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There’s a little game going around facebook right now where someone gives you a numerical year, and you write a post on what you were doing that year. This story is about 1990 – the summer of 1990, between my sophomore and junior years of college. I was 20 years old, more than half my lifetime ago.

First I need to tell you a little about the college I went to, Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. It’s an “alternative” school, meaning the academic system is different than most schools. There is no credit system, and no grades. In fact there is no “freshman”, “sophomore” etc status. Schoolwork was completed by a “Division” system – I, II, and III. Div I was an introduction to the main academic disciplines. Div II was akin to choosing a major. Once I chose my major, I documented it with a portfolio of classes, papers, internships, and other scholarly pursuits that supported it. Div III was similar to a thesis year, where I chose one specific aspect of major to pursue in depth.

My field of interest was ‘environmental education’. Without getting into the specifics of my plan, I can tell you that as I approached my junior year at Hampshire I was worried about what my Div III thesis would be. It had to be something big, big enough to spend an entire year researching and writing. I saw other students at Hampshire during the their Div IIIs doing all this amazingly creative stuff, way beyond what most college students did at the undergrad level. I loved everything about environmental education – the kids I worked with, being in nature, learning about nature, teaching it – but I still did not know what my big Div III project would be. The pressure was on.

This is where the second character of my story comes in, lets call him Larry. Larry was a friend who lived in the area but was a little older than college age. He was an environmental activist and former environmental educator. Truth be told, he was more than a friend. We had an off again, on again romantic relationship.

We were in an “off again” phase when he came up with a great idea earlier that spring in 1990. It sounded like an adventure, a fun way to spend the summer outdoors, and would be excellent fodder for my Div III thesis. It was the kind of big crazy project that Hampshire students came up with all the time. We called it “Trekkin’ Turtle Island”, and here was the plan: We (Larry and I and some of his friends) would hike the  Appalachian Trail all summer. Not the whole thing, since we just had 3 or 4 months, but the New England portion, from Connecticut to Maine. We wouldn’t rush, and it wouldn’t be just a recreational hike. It would have an environmental activism and education mission.

We researched environmental issues along the AT corridor, and decided to focus our message on wildlife- extinct or endangered species native to the areas we were passing through. We’d talk to hikers we’d meet along the way about these environmental problems and challenges, thereby educating people and bringing attention to the issues. Maybe we even created petitions to obtain signatures and later mail to legislators. Frankly, I don’t remember the details.

In order to spark conversations, we decided each one of us would pick a species and dress up like that animal. If I recall correctly, there was a timber rattlesnake, a lynx, and a wolf. Realistically, our costumes couldn’t be too complicated since we’d be spending all day, every day hiking for miles upon miles. I think I was the rattlesnake, and my costume consisted of a sturdy baseball cap with a hand-sewn, stuffed replica of the animal attached to it in front and back. Then, in an effort that pre-dated my graphic design pursuits by at least 10 years, I created an illustration in black and white with those three animals, underneath the arched title of our project, ‘Trekkin’ Turtle Island’, which I had silkscreened on dozens of brightly colored heavy-duty T-shirts. We wore those shirts while hiking, and think we also planned to sell them as a fundraiser to cover the costs of our trip. Then I designed brochures on speckled recycled paper that described our project’s mission, to distribute along the way.

We called it “Trekkin Turtle Island” because according to Native American Iroquois lore, the earth was created on the back of a giant turtle, and thus ‘Turtle Island’ is their name for North America.

Our project was well-conceived and well-organized. We wrote to outdoor equipment companies requesting sponsorship and donations. We even got a small grant from the Earth First Foundation. We bought our maps and guides, backpacks and other gear, planned the trip, where we’d arrive when, when we’d need re-supplies, and then shipped food to post offices at those places so food would be waiting for pickup. I planned to keep a detailed journal of each day’s events, who we met along the trail, and what we discussed.

The core hiking team consisted of myself, Larry, and another outdoorsy young woman named Ann I did not know well, an environmental activist from Geneseo, NY who had somehow heard about our trip and was keen to participate. Other friends would drop in along the way and hike with us for a day or two and then return home. We departed from southwestern CT in late spring and headed north along the Appalachian Trail.

The days took on a steady routine – hike, eat meals, find swimming holes, more hiking. Nights were spent at established AT shelters along the way.

I wish I could say the trip was a resounding success, but it was not. Almost immediately, Larry developed an attraction for our female hiking partner. Even though he and I were ‘just friends’ at this point, it was very awkward. Soon – very soon – friendly interpersonal communications deteriorated, and all three of us felt we were on a forced march rather than a fun adventure. Larry and his new friend decided to leave the trail and abandon the project. I didn’t know what to do. I had no other plans that summer, having invested so much time & energy into this one. I decided to keep going, solo. I figured there were many people on the trail during the warm summer months and I’d soon meet fellow hikers and make new friends.

As it turned out, after about two weeks of this, I was lonely. So I gave up and left the trail in the Berkshires of western Mass. I spent a day wandering around Great Barrington deciding what to do. Trekkin’ Turtle Island was over. It had failed. Miserably. Disappointed and disillusioned, I was probably not in the best frame of mind, and decided to hitchhike to Burlington VT to stay with my college friend Susan for a few days. Please don’t tell my mother about this last part.

Fortunately I arrived safely, and the summer was still young. My friend Joe got me a job as a camp counselor on a dude ranch in Prescott AZ, and thus it turned out to be an interesting summer after all.

I went back to college in the fall, and for my Div III, eventually decided to write an environmental education curriculum for middle school students on Native American culture and lore of the local area, combined with a documentation of my teaching work at a local Audubon nature sanctuary.

I graduated from Hampshire College in 1992, and after doing the nearly-obligatory drive across the country with my friend Jessica, returned to western Mass. and moved to a commune, er, ‘intentional community’ called Earthlands in a rural part of the center of the state, where I was to head up a blossoming educational program. But that’s a story for another time.

I’m currently enrolled in a 12-week class called The Certified Networker, held by the Referral Institute of Ithaca. In the class, I am learning how to develop relationships with people and create a referral network, which will help me grow my business. Part of this work involves enhancing my business image by developing a marketing communication strategy. This strategy includes developing a short introduction about who I am and what I do, and a longer, 10-minute presentation, which is what follows in this blog post. It should have an emotional-based marketing theme, and a call to action.

You know I am a graphic designer, and that I am owner of my business, Julia Reich Design. Let me tell you about myself and WHY I do what I do.

I grew up in NJ, in the suburbs. My father worked on Wall St. as a securities analyst, commuting over an hour each way into the city every day. I did not see him very much, and we were never very close. To this day I could not really explain to you what he did for a living. My mother (now retired), with whom I was closer, started out as a high school math teacher, eventually earning two masters degrees and becoming a learning consultant where she tested teenagers with learning problems – special ed kids – and making recommendations for appropriate schools or programs that would best serve their needs.

As a kid, my two main interests were animals, and drawing. When I went off to college, I thought I’d study to become a wildlife biologist. However, at about the same time I learned that scientists need to have an aptitude for statistics & math, I discovered environmental education – teaching nature to kids – which I loved. i was drawn towards education since i admired my mother and her career, so I went down that path, but in my own unique direction, based on my love for the outdoors.

In my 20’s, after college and then living in NYC, I was an environmental educator. In my last job in that role, I was education director of a nature center on the Hudson River. But more & more I found myself interpreting science lessons with art rather than science, culminating in an environmental & artistic tour de force that was a life-size, indoor, walk-through Hudson River marsh, that I made with my elementary school students.

Soon after, I took an evening class at the school of visual arts in NYC in graphic design, which really resonated with me. In a few more years, I left my education job to attend Pratt Institute, and got a degree in graphic design two years later.

In 2001 I started my own firm. I had worked briefly in a corporate setting, as an in-house designer, but the cubicle life was not for me. I found the hierarchies in those firms stifle creativity and meaningful personal relationships, and which make business development satisfying for me as a “solopreneur”.

Because I was familiar with the nonprofit world, this quickly became my target market, and remains to this day. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some great organizations, educational institutions, and progressive businesses: Brooklyn Botanic Garden; GrowNYC (the org which runs the famous Union Square greenmarkets); Wildlife Conservation Society; National Environmental Education Foundation; Educational Video Center; Slow Food USA; Food Systems Network NYC; Hawthorne Valley Farm. These are the ones that have missions related to my own personal interests, that I feel passionate about, and are usually the most fun to work with. And that list hasn’t changed much since I was a kid – nature, environment, animals, and similar sectors – gardening, food, and anything that could be labeled ‘green or ‘sustainable’. And of course, education.

The services I provide for these nonprofits and progressive businesses include print design (such as brochures, reports, newsletters), web design, and branding. Branding is when I design not only a logo for a client, but create their entire identity, and often also aid them with positioning and messaging – how they communicate who they are in the marketplace. This is my favorite type of work because it is strategic and involves a deep Discovery phase, which is fun, because I really get to dig deep into who a client is – figure out their personality, what’s the story they want to tell, and then translate that into visual language. Once this is established, all those other things I just mentioned – reports, business cards, websites – will need to be designed using a consistent look, feel, and message. In essence, I help organizations create their identity from the ground up, by developing their character, logo, stationery and website – a strong visual gestalt that gets carried through everything else – packaging, advertising, eBlasts, and more.

I run my design firm as a “virtual” agency. By “virtual” I don’t mean “fake” – as I have an office, in Aurora. What I mean is that I work with a collaboration of experts that I hand-pick – professionals such as designers, developers, and photographers – but they mostly work offsite. These are teams of high-level talent that are custom-assembled for each client and project. As compared to a traditional brick & mortar office – with staff – I believe the benefits of a virtual model are manifold:

• Senior level talent. Each person has at least 10 years experience, and because they are all independent consultants, it allows for a more focused application of each expert’s individual skill set.
• Flexibility. To organize a top level team and do it quickly; and to change the team from project to project.
• Personalized service. One of my clients told me recently that the large branding firm they’ve been working with for several years sent their top execs to the first few meetings, but after that, meetings and phone calls were run by staff members who did not seem to be familiar with the client or the project. With the virtual agency model, there is no bait & switch from a senior team member to a junior-level person once the project is awarded. As creative director and project manager, I am always the point person.
• Value. Since I’m dedicated to working within my client’s budget most efficiently, my virtual agency rates are more reasonable and competitive as compared to medium and big firms.

I am growing my business, and maybe you, dear reader, can help me. One of my current clients is the Cornell Small Farms Program. To work with them, I became a “preferred vendor”. Now I can work with any department or program at Cornell, so I’d like to ask – if you know someone who needs graphic design services at Cornell, or knows someone who makes these kinds of purchasing decisions, would you be willing to introduce me to them? I would welcome the opportunity to talk to them about my business and how I may be able to assist them, and would be most grateful for your referral.

Once again, I’m Julia Reich, owner of Julia Reich Design, and I help organizations tell their stories, visually.

And if we ever went for a hike together, I could also teach you to how to identify birds by their calls, plants growing along the trail, and animal tracks in the snow. Oh, and anything you’d like to know about Hudson River marshes.

google map of my farm

This seems like an excellent place to begin: with a virtual tour of my landscape.

In 2007, I–along with husband–discarded 15 years of of urban life to pursue our country dream. We moved to rural central NY state — the Finger Lakes region, known for its scenic beauty and excellent vineyards (over 100 wineries), where we bought 5.2 acres on which sits an old farmhouse, two big barns, some random outbuildings, a pond, and more.

Now, alongside the New Yorker and the NY Times magazine section, I read Grit and Small Hobby Farm.

How do I resolve these two dichotomies? It’s not always easy. At the same time that I’m learning to wrap my head around all this social online networking stuff (you can also find me on FB, Twitter, Flickr, and LinkedIn), I need to stoke the wood stove to keep warm. And I have a hard time believing it myself, but I do actually shovel coal into  my old kitchen stove, every day, to stay warm.

I’m a graphic designer, foodie, and (sophisticated) nature girl. My main interests in life are running my graphic design business (in an office in my barn); cooking, eating and writing about food; and exploring the Finger Lakes by foot and x-c ski, always accompanied by Aurora (aka Rory), my coonhound companion. In this blog I hope to examine all of these aspects, and maybe somewhere along the way I’ll discover the confluence.

I intend for this blog to be fairly personal and informal, in conjunction with my more professional online presence: Julia Reich Design.

Thanks for reading, I look forward to our conversations!

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