Speaker Spotlight: Cecilia Gunther

Cecilia Gunther headshot
Cecilia Gunther

Once upon an time, in a land across the oceans, a girl named Cecilia was born. If that sounds like the start of a fairy tale, it’s on purpose. Though speaker Cecilia Gunther’s life hasn’t actually been a fairy tale, its zigs and zags have been so fascinating that it could easily be written up and sold as fiction.

Mother of five. High school drama teacher. Director. Photographer. Film industry professional in London. Quite honestly, any of those roles could be easily be a subject tackled by a script developer (another former career), but the shift from where she was to where she is now — down home on the farm in Illinois, growing her own food and raising animals with the moral support of her blog’s community of farmers — sounds like the kind of Amazon or BBC series I’d binge-watch in a weekend (well, if the writing was good, obviously).

We discovered Cecilia when we asked on the WordPress.com official Hot Off the Press blog if readers could suggest any great bloggers that we should consider for Press Publish. We’re so glad someone brought her to our attention! Her photographs are amazing, and seeing the connections that have formed in her commenting community is an example of the social richness that blogging can bring into your life.

But back to that fairy tale… this isn’t the first time Cecilia has been on the farm. As a teenager, she came to the U.S. as an exchange student. Cue a meet cute on the farm followed love, loss, travel, and all the other things that come with living. Fast forward a few decades to London, reconnection, more love and travel and another wedding, and back to the farm! I’m leaving out lots of details, but you get the idea that Cecilia has kind of an incredible story, right? Don’t worry, she’s going to tell you all about how she wound up where she is, and how her blog has helped her succeed and make great friends along the way. You won’t want to miss this session, and you definitely don’t want to miss her photographs!

Here’s our usual interview to help you get to know Cecilia, and you can also chat with her in her community conversation on how blogs evolve over time.

Q. What made you start blogging on thekitchensgarden.com

A. I came to live in the Midwest of America from London (though I am a New Zealander) about nine years ago. I was used to being surrounded in people and the prairies felt very wide and very lonely. Not being happy with the food in the supermarkets I decided to grow my own food embracing the challenge of self sufficiency. I took advantage of the land around my house and began to grow my own food. I started blogging to document the development of my little piece of land, taking photographs so that my own grown children and friends who do not live anywhere near closeby, could still drop in on any given day and see what I had been up to. I continue to blog with a growing readership of like-minded and very clever individuals who are always ready to help a lady farmer.

Q. What kept you (and still keeps you) posting regularly?

A. I promised myself and them that I would tell the truth of every day and that every post was about what happened yesterday and that the images would be what I saw that day. When I travel I take the readers with me, but 99 percent of the posts are just me pottering through an ordinary day farming, raising and cooking my own food using old fashioned methods. Mostly Organic. Mostly sustainable. Always tasty.

I post every day at about the same time. So, routine has a lot to do with the continued posting of the blog. I work on the images in the evening and write and post early morning – usually around dawn just before I go out to start my chores. The blog is a soap opera. Slow moving, the dialogue is not terribly challenging and there are lots of pretty pictures. I have made it easy for myself. And easy for my readers too.

Also the blog has developed a life of its own. All day as I work in the fields and the barns, usually completely alone but for the animals, I find myself collecting images and anecdotes to tell my readers the next morning. The blog itself has become a dialogue, my cup of tea. I guess you could call my readers my neighbours and we meet for a cup of tea together every day. I am no longer lonely out here.

Q. What’s your most popular post? Is that also your favorite post? If not, what are a few of your favourite posts and why.

A. Do you remember the morning we skyped (when you were at the beach in Hawaii and I was at the beach in New Zealand) and you asked me what my favourite post was? I was totally stumped. Each post is a continuation of yesterday’s post, they work as a unit (I have had new readers start at the beginning of this blog’s life and read every single post to get up to date) and I have TOO MANY favourites because few posts stand alone.

So I asked my readers this question this morning. Here is what they said. If you have a moment – zoom down to the Lounge of Comments.

Firstly the most popular post (which is not my favorite post by the way).

How to Steam Eggs — No Need to Boil at All. This post is an old post in the previous free WordPress format so it has been squeezed into my new format and is now kind of awkward. But many people seem to want to know how to steam eggs!

Also for you, with the help of my readers, here are three good favourite posts that might help you get a handle on what my blog is all about.

My Enemy. We had been having trouble with an animal killing chickens and I had put a wildlife motion activated camera into the hen house to see what was doing it. This is the day we realised that we were up against minks. I chose this one as it is in fact an ordinary post about the day to day running of an old fashioned farm but shows the drama of ordinary farm life and the dangers faced by pasture-raised animals.

The Day I Almost Married the Marlboro Man. I wrote a series of stories about my life as a child growing up on a beach. These rose from the ‘I can’t do it because I don’t know how’ discussion. Many of my readers were saying that they could not do what I do. They could not grow their own food because they had never done it before. One of the main aims of this blog is to show that we can all be involved in the growing of our own food — no matter what our background is — even if it is only herbs on the windowsill. I did not grow up on a farm you see. I grew up literally just above high tide on a beach. Laying about in the sand. The day I met the Marlboro Man still makes me smile.

Feeding Sugar Water to Bees — This post carries some of my most favourite images of the bees that I have on my property. Chosen because of its beauty. Bees are magic, having them down in the back is always a joy. They are hard to keep alive here too, because we are surrounded in the GM crops of corn and beans. But the honey is magnificent and we have excellent pollination levels in the gardens.

gunther-sugar-bee-4

Q. How have readers responded to your writing?

A. My readers respond with kind and informed support — always. My readers are called The Fellowship. They play a massive part in supporting me and keeping me informed on farming practices. They are an integral part of the blog. Many are actually so emotionally invested in the blog that they read daily and make intelligent and informative comments daily.

Very early on in the ever-developing life of the blog The Kitchens Garden, they began to form into a very strong collection of real people, soon naming themselves The Fellowship. This was such a tidal movement that none of us can even remember who came up with the name. We call the comments section The Lounge of Comments. This is where the commenting members of the fellowship gather every day. And I mean gather, often they will pop in and out a number of times to read each others’ comments. Sometimes when I am busy on the farm they even answer each others’ questions and if one of The Fellowship is ill or needs support, or has a farm question, this is where they support and inform each other.

We have a page called Join Us — pop in if you have a moment. It is a startling collection of personalities: this is where many of The Fellowship introduce themselves to me and each other. Even the ones that seldom comment.

Letters for my Little Sister book coverThe Fellowship have published one book already — Letters for my Little Sister — and are working on another. The books began when I wrote a post about menopause and the comments in the Lounge were so full and so interesting, that I decided to make the comments into a book. My readers expounded on their initial thoughts and sent these letters to me and with the help of another member I produced a lovely book (It is on its third print now and is sold on Amazon)

The second book is underway: I am presently collating Letters for my Baby Girl this winter and then we will begin the third in our series. The Letters Books are a direct result of the Lounge of Comments and the honesty and wealth of information that the readers of The Kitchens garden share with each other. So, you see, the readers of my blog are like a huge engine chugging along underneath my farm, moving us all forwards.

Q. Is there anything you’re hoping to share with the Press Publish audience?

A. I take it that you mean the talk that I shall give?

I am hoping to talk about the relationships that we build throughout our lives that strengthen our blogs. I believe that everything comes down to relationships. The ones we develop with our readers, our screens, our writing, the weather, our images – our content – even our time management- the people in our lives and from our lives – even our relationships with the people who have left our lives. Even the relationships we develop with technology. To develop a clear linear thread between these relationships creates a clarity of thought that, as bloggers riding the waves of the interwebs and as People in a fast moving world, ENABLE and feed a curious strength.

Once that strength is collected and fed and decanted we can draw on the strength created from these relationships.

I call this energy The Benevolent Monster. It has become a kind of THING. Once we have done our home work, made our plan, put the pieces of our plan in order and pushed Play we climb up onto This Benevolent Monster, we have informed him and fed him, now we trust him and HE begins to carry US through. This is paramount in a blog. Trusting ourselves and our readers.

For example: think about your work on this conference – you are developing a clear series of relationships, you collect the people, you carve out the time, you reach out with your fingers and gently cajole the information from your team and knit it into a cohesive mass. Soon you will have created a beautiful Benevolent Monster, and when your gathering work is done – you climb up his weathered and elderly hide (you might need a ladder!) kick your heels in and then TRUST The Benevolent Monster to walk forward unaided and bring your work to fruition. Everything is in place, your work has gone Live, the conference begins and The Benevolent Monster takes over. An idea has become an entity. From then on you say Yes to each problem as it pops up confident in the Monster. I love the Monster.

This is what I will talk about and extend for the people of Press Publish. This and more! What do you think?

Q. Is there anything you’re hoping to learn at Press Publish?

A. I need to learn so much! You mentioned that you were bringing people to speak about technical matters. I am deeply low-tech at the best of times. I live a very sheltered life out here on the Mid West. I don’t even have TV. And I know I am not using the WordPress machine as well as I should be. So I am excited to be able to listen to your speakers and streamline and clean up a lot of my own antiquated practices.

As an example I shall go over to your earlier email right now and try to work out how to do an online signature!!

I am also looking forward to your other speakers. Learning how they approach their days and their own time management and motivations. How they power their own Benevolent Monsters. Bloggers are inherently solitary so it will be good to cross the divide and discuss this medium with other bloggers.

Cecilia will be speaking on March 28, 2015 at Press Publish Portland.

Get tickets!