Catherine Zimmerman’s first day as a TV news camerawoman started with a bang — literally.
Dressed in a skirt and boots, she was standing on an embankment, hoisting a 30-pound camera on her shoulder while filming bike riders when, suddenly, she lost her footing and fell. She quickly picked herself up, brushed herself off — and continued shooting as if nothing had happened.
This was the first challenge in her new career, but certainly not the last.
When Zimmerman started her job back in the mid-1970s at the NBC affiliate in Dayton, Ohio, she was the first camerawoman on staff and one of just a handful of women in the newsroom. She earned about $35 less a week than her male counterparts, even though she was more educated than they were.
“I was definitely a pioneer,” Zimmerman recalls. “And I had to deal with a lot of resistance. The cameramen were really threatened because they didn’t believe that a woman could do their job.”
To prove them wrong, Zimmerman worked harder and longer than anyone else — eventually garnering awards for her film work, as well as the respect of her male colleagues.
Now, 35 years later, Zimmerman is taking on a new challenge: She’s embarking on a career as a sustainable organic landscape designer.
Zimmerman, 57, started thinking about a career in landscaping nearly a decade ago. Though she enjoyed her work as a videographer, she wasn’t sure how much longer she’d be able to lug around such heavy camera equipment. So in 2002, she enrolled in a program at the Graduate School, where she began studying horiticulture and gardening. “Until then, I always thought of myself as a good gardener, but the more I learned, the more I realized how little I knew,” she says.
She developed an interest in organic gardening and decided to pursue that as her speciality. To reach more people, she used her film background to make videos about creating meadows without pesticides. This year, she released a self-published book: Urban & Suburban Meadows: Bringing Meadowscaping to Big and Small Spaces.
Getting people to garden without chemicals hasn’t been easy. Each year, homeowners use about 78 million pounds of pesticides for lawn care and gardening, according to the National Audubon Society. But the tide seems to be turning.
“People are starting to understand that it doesn’t make sense to put poison where our children play or on what we eat,” says Bill Duesing of the Northeast Organic Farming Association.
Slowly, Zimmerman is starting to build up her business as an organic gardener. But the single mother of three still does freelance work as a videographer to make ends meet. As for the future, Zimmerman is open to exploring other career possibilities. “Who knows?” she says. “Something else really interesting might come along and I’ll take on that challenge.”
Latisha R. Gray is a freelance Web producer and writer based in Washington, D.C.