Alumni Update: Interview with Katie James
Katie (Fazekas) James | Graphic Design BFA ’13
Graphic designer and social media coordinator with the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development | Portfolio
FarmHER & Owner/Founder of Teal Tractor
Community Supported Agriculture from farm to table. Meet this growing “FarmHer,” and hear her colorful story. The David J. Joseph Company Business Hub, 2nd Floor, College of Business, BGSU
“I’ve taken my talents south to the Bluegrass and I’m proud to call Lexington, Kentucky my home!” Katie James is a Cleveland, Ohio native who received a Bachelor’s degree in fine arts and a minor in Marketing from Bowling Green State University in 2013. She is currently working as a graphic designer and social media coordinator with the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. She founded Teal Tractor CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in 2014 and has been farming it since. At Teal Tractor, they focus on growing their crops sustainability and practicing conservation on their land. These products range from a variety of vegetables, fruits, and some herbs. Katie is a supporter of agriculture in a small-scale community and farming products that is beneficial for the people and the environment.
Why did you decide to attend Bowling Green State University?
Bowling Green State University was the right choice for me because of the Fine Arts program, specifically Graphic Design. The school of business was also an attracting factor for me based on my interest in marketing as well. I wanted to earn my degree and gain experiences that would set me up for success after graduation and I know more than a few alumni that would choose BGSU if they could do it all over again.
What attracted you to the field of graphic design?
From a young age, I was always asking questions – appropriately nicknamed Wonder Woman in 5th grade because of this – but I have always been curious about how things worked and communicating things in a visual manner.
Did your senior thesis influence where you are with design today?
My thesis definitely did influence where I am with design today. ‘Drop & Give Me Twenty’ was focused around breaking down the Nutrition Facts label to better communicate information and ingredients to consumers.
Today, I am growing fruits and vegetables on our farm and helping communicate to local consumers about how their food is grown, harvested and how to create healthy meals with our farm fresh ingredients. There is a lot of negative, non-factual marketing being spread by corporations that shed a negative light on farmers; abuse allegations from PETA, Chipotle preaching non-GMO is the way to go, pegging conventional farming practices against certified organic… the list goes on. Reeducating the public about their food and where it comes from is a start to addressing these issues. Design solves problems and farmers framed as the bad guys is a big one, their work is their livelihood. I am trying to use my design and marketing degree to help clearly communicate our farm story from a 6th generation farmer’s standpoint, with facts and visual representation.
Ultimately, my thesis was just the beginning but the years after have taught me that research, scientific data, and out in the field testing experiences are the best criteria to help rationalize any decision whether it’s design based or otherwise.
Has there ever been a time in your career or while you were in school that you felt as if design was not for you or your passion is something else? If yes, why did you decide to continue with it?
No, I think I’ve always wanted to be creative and graphic design was the means to an end, whether in print, digital or a combination of multiple formats to create a cohesive product. Using my design and marketing degree, my career has been able to evolve into doing things I never imagined. Designing in the dirt, literally, is one of them and I’ve watched this little idea grow with a lot of sweat, blood, and a few tears (happy tears of course).
I founded Teal Tractor CSA which stands for Community Supported Agriculture, a relationship between our farm and our customers. Rather than simply purchasing food, our customers become “members” of this CSA farm who receive a portion of the farm’s harvest. Each season is 20 weeks long and we deliver every Monday. I’ve partnered with friends who have produce or other value added products that we do not, such as Clark Family Farm chicken & eggs, Weisenberger Mill mixes, and more.
Doing more with my degree outside of a conventional job was a risk, but it has taught me more valuable lessons that I am able to apply in all areas of my life.
Why did you decide to leave the corporate design world to embark on your current path in design, and how would you describe your lifestyle now?
I am grateful for any and all work that I have done in the past and currently do now. I simply felt the need to do more. All of those hours at internships, at a desk, or in the field, have taught me invaluable lessons and I wouldn’t be the same without them.
What advice would you give for students currently in the program?
– Experiment with your skill levels in other interests, like mastering photography. Your work is so much more powerful when you create your own images.
– Make the most of opportunities that present themselves. Collaborate with your friends as often as you can – it will make you a better designer.
– Be very conscious of how you take criticism about your work – study up on some of your design mentors. No one wants to work with someone that will be argumentative without a rationale, ‘liking’ it isn’t good enough.
– With that being said, do your homework and research, it’s hard to argue with someone that has concrete facts backing up their work.
– Think about how people who are not in the design industry use our stuff, user focused design; print, web, UI/UX.
– Practice collecting data or feedback and analyzing it to your benefit – think big picture!
How did design school compare to a career in graphic design? Is there anything specific that you learned that has stuck with you?
– Care about other things than just design, a lot of those interests will shape your future work.
– After graduation, every week is finals week.
– Deadlines are hard, fast and real.
– Take feedback with an open mind.
– Take responsibility for your failures, learn from them, correct them, move forward fast.
What are some things that I should be focusing on in school that will prepare me to find a job after graduation in general or more specifically, if I decide not to go down the path of corporate design?
Be prepared to work very hard to be successful – only you can set the bar for yourself, regardless of if it’s corporate or non-traditional design.
God has a sense of humor – I had no idea that in 5 years I would be where I am, doing the work I’m involved with now. I had a completely different plan for myself but the only constant has been hard work and dedication. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, so put in the hours, take on the challenging jobs and you will learn a lot about yourself and you’ll be surprised to find out what you’re capable of.
What was the most exciting opportunity you have ever received?
I think creating Teal Tractor CSA has been the most exciting opportunity I’ve had. I was able to use my design & marketing degree to research our market on CSA’s, create a brand that has true meaning to consumers, create a website that is user friendly and serves its purpose while being easy to maintain to do the work that matters, develop a full identity that is relatable and easy to connect with. It didn’t all happen overnight but it was like a fire burning – I was excited about it, I looked forward to seeing what it would become. Each year has brought new ideas, new lessons, new friendships – it has really shown me what my passion is and made it easy to pursue it.
For more information about Katie James, please visit
Interview by Emily Feaster