Words & Photos Ingrid Hofstra

Sarah Britton on Profitable Passion Projects

Apr 22, 2016

Her website, My New Roots, has hundreds of thousands of readers from all over the world. Sarah Britton, one of the leading food bloggers of our time, inspires people to get back in the kitchen again with innovative, healthy recipes and a positive spirit. Sarah shares her journey on turning a humble passion project into a viable business.

How did My New Roots start?

The reason for starting a blog actually came from a guy I was dating at the time when I graduated school. One day I was talking about kombucha, spirulina, bee pollen, or something like that, and he said: “Sarah, I think you should start a blog.” My New Roots began as just a hobby, before food blogging was really “a thing.” But now, my life revolves around it in many aspects. I really love that, and I feel so blessed that my passion project has turned into my job. I get to cook and share my love for healthy food every single day, and that is awesome.

What was the turning point?

A few years ago when I was both blogging and working in restaurants, I felt like I had to make a choice. Am I going to keep plugging away at something that doesn’t give me any money in hopes that it will one day, or am I going to keep pushing myself in the only channel that is actually keeping a roof over my head?

How did you decide what to do in that situation?

My answer was that I would always keep up the blog. It is my creative outlet, and a channel where I express myself. It fulfills my passion for food and cooking, but also the photography and writing aspect of it—even if no one was reading it! Actually, no one was reading it for a long time when I just started out. So despite everything I would just keep doing it because I love it.

Were you putting a lot of time into blogging at that point?

It takes me about twenty hours to create a blog post, which surprises a lot of people. But even if it’s time consuming I like the process and get a real kick out of writing. I often sit and like laugh at myself, thinking “ooh that was a good line!”

"It was about three years before I got a comment from someone whose last name wasn’t mine."

Where did your passion for healthy living develop?

After I graduated from design school, I spent a year on an organic farm in Arizona. It was actually a five-week workshop that turned into a year because I just couldn’t leave. After all, I planted all these seeds and I wasn’t going to walk away! At the same time I inadvertently gave up all processed foods and was just eating what we were growing. My life changed so drastically in the course of a couple of weeks there was no way I could go back to living the old way and I just felt really awake for the first time in my life. During that year I learned so much about food: how to grow it, why organic agriculture is so important, and the effect it can have on the body and mind. I experienced a profound transformation in every aspect of myself because of it.

How did you turn those feelings into actions?

I got back to Toronto and really had no idea what to do with my life. I started googling cooking classes in Toronto and came across The Institute of Holistic Nutrition. I thought, what the heck, that sounds really interesting! I understood how food was grown and why it is important that we grow it in a natural way, but I didn’t really know what food was doing with my body on a cellular level. I wanted to figure out what had happened inside me when I started eating better. So I decided to dedicate my life to holistic nutrition. My studies were deeply educational, each modality resonated with me on so many levels and helped me to understand the true power of food. It is not about sustenance or calories. It is preventative and healing. Studying food in this way was an intense yet phenomenal experience.

What did you do to attract readers to the site?

This was definitely something that took a long time. There wasn’t an incentive with writing a blog, or any end goal. It was about three years before I got a comment from someone whose last name wasn’t mine or who I didn’t recognize! But very slowly, the audience started growing. In 2009 I moved to Denmark. I had been blogging for two years and my husband kept saying: “You should really get on Facebook.” I have never really been into social media, but he thought it would really help connect with my audience –and it did! When Instagram came along, it was again, such a turning point. Social media definitely has played a role in growing an audience.

When did you finally decide My New Roots could be a viable business?

In 2011 I taught my first cooking class in Copenhagen. My husband broke his arms that year, so while he was recovering we had a lot of time to talk about the future and he advised me to quit my restaurant job and put all my energy in what I really wanted: to work on My New Roots full time and to teach. So I hosted and taught my first cooking class. I did everything myself, including the dishes! I only charged ten dollars per person, but the tickets sold out, which was a huge validation. Later, I hired a manager and we have since hosted a lot of classes and workshops together, which has been a ton of fun. Having help allows me to focus on teaching instead of all the logistics.

"I don’t have to wear a suit and go to an office every morning, I am not on someone else’s schedule."

Your blog has stayed free of ads and sponsored posts. How and why?

Yes, that was a very conscious decision from the beginning: no advertising and no sponsored content. I want the blog to inspire and inform my readers, so it wouldn’t work with a shoe ad next to my chickpea tortilla chips. My income comes from classes, events, my cookbook, my app, and online video classes. It doesn’t make me rich but it pays the bills and I’m really happy with that. I don’t have to wear a suit and go to an office every morning, I am not on someone else’s schedule. I work from home and I can spend a lot of time with my son and husband, which makes me feel very lucky.

What would your advice be to other bloggers?

I would advise people to find a specific niche, something you are good at, and run with it. Do you like vegan stuff, raw, or vegan paleo? Focus in and be specific. In terms of business, if advertising is something you’re okay with, that’s a great way to make money. So are affiliate programs, or e-books. Just make sure your products have a relation to what you are doing.

How do you stay motivated to continually update My New Roots?

It’s not easy! Finding the inspiration is totally random. Sometimes it just comes to me. Traveling helps, as does reading cookbooks, but also the seasons, the market or being out in nature. My son is also a source of inspiration. He’s a pretty adventurous eater; we rarely give him the same thing twice.

"Find a specific niche, something you are good at, and run with it."

How did motherhood change your outlook?

Working on My New Roots did become twice as hard since his birth as I don’t have a lot of time for myself anymore. Writing the blog is very time consuming but not in a negative way. I just have to be more patient and forgiving with myself. After my baby was born, I expected to have the same level of energy and the same drive, but I just didn’t – which is normal when you have a baby that doesn’t sleep all the time. For a time, the blog became more of a burden, but now I am really excited again, feeling inspired to create new recipes.

What do you hope people take away from reading My New Roots?

I hope people find inspiration in my recipes or their own adapted version of the recipes. I always like it when people say “oh, I was so inspired by your ingredients and I changed these things.” I feel really honored that people would invite me into their kitchen by making one of my recipes. I hope that this inspiration will give my readers a reason to get into their kitchen again and cook for their loved ones. It makes me really sad to see so much disconnection from the earth, food, our families, our communities, and friends. So I hope that cooking and eating together can bring people closer.

What do you think is one of the most rewarding things about working in the food industry?

The cool part about cooking is the domino effect: one step leads to the next one. Make a pot of rice. Then make lentils. Then try beans. These are little steps, but if you make one change a day it adds up. The more changes you make the more motivated you are to keep going and it becomes a healthy habit. That’s really the purpose of My New Roots. I feel food has given me so much in my life and I love to see how it inspires people to cook for themselves.

How do you harness the power of your blog for good?

I think people get a sense of who I am and what I stand for through the blog and I give my readers information about the ingredients as well. I think the knowledge about the ingredients inspires people - even if it is as simple as getting calcium from sesame seeds instead of milk.

People get so much conflicting information about food. How do we know what is really good for us?

The internet is great, as we can find so much information there, but there are also a lot of half-truths and self-interested media pushing their agendas. When I am researching for the blog, I use books and journal articles and I try not to google too many things. I also rely a lot on my own instincts in discovering what is good for me and my body at the time. That is the miraculous thing about nutrition: it is so much about listening to yourself. When you give up processed foods and eat more whole foods, your inner voice becomes much more clear and you’ll instinctually know what you need.

Make Sarah's Sprouted Wild Rice & Beet Salad.