways, challenging them to be more resilient, more energy-conscious, less driven by a culture of consumption – and more entrepreneurial.
Both Fatell, 24, a native of a Philadelphia suburb, and Causten, 25, of Denver, had worked in political organizations since their early 20s, campaigning for Obama, running youth leadership programs and doing development work. But in by the end of 2009 they felt burned out, anxious to do something creative that still allowed them to participate in the activism environment they loved. Grassroots Gourmet is allowing them to feed the change they’d spent years working to create.
By November, Fatell and Wollerman had a blog, a black leather book filled with recipes and receipts for supplies from Restaurant Depot– and more than a dozen orders to fill. They’d delivered nearly 200 cookies to 23 organizations across the District, hoping to drum up publicity. They’d enlisted themselves as an LLC and spent about 60 hours in Causten’s kitchen. By early December, they’d made enough to cover their initial investments.
They are setting modest goals. Fatell doesn’t think the bakery’s earnings will pay her expensive health insurance plan just yet. She’s keeping her part-time job. Wollerman enrolled full-time at Georgetown, and he’s doubtful his cookies will pay off his loans. But what the recession has done is opened a space for the two to take a fresh look at their lives and their careers – and start something new.
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