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Butternut: Creating Content That’s Mentally And Physically Nutritious For Young Readers – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Jill Colella, Founder, Butternut Magazine.

October 29, 2015

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

“Having been a teacher, I worked in a school that had no lack of resources. It was a private school in D.C. But whenever I tried to use the laptop cards or bring my kids to one of those free computer labs, we always had trouble. Through the tried-and-true ink on paper; I was never let down, nor were my kids. And just the tactile nature of it and being able to pull it off a shelf and escape into text; it’s just a kind of reprieve that kids need to escape the noise in their lives.” Jill Colella

200px_pumpkin cover A children’s magazine that teaches reading literacy and food literacy; Butternut is a breath of fresh air on a hot sweltering day at the playground. The magazine encourages basic food and reading knowledge by inspiring curiosity about food in young readers, and adult kids too. It’s fun, smart and unique, a new launch that Mr. Magazine™ definitely gives two thumbs up.

Jill Colella is founder of Butternut and also of the five-year-old Ingredient Magazine, a food magazine for young readers 6-12. Jill has been working with kids, both as a teacher and a writer of educational materials, for quite some time. And as a very picky eater who became a chef to get a better understanding of different foods, she also knows a thing or two about nutrition and great recipes

I spoke with Jill recently about her new ‘baby’ Butternut and its targeted audience of 3-6 year-old’s, who not surprisingly, have an innate curiosity about where their food comes from and how it’s prepared. Getting the word out about the magazine is paramount as she moves forward to show that food and reading are connected in more ways than one might think. It’s a concept that has originality and a whole lot of passion behind it from a young woman who is dedicated to the brand and the cause. The magazine is supported by a subscription-base and shipped to many school libraries across the country as teachers all over are discovering the food and words relationship and finding it very beneficial to their students.

So, sit back and get ready to enjoy a conversation with a real entrepreneur and a woman who isn’t afraid to stay true to her own DNA and follow her dreams…the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jill Colella, Founder, Butternut Magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:


jill_blue.background On where the idea for Teach Kids to Cook media came from:
It really had been simmering for a long time and it came out of my being very unhappy in a job on Capitol Hill more than ten years ago. I took the training to be a personal chef and never actually became a personal chef. And so I used all of the training that I had gotten and started a business giving hands-on cooking lessons for kids. But it mostly meant birthday party entertainment. And I loved it. I loved the direct, hands-on teaching and at that time I was building up a little reputation in the area and I eventually became a spokesperson for a publishing company and most of their authors were in England. It ultimately became a relationship with this publisher where I wrote books for them and did educational writing and all kinds of PR-type stuff and I really loved it. And I had this idea in the back of my mind for a while; why wasn’t there a magazine about food for kids?

On how she came up with the tagline for the magazine and the driving force behind it:
I was invited, probably two years ago now, to speak at a conference that was held by a school of architecture. When I wrote that speech was the first time that food as a lexicon occurred to me and that’s really the root of Butternut, the idea that food literacy can go hand-in-hand with reading literacy. And as a sort of system of language, food and the English language function very similarly. We have parts of speech; they work together in different order to create meaning. And the fundamentals of food work the same way. If you don’t have basic vocabulary, you can’t formulate a sentence. If you don’t have the basic vocabulary of food; if you can’t identify what is a potato, what is a sweet potato, and what is a yam; you can’t create sentences with those.

On how she plans to market Butternut:
The ongoing challenge of independent children’s magazine publishers is how do you make this a business instead of a hobby? And that’s the double-edged sword. I don’t have ambitions of being on the newsstands, unless someone reads this interview and finds a good way for me to make that happen. And for me distribution is about good old-fashioned hustle and individual outreach to those inspired. Subscriptions are available online, because it is a gift-able item, so lots of grandparents, aunts and uncles love to give this to members of their families.

On how she felt when she held the first issue of Butternut in her hands:
The way that you described it is pretty accurate. When I held it in my hand, it made sense; it just made sense. And I felt a sense of satisfaction. It’s making it as a hypothesis when I have the results in my hand and I get to interpret that data. And for me it made sense.

On whether Butternut and Ingredient Magazine will grow together as happy siblings:
Definitely together. Ingredient has five years of content and Butternut can pull from that, where it’s age appropriate and meaningful. In some ways, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Of course, it won’t be identical content, but we already know what readers were interested in, where things were interesting and fun for our team of editors and writers.

On why she thinks there has been such a fascination with the food category in magazines, even with young children:
I think the interest in food is in response to the Great Recession. When you don’t get a raise or your job is scaled back or there’s no overtime money, things like dining out go first. And you have to think about where you’re going to invest the money you do have in luxuries and in some ways that put people in the mindset of finding the pleasure in food again. It’s a hobby that you can invest time and energy in. There’s this beautiful alchemy; you can take ingredients that don’t really cost that much and are pretty accessible to most people, and create something amazing and offers a great experience in the creation of it. So, I think that’s really where it comes from.

On the major stumbling block she will face in the future:
It’s always going to be numbers and getting a robust circulation. And the question is what will be the outcome of that? In my case, more than likely, price point. Each magazine, Ingredient and Butternut, is published almost six times per year. And the price for the subscription is $35 to U.S. addresses. And to many people, that’s expensive and it is to some extent. But we’re very different from other magazines. Of course, we look like other magazines, but we’re different.

On what motivates her to get up in the mornings and never quit:
That’s a great question. This business moves me and I need to see what happens with it. I would never have told you in a million years, if this were 10 years ago, that I would be making kids magazines about food. (Laughs) Everything that I’ve really done was all of these weird moments that aligned so that I could see the light on the path that led up to all of this. And nothing else in my life has been that way, even though I’ve written tons of educational material for teachers; I’ve been a teacher myself; I’ve been involved in publishing; there’s just something different here.

On why she thinks there is still a need for ink on paper in a digital world:
Having been a teacher, I worked in a school that had no lack of resources. It was a private school in D.C. But whenever I tried to use the laptop cards or bring my kids to one of those free computer labs, we always had trouble. Through the tried-and-true ink on paper; I was never let down, nor were my kids.

On anything else she’d like to add:
Yes; I’ll get on my soapbox for a minute. I also worked in children’s book publishing and I worked for an imprint that’s based here in Minneapolis. And I did that job to learn a lot about how the publishing world works. Most of that job was a publicity job and so when you have a new book there are protocols for how to get that book reviewed. You have a list of people who expect to get a ton of galleys and books twice a year and their sole purpose is to write about them and then put that out into the world. Magazines don’t have that at all. And I just corresponded with School Library Journal and asked them if they had a protocol for magazine reviews. And they don’t. Even something like Highlights that has been around for a very long time and other great magazines; there’s a new magazine for kids about computers and coding; there’s a great magazine for kids in the military who move all around because of Mom and Dad’s careers, and librarians have no idea that these exist.

On what keeps her up at night:
The easy answer is circulation. It’s really getting the word out there into the world about these magazines. There will be a point where I run out of runway and I see that in my colleagues who also do independent magazines for children. It’s getting these materials into the hands of people who will most benefit from them.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Jill Colella, Founder, Butternut Magazine.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on the first issue of Butternut.

Jill Colella: Thank you.

sm_2015SeptOct Samir Husni: I know you’ve done Ingredient Magazine, but tell me a little about the Teach Kids to Cook media as a company. Where did the idea for Teach Kids to Cook come from?

Jill Colella: It really had been simmering for a long time and it came out of my being very unhappy in a job on Capitol Hill more than ten years ago. I worked in publishing for a large, well-known think tank and I just ultimately wasn’t feeling it there anymore. I had a mentor who retired and was replaced with someone that I just couldn’t see eye-to-eye with and one day I literally quit on the spot, packed up my things and walked out the door. I remember it was 9:30 in the morning when that happened. I was downtown in D.C. after I left wondering what came next. (Laughs)

I had been interested in food and cooking and interestingly enough, Julia Child’s Kitchen exhibit had just opened at the Smithsonian and I hadn’t been to it yet, so I decided since I was downtown anyway, that’s where I was going to go. So, I literally had my bag of personal effects that I had taken when I walked out, and went and just stood in Julia’s Kitchen and thought about what comes next.

At that point, I had been flirting with the idea of becoming a personal chef. So, that is in fact what I did. I went and I took training to do that. I myself had always been a picky eater and that’s’ why I started getting interested in food and cooking.

And it was the job on Capitol Hill that forced that. All of a sudden I was going to executive lunches and the boardroom on the eighth floor, where it was a set menu from caterers, and it was things that I had never eaten before. And as a finicky eater, it stressed me out terribly. Something that seemed as delicious and ordinary to most people, such as salmon, sort of induced panic attacks in me. (Laughs) I realized that I needed to expand my palate, so it was in that position when I began to do that. And that’s when the interest in food came in.

I took the training to be a personal chef and never actually became a personal chef, because I was this girl who’d rather eat grilled cheese than salmon or some sophisticated dish. So, I wondered if I could actually pull it off.

And so I used all of the training that I had gotten and started a business giving hands-on cooking lessons for kids. But it mostly meant birthday party entertainment. You could pay Chef Jill to come do a birthday party for your kid and we would make something to eat and we’d make something that the other kids could take home as a party favor. And I did that for a few years.

And I loved it. I loved the direct, hands-on teaching and at that time I was building up a little reputation in the area and I eventually became a spokesperson for a publishing company and most of their authors were in England. They had a really hard time connecting their cooking authors with American journalists. They would send me the books and I would read them all and I would give interviews about the virtues of kids and cooking. And this was pre-Mrs. Obama, but the kids cooking just started to take off. And I enjoyed that.

It ultimately became a relationship with this publisher where I wrote books for them and did educational writing and all kinds of PR-type stuff and I really loved it. And I had this idea in the back of my mind for a while; why wasn’t there a magazine about food for kids? So, finally I just made one to see what it would look like and that was Ingredient Magazine in 2010 and had been producing those at that point.

Butternut has come along more recently. It was another one of those ideas that sort of poked at me and I just needed to make one and see what it looked like. The other thing that we’re doing as a company is to look through the different content that we have and find ways to identify and fill needs in the market that aren’t being met right now.

There is a large category of kid’s cookbooks, but they don’t necessarily answer how or why or dig more deeply into the more fundamental levels of curiosity. So, we’re in the process of creating e-books to do that and eventually some of those books will be print books as well.

Samir Husni: I noticed on the first issue of Butternut the tagline is: food literacy for young readers and eaters. And somehow you don’t think about literacy when you’re thinking about food. How did you come up with that tagline and what’s the fertilizer behind Butternut that urges it to grow?

200px_whats for lunch bn Jill Colella: Much of the time that I was Chef Jill giving birthday parties on the weekends and also piloting a magazine because it was an idea that I couldn’t get out of my mind, I also had a full-time job and that was as an English teacher. So, I basically viewed the world through the lens of an English teacher. And as much as I liked teaching literature, my skill is teaching writing and that’s what I love more than anything else, kind of skill-building.

I was invited, probably two years ago now, to speak at a conference that was held by a school of architecture. I had to double-check when I got this voice mail that a school of architecture was inviting me to speak at their conference. It just didn’t make sense.

It turned out that this particular college focused on outdoor play spaces, educational outdoor play spaces for children and some of my work had been in kids and gardening and that’s what they were interested in. So, the majority of attendees at this conference were teachers of very young children, ages 3-6. So, I gave my talk and I really had to think about what I was trying to say. I told my story and talked about the virtues of letting kids get hands-on in the dirt.

When I wrote that speech was the first time that food as a lexicon occurred to me and that’s really the root of Butternut, the idea that food literacy can go hand-in-hand with reading literacy. And as a sort of system of language, food and the English language function very similarly. We have parts of speech; they work together in different order to create meaning. And the fundamentals of food work the same way. If you don’t have basic vocabulary, you can’t formulate a sentence. If you don’t have the basic vocabulary of food; if you can’t identify what is a potato, what is a sweet potato, and what is a yam; you can’t create sentences with those. Language acquisition comes very early on; we don’t think anything of talking to babies when they don’t talk back.

It’s funny, magazines exist about poetry, dinosaurs and baby animals, and that’s all well and good, and those publications are wonderful, exciting and educational, but kids have a lot more debate ability and love and curiosity about food, and that’s from day-one, than they do about baby seals, which maybe they’ll never encounter in real life. Or they do occasionally at the zoo or something like that.

For me, there is a fundamental connection between building blocks and learning how to order those to be really empowered. The greatest thing that you can teach children right now for a lifetime of success is reading literacy. That is how to find meaning, how to ask questions, how to be a critical thinker, and food literacy. That’s a running start.

Samir Husni: What are your plans in terms of the distribution of the magazine? Will it be available for subscriptions and on the newsstands, because I noticed with the first issue that there’s no advertising and no cover price. How are you going to market Butternut?

Jill Colella: The ongoing challenge of independent children’s magazine publishers is how do you make this a business instead of a hobby? And that’s the double-edged sword. I don’t have ambitions of being on the newsstands, unless someone reads this interview and finds a good way for me to make that happen. (Laughs) It’s a speculative venture, as you well know. The thought of hundreds of copies being shredded makes me physically ill. (Laughs again) But that’s likely not going to happen, unless I can sell into a major distributor. I send copies of the magazine to Costco and Wal-Mart, to their magazine acquisition arm on a weekly basis. But if they never accept, really my primary audience is schools and libraries.

And for me distribution is about good old-fashioned hustle and individual outreach to those inspired. Subscriptions are available online, because it is a gift-able item, so lots of grandparents, aunts and uncles love to give this to members of their families. Those are the majority of subscribers, families and schools and libraries.

Samir Husni: When that first issue came back from the printer and you held it in your hand; can you describe for me how you felt at that moment? From conception to birth, people often compare the journey of launching a new magazine to pregnancy; how did you feel when you held your new baby in your hand for the first time?

Jill Colella: The way that you described it is pretty accurate. When I held it in my hand, it made sense; it just made sense. And I felt a sense of satisfaction. It’s making it as a hypothesis when I have the results in my hand and I get to interpret that data. And for me it made sense.

Samir Husni: And how is the new ‘baby’ in comparison to Ingredient? Are they going to be growing up steadily together or will one outgrow the other?

Cover.2014.mar.apr Jill Colella: Definitely together. Ingredient has five years of content and Butternut can pull from that, where it’s age appropriate and meaningful. In some ways, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Of course, it won’t be identical content, but we already know what readers were interested in, where things were interesting and fun for our team of editors and writers.

The other thing too is that I have been surprised that more middle schools purchased Ingredient than I thought they would. I taught 7th and 8th grade English for a very long time and I know the level of sophistication that kids at that age can read at and what their attention level is and also what topics they might be interested in. So, I’m pleased; I’m very pleased that school librarians are seeing value in Ingredient as a title for middle schools.

And food and cooking is a classic topic, where you can see that kind of high-low subject area where there are cookbooks and it’s not a babyish book or a babyish magazine. So, if you’re in 7th grade and you’re reading this magazine, it doesn’t feel like you’re reading something better-suited to third graders. So, that’s important. It allows us to really run with the age group 3-6 and really dial-in and calibrate age appropriateness in both magazines.

Samir Husni: Almost for the last five years, since Ingredient came onto the marketplace, we’ve seen more food magazines than any other category, aimed at every age group, about every specification and specialization under the sun. Why do you think there’s this fascination with food, even from such young ages as 3-6 year-old’s, which is Butternut’s targeted group?

Jill Colella: I think the interest in food is in response to the Great Recession. When you don’t get a raise or your job is scaled back or there’s no overtime money, things like dining out go first. And you have to think about where you’re going to invest the money you do have in luxuries and in some ways that put people in the mindset of finding the pleasure in food again. It’s a hobby that you can invest time and energy in. There’s this beautiful alchemy; you can take ingredients that don’t really cost that much and are pretty accessible to most people, and create something amazing and offers a great experience in the creation of it. So, I think that’s really where it comes from.

And while piano and Mandarin Chinese lessons and all those things are great for kids, it’s a wonderful thing to realize that we’re standing on this great, sort of uncut diamond with kids and food. We can spend hundreds of dollars on camp and Mandarin Chinese lessons, but we can actually go in our kitchens and have some meaningful time too.

Samir Husni: Now, with two magazines under your belt, what do you think will be your major stumbling block in the future and how will you overcome it?

Jill Colella: It’s always going to be numbers and getting a robust circulation. And the question is what will be the outcome of that? In my case, more than likely, price point. Each magazine, Ingredient and Butternut, is published almost six times per year. And the price for the subscription is $35 to U.S. addresses. And to many people, that’s expensive and it is to some extent. But we’re very different from other magazines. Of course, we look like other magazines, but we’re different.

Recently, I saw a promotion on Facebook that was the price of four magazines and they were Better Homes and Gardens, maybe Food Network Magazine and maybe Rachael Ray, those kinds of magazines, four of them for an entire year for $12. The truth is that I’ll never be able to produce Ingredient and Butternut for that price. We’re just not subsidized by advertisers. That’s not a place that I want to go with kids and food, not that it’s inconsistent with my values, but kids advertising food to kids is a can of worms and that industry is self-regulated. I do know that I don’t want to use that cover to advertise Pop-Tarts. I didn’t grow up on Pop-Tarts and whether I love them or I don’t doesn’t matter. I would rather have the food experience and for it to be truly about curiosity and not about selling kids. So, that’s my stumbling block, helping people see the value in supporting independent magazines for children, because more of us keep showing up and it’s a really tough industry.

Samir Husni: When I was reading the first issue of Butternut; what fascinates me is that combination of eating with purpose, eating for both the brain and the body. You’ve hit on a very unique DNA for a children’s magazine.

Jill Colella: Thank you.

Samir Husni: Now that you’ve moved from D.C. and the corporate world and you’re doing these magazines as an entrepreneur, what makes you tick and click and motivates you to get up each morning and say to yourself, I’m not giving up?

Jill Colella: That’s a great question. This business moves me and I need to see what happens with it. I would never have told you in a million years, if this were 10 years ago, that I would be making kids magazines about food. (Laughs) Everything that I’ve really done was all of these weird moments that aligned so that I could see the light on the path that led up to all of this. And nothing else in my life has been that way, even though I’ve written tons of educational material for teachers; I’ve been a teacher myself; I’ve been involved in publishing; there’s just something different here.

And that to me means that I just need to see it out. And if it hits and clicks and has the same power as Highlights and is around for 50 years that will be amazing. That’s what I want. But if it doesn’t, I still believe this is the truest expression of my DNA. And I just need to put it into the world. And that’s why I get up each and every day.

Samir Husni: Why do you think your audience, the schools and the children, still need an ink on paper publication in today’s digital world?

cover.2015.jan.feb_lowres Jill Colella: Having been a teacher, I worked in a school that had no lack of resources. It was a private school in D.C. But whenever I tried to use the laptop cards or bring my kids to one of those free computer labs, we always had trouble. Through the tried-and-true ink on paper; I was never let down, nor were my kids. And just the tactile nature of it and being able to pull it off a shelf and escape into text; it’s just a kind of reprieve that kids need to escape the noise in their lives.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Jill Colella: Yes; I’ll get on my soapbox for a minute. I also worked in children’s book publishing and I worked for an imprint that’s based here in Minneapolis. And I did that job to learn a lot about how the publishing world works. Most of that job was a publicity job and so when you have a new book there are protocols for how to get that book reviewed. You have a list of people who expect to get a ton of galleys and books twice a year and their sole purpose is to write about them and then put that out into the world.

Magazines don’t have that at all. And I just corresponded with School Library Journal and asked them if they had a protocol for magazine reviews. And they don’t. Even something like Highlights that has been around for a very long time and other great magazines; there’s a new magazine for kids about computers and coding; there’s a great magazine for kids in the military who move all around because of Mom and Dad’s careers, and librarians have no idea that these exist. There’s no outreach arm to this audience, and really no one that I found who specializes in periodicals.

I wish there was a blogger who was a mouthpiece for these magazines. We have wonderful people creating beautiful, much-needed magazines and there’s no way to get the word out about them to the rest of the world to decision-makers who have purchasing power. Just pay a little bit more attention to magazines.

I remember reading a magazine when I was a kid; someone bought me a Barbie magazine. I can still see it in my mind, completely clearly. It’s different in ethos from what I do. But that magazine influenced me and it is a large part of what I do. It’s one of the dots on the path.

There are a bunch of kids reading these magazines and I would love to see some of these outlets get recognition.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Jill Colella: The easy answer is circulation. It’s really getting the word out there into the world about these magazines. There will be a point where I run out of runway and I see that in my colleagues who also do independent magazines for children. It’s getting these materials into the hands of people who will most benefit from them. Connecting with the audience and making sure that I have a viable business to do that.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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