While many of her peers pursued college, Eden Prairie High School graduate (2009) Alex Baumhardt took off for New Zealand and worked on an organic farm. Although she later enrolled in the University of Missouri's journalism school, it’s that experience, working with food systems on a small scale, that inspired her to tell stories about agriculture and people around the world—from Qatar to Iceland and Chile to Minneapolis.
Baumhardt is honing her storytelling skills in a master’s program in digital and visual media—including documentary filmmaking, photography and graphic design—in Madrid, Spain, on a Fulbright Scholarship.
Baumhardt’s love affair with storytelling began as a child. “I always wanted to be a storyteller,” she says. “I had subscriptions to National Geographic for my birthday from my grandma since I was 10. In high school, I used to race home on Friday afternoons to read my newest Time magazine, so I love great storytelling."
After high school, Baumhardt, 25, wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, so she set out to go find stories. While her experiences in New Zealand were beneficial, she realized that finding stories was half the battle: She also needed to learn how to tell them.
In 2010, Baumhardt enrolled in the University of Missouri, studying journalism as her major, with a minor in anthropology, but she didn’t let college tie her down, taking time off in between coursework. “I always just took fleeting adventures,” she says. Sojourns included working as a kayaking guide in Alaska and backpacking in South America.
After college, Baumhardt returned to Minnesota, baked bread at the Mississippi Market in St. Paul and interned with the Land Stewardship Project, writing profiles of Minnesota farmers struggling with land access.
More adventurous pursuits bekoned, including in Iceland, where she worked at the Reykjavik Grapevine. “I wanted to go to Iceland because I wanted to go somewhere that’s not media saturated,” Baumhardt says. “Everyone I graduated with went to New York or L.A. or Chicago, and I didn’t want to be anywhere near those places.”
Her pay was only $300 a month—along with coupons to a fish restaurant. She lived in a Salvation Army and occasionally scoured dumpsters to supplement her food. Baumhardt loved the experience, but her student loans came due, and it was time to find better paying work.
After a brief gig in Qatar with the World Cup Planning Committe, she returned to Minnesota before heading back to South America, where she traveled to Venezuela, Colombia and Argentina. The trip included a stint on a Norwegian cruise ship to Antarctica.
Her experience in South America inspired her to apply for the Fulbright. “Most of this springs from the fact that I was hustling with these freelance stories in South America, and I [thought], ‘I’m just not monetizing this largely enough or fast enough,’” she says, noting that editors often asked her to take her own photos to get audio and video when possible.
Baumhardt says her love of travel and adventure comes from her father’s curiosity about the natural world and her mother’s stories of backpacking through Europe after college. “There was never this idea that traveling was relegated to people who had a ton of money,” she says. “She was the first person who said you could live on $5 a day, $10 a day. I’ve done a lot less than that.”
While she’s in Madrid, Baumhardt hopes to report on immigration and emigration, in addition to honing her storytelling skills. “My end goal will always be storytelling. I love great adventure writing,” she says. Her future goals also include building a tiny house, learning to sail and being “endlessly curious.”