Gorkana Meets…Cassie Johnston

First, tell us a bit about your blog, Back to Her Roots, and what it covers.

Originally, I started my blog when I was on a journey to lose weight and get healthy. I started off blogging about my healthy eats, workouts and struggles with the scale. Slowly, my blog evolved to focus on healthy cooking and eating. Now I cover everything that interests me—cooking, gardening, sewing, and homesteading.

Tell us about your blog’s audience. What sort of traffic do you get? What posts and stories have been most popular?

Because my blog started off in the healthy living stratosphere, I have a lot of readers who came by because they were motivated by my wellness stories. As the years have passed, I’ve gained a lot of diverse readers from all over the world who are interested in all kinds of things. I’ve been very lucky to have a steady growth over my four years of blogging. My most popular posts are always recipe posts like the one on making Salad in a Jar, which had nearly 500,000 hits in the past two months.

Describing your blog’s mission, you say, “I’m my best self when I stick to my roots.” Tell us a bit about the “roots” that have made you who you are and that define your blog.

For years, I tried to lose weight and get healthy in every which way possible. Fad diets, starving, crazy workouts—it wasn’t until I looked back into my history and realized that I was at my healthiest as a kid growing up in the country. I realized the key to being a healthy adult wasn’t found in some book or exercise DVD, but in my roots. I started eating the way I did as a kid—fresh, healthy foods out of the garden. I started moving the way I did as a kid like playing basketball in the driveway and going on hikes. And suddenly, I started to feel better than ever. And I started to lose weight.

I hope my blog is an example to folks that you don’t have to be crazy about health and fitness to be a healthy person. You can still eat birthday cake and live a healthy life. In fact, I think the healthiest lives include birthday cake!

You mention two health principles that inspire many of your blog posts: first, “try to be healthy most of the time”; second, “everything in moderation, including moderation.” What have been some of your favorite ways to live this wellness philosophy? Have those experiences resulted in any notable blog projects?

I feel like so much of the propaganda we see about health and fitness is an all-or-nothing approach, and I feel like that just isn’t realistic for a normal person’s life. A normal person can’t get to the gym every day or spend two hours cooking a healthy dinner every night. So I try to cut myself some slack. When I have the choice, I try to pick the healthier option. And when I don’t, I don’t beat myself up about it.

I have a series of two-week menu plans on my blog that I think are a really great example of this philosophy. The menu isn’t full of 14 days of raw kale salads, but it is a healthy mix of real, clean eats that are doable even on that crazy Tuesday evening after running the kids home from soccer practice.

One distinctive feature of your blog is “Join the Conversation,” a series of question-based discussion threads interspersed between blog posts. What are some of the most interesting questions you’ve asked readers and answers you’ve received? Do you see yourself expanding your blog to include more interactive features like this?

One of the things I love the most about blogging is that it’s a conversation. So much of media is one-sided, but with blogging, you truly get to interact with your audience! I feel so fortunate to have that luxury. I think the “Join the Conversation” questions are most successful when they are broad enough for almost anyone to relate to. Sometimes I’ll ask folks for suggestions on vacation ideas, restaurant recommendations or product reviews, and I always get a great response. Not only is it a great way to crowd-source some information from like-minded individuals, but I also think it helps give my readers a sense that their opinion matters to me—and it really, really does!

A caveat on the two-way conversation though: I think sometimes it can be taken too far and it can begin to water down a blogger’s voice. During my first year of blogging, I put out a reader survey, because I was new to this whole thing and I really wanted some feedback on how I was doing. I gained a few small items, but mostly what I learned was that I was never going to be able to satisfy everyone. If I had tackled every single complaint in that survey, I wouldn’t have any content on my blog! For every 10 readers who said they wanted more recipes, I had another 10 who said fewer. And that went on for dozens of different arenas. It made me realize that, while it’s important to be interactive with your readers, it’s more important to be true to your own voice.

What are some of the PR, marketing, and promotion opportunities you’ve worked with on your blog? How can PRs help you develop your blog’s content?

I honestly struggle a lot of with this side of blogging. I know I could probably be making 200% of my current income by partnering with more PRs, but that’s not a priority for me. One of my main goals is to keep my blog authentic, and, while I find absolutely nothing wrong with using my blog as an income source—after all, it’s nice to recoup some of the labor costs I put into it—I feel like it’s a very, very delicate balance.

I probably receive 30-45 PR pitches a month, and I politely decline 99% of them. First and foremost, I want every single piece of content I create to bring a benefit to my readers. If Joe Schmoe’s Car Wash wants to give me 100 free car washes to write a review of their car wash, I’m not sure how that benefits my readers; it just benefits me (and well, my car). I write my blog to be a quality content source, not a billboard. When I do sponsored posts or promotional pieces, I really love it when I’m given the freedom to take the posts in my own direction and maybe add some reader value.

When you’re not working on your blog, what other projects or fun activities occupy your time?

Quite honestly, I’m a workaholic! I quit my “real” job about 18 months ago to pursue freelance writing, graphic design, recipe development, and photography full-time. I wrote, photographed and designed my first cookbook last year, and I’m currently working on my second one. When I do find some free time, I spend it in our garden or on hikes. I live out in the country with my husband, and we love living our rural life!

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