Barnraiser’s bumper crop of innovators bring the sexy back to food.
Barn raising was the original crowd-sourcing. Back in the day, members of a community got together and literally hoisted up the walls of a barn (you know, like that montage in Witness with all the hunky Amish dudes). St. Helena’s Eileen Gordon brings the barn-raiser notion full circle with Barnraiser.us, a digital-age upgrade that connects small-scale food innovators and sources directly with the online crowds they hope to feed.
As a recent tweet suggested, Barnraiser is what might result “If Kickstarter and Whole Foods had a baby.” This offspring, however, takes the start-up concept and roots it firmly in the ground (sometimes literally) as it helps micro-farmers and an array of natural and organic-minded purveyors secure the capital they need to bring their wares to market. Wanna support a bone broth company in Santa Cruz? Click! A seven-year-old’s mushroom farm in Ohio? Click!
For Gordon, Barnraiser is the latest stop on a 25-year journey she’s been on with husband Michael Chiarello, the lauded Napa Valley chef, vintner, TV host, and sustainable farmer.
“About 12 years ago, I got a chance to start procreating some businesses with him,” says Gordon, whose ventures include the retail concept Napa Style, Dirt-to-Dine Adventures (a kids camp for future foodies), and a bevy of broadcasts for the Food Network. “Through those opportunities we really got a front row seat of America reawakening to where their food comes from.”
But watching it happen wasn’t enough for Gordon.
“I was on a journey for a while looking for what my contribution was to the movement,” she says. “At the end of the day, I wanted to do something that would really enable what I saw, and use the power of media and storytelling to make a difference for the hundreds of thousands of people wanting to get involved. I wanted to help give them opportunities to partner with how we rebuild what we eat and how we farm.”
Gordon’s goal, in part, is to help knock down the various barriers to change—and when it comes to artisanal entrepreneurs, that’s often cash flow.
“For food companies, it’s a good way to get pre-orders or set up their first set of subscribers if they’re doing a subscription service or a local delivery service,” says Gordon of Barnraiser’s unique position in the food industry.
Like most crowd-funding sites, Barnraiser projects’ support levels are tiered to match a range of budgets. For example, $25 or more will get your name on a snail at EscarGrow Farms, obligatory photos and requisite shout-outs on social media included. (You eat birthday cake with your name written on it, so why not a gastropod?) A $5,000 contribution to the Muscolo Meat Academy, an artisanal butcher school and certification program, scores your 20-person team a chance to break down an entire animal and make souvenir sausage from it. (The team that fillets together, stays together?)
One of Barnraiser’s secret ingredients is its success stories, many of which are curated with mouthwatering magazine-style images that elevate the notion of food “porn” to food “erotica.” Though not all the narratives under the “Stories” button are akin to the Buzzfeed-worthy “Why You Should Get In Bed With a Well-Trained Butcher” (featuring the “Antonio Banderas of Beef”), Barnraiser definitely recognizes that a bumper crop of innovators are bringing the sexy back to food.
Barnraiser also offers a glimpse at emerging food trends. Last fall, it was micro-creameries. This fall? Ask the Barnraiser community, though increased use of the word “rabbitry” might be a clue, ditto “alternative proteins.” (Editor’s Note: See our Old World Rabbitry article on p19, a story yes indeedy sourced from Barnraiser.)
No matter what the Next Big Thing is, Barnraiser is proving itself a valuable way for producers to market-test their concepts without risking much more than the time it takes to set up a project on the site and produce a video testimonial. Moreover, existing ventures can grow both profitability and sustainability with, as Gordon says, “a simple amount of working capital. It’s basically a partnership with the public.” And perhaps a personalized snail or two.