There I was, in a room full of people I didn’t know, save for my benefactors – the two gals from the Manitoba Canola Growers – with whom I had been traveling. I was sure no one knew me as I sat picking out a few familiar faces from the people seated at other tables. They were only familiar because of social media. Either I’d seen their profile pictures on-line, I had read their work, or I may have even had a Twitter conversation with them. But, that was the extent of it. I looked a few tables over and saw Heather Travis, the friendly voice behind Canadian Beef. I knew her, but would she know who I was? The internet is a huge place, and it’s easy to be overlooked.
Later, when I approached Heather to introduce myself I expected a polite handshake and some awkward small-talk, followed by an uncomfortable silence at which time I would quietly excuse myself and return to my own table.
Since she was seated at a table with other sponsors and some of the conference speakers, I was a bit intimidated as I approached her.
“Excuse me, Heather?” I said, tapping on her shoulder.
She turned to face me. “Yes?”
“Hi, I’m Jeanine Friesen, of The Baking Beauties” I said, offering my hand.
“Jeanine!” she said, jumping up and giving me a hug. “It’s so nice to meet you.”
And that’s when I knew that everything was going to be alright that weekend.
For those of you that have been following me for a while, you may remember me mentioning a “My Cookies are the Best” contest, hosted by Manitoba Canola Growers. The contest was open to all members of Food Bloggers of Canada (FBC). The challenge was to create a cookie recipe that uses canola oil. There were going to be two winners, one from Manitoba, and one from elsewhere in Canada. The prize? An all expense paid trip to Hockley Valley to the first ever Food Bloggers of Canada Conference.
I really wanted to attend this convention. When you’re a single-income family, with two kids, blogging conventions just aren’t a part of the budget. But after winning a trip to Toronto last year through Redpath Sugar, I knew the possibility of winning existed, slight as it might seem. So I entered four recipes to increase my chances.
The contest closed November 28, 2012 and I had put it in the back of my mind until the morning of December 3rd, 2012 when, without a cup of coffee to yet touch my lips, I read the following email:
Hi Jeanine and CONGRATULATIONS!! You won a trip to FBC2013 with your Gluten-free sugar cookie recipe!
I had to read it two or three times before it finally sank in – I wasn’t dreaming – I was actually going to have an opportunity to attend the FBC 2013 Conference.
I’ve never been to a conference before and I wasn’t sure what to expect. So I read about the line up of speakers, scoped out who all the sponsors were, and checked out my fellow winner’s blog, Maya’s Kitchen. As the two Canola Grower winners, Maya & I were going to be sharing a room at the conference. After determining that there would be plenty to learn, that the swag would be sweet, and that my roommate was indeed not a psycho (don’t judge, you’d do the same thing), I was set.
FBC2013 was the first held by the Food Bloggers of Canada. Similar conventions have been an annual event in the US for the past number years and by what I’ve heard, they are much bigger events. Not that bigger is necessarily better though. One of the great things about this conference was its small size. There were only about 100 people attending, which made it a very comfortable, intimate setting.
The speakers were all down-to-earth and approachable. They didn’t just stick around for their 45 minute session and then leave. They spent the entire weekend eating, chatting, laughing and learning along with us attendees. They were available all weekend. Now, I haven’t been to a conference before, but I don’t think that is the “norm” for conferences. At times I was literally surrounded by the conference speakers. During David Leite’s session, David was five feet in front of me, Dianne Jacob five feet to the right, and Dana McCauley five feet behind me. I was in the center of all this knowledge and food journalism experience. Amazing.
There were so many great topics covered – photography, bookkeeping, working with brands, making money with blogging – and in such an interesting way, that it’s difficult to say which was the most informative. Sessions were directed at the writing aspect of food blogging, as well as the technical aspects of running a website business. One of my favourite sessions was Recipe Development with Mairlyn Smith, Stephanie Eddy, and Adell Shneer. Mairlyn Smith, with her wit & humour, brought a lot of energy to the Sunday morning session – something we all needed after a few late nights.
It’s just so neat to see how others create their recipes. How they tweak, test, and re-test until they are satisfied. I really appreciated each panel members openness when sharing their process with us. It was great to see how similar my own method is to these professionals. However, they’ve given me a few new ideas that I know will help me with the recipes that I develop in the future.
The food was fabulous. Hockley Valley did a magnificent job catering the event and, for me, there were also plenty of gluten-free items available. They even had gluten-free muffins available during the coffee breaks.
Many of the sponsors provided us with succulent dishes and plenty of Ontario wine to go with it. I don’t usually drink wine, but figured, where else am I going to have the opportunity to taste such a variety of wines at once? So, I started to accept ‘just a sip’ when the wait-staff came around. Apparently I have been drinking very harsh wines until now, because many of the ones I tasted were actually pretty good.
Most of what I learned was behind-the-scene-knowledge about blogging. But I hope that some things will make their way to the front page. I also hope that, even though I was gifted this great opportunity, it will be you, my readers, who benefit the most from what I’ve learned.
I am extremely thankful for the opportunity provided by the Manitoba Canola Growers. Not only for the Food Bloggers of Canada convention, but the extras they have done to promote me and my blog. Since winning the “My Cookies are the Best” contest, I have had the opportunity to be on CTV Morning Live, got to share my story with the Be Well readers, was interviewed by the Manitoba Co-operator, and most recently received a letter of congratulations from my local Member of Parliament.
The Manitoba Canola Growers have given me some fantastic opportunities to talk to people about a living gluten-free life and to help them realize that it can be a very delicious life. Thank you Ellen and Jenn for making FBC2013 a fabulous weekend.
Disclosure: My travel, conference fees, and other expenses were all paid for by Manitoba Canola Growers. The opinions expressed are completely my own.