Kari Johnston (right)
and business partner, Courtney Quinn (left)
Wholesale Baking and Catering, Co-Owner
14 Acre Farm in Haines Junction, Yukon Territory
Kari Johnston integrates geography into her life and worldview. As an Environmental Studies student in Geography, Settlement Systems and Development (University of Waterloo), Johnston was deeply intrigued by the larger ecosystem of the university and actively explored her role within it by getting involved in student governance. Johnston wanted a firsthand understanding of the linkages, relationships, and perspectives at play. She followed a similar pattern when she entered the workforce and was fascinated by the interplay of various systems within each of her job experiences, whether it be health care, tourism, education, mining, or catering. For Johnston, embedded in each workplace was history, geography, and potential for learning and growth. Now, as the co-owner of 14 Acre Farm in the Yukon, Johnston uses her geography background to ask important questions and make decisions that support the local Northern economy.
1. How do you incorporate geography into your work?
As a business owner on traditional First Nations land, my background in geography reminds me to consider the responsibilities I have because I am here. I live in Haines Junction -- a small, seasonal, highway town. Many of our businesses are seasonal and cater to the tourism market connected to the Kluane National Park and Reserve. As a business, we try to make choices that are cheaper. But sometimes, we make decisions that
are better for growing and supporting the local Northern economy. We try as much as we can to buy from local growers and to develop a strong connection with the local community. Although we pay more for local products, it is a choice that encourages more jobs in our community.
2. In what ways did your program prepare you for your career?
In one introductory geography class, the professor said that geographers are mediators because we understand each system – be it economic, human, or physical – from multiple perspectives. This skill makes geographers adept at bringing together diverse groups of people. I certainly experimented with this idea of creating bridging conversations and finding similarities while in university. It is a skill that I incorporate into every job I have had, and it has made me a valuable employee. Now, as a business owner, I am always working with people from different backgrounds and professions. Finding commonalities makes people feel comfortable, and that is a persistent part of my job.
3. Looking back, what would you have done differently?
I wish I paid more attention in statistics class. I was so interested in human and economic geography that I took the bare minimum requirement of course in everything else. Having a broader understanding of how to analyze data may have helped us through the learning curve of understanding our business data. When we started the business, we had a lot to learn about operating costs, food costs, and scale. We are getting better at it, but it is tough to make money in the food industry, regardless of where in North America, but it is increasingly complex in the North, where half the time, our groceries do not arrive, or they arrive stale or rotten. That is when we started having conversations about sourcing our ingredients locally.
4. Do you have any advice for students wishing to attain a fulfilling career in geography?
I think life is always what you make it, and so your time at university is also what you make it. As a geography student, you are being trained to think about the broader system, so start thinking about yourself in that way. Be careful not to think exclusively about your studies. Engage in the university community and participate in the community outside the university. Genuinely live in that space. Be who you are, at that moment, in that context and environment.