Barnraiser Hopes to Change the Food System, One Project at a Time
Four years ago, Marissa Guggiana and Tia Harrison founded The Butcher’s Guild, a network of artisanal butchers dedicated to supplying conscientious consumers’ growing demand for humanely-raised meat. But like any young organization, they had big ideas without a budget to match.
Growing in membership, they hoped to hold their third national conference this fall called “The Future of Meat: Third Annual Butchers’ Guild Conference and Industry Summit,” and provide scholarships for those who needed them. They were brainstorming an app that would help butchers increase profitability on whole animal butchery. They wanted to become a non-profit organization. And they wanted to create regional chapters, making it easier for members to be in contact with those in their area.
They estimated they needed at least $8,000 to take them to the next level. Rather than Indiegogo or Kickstarter, the most popular and well-known crowdfunding platforms, they used Barnraiser, a San Francisco and Napa-based startup, dedicated solely to transforming the food system, one project at a time.
The Butcher’s Guild surpassed their goal by over 50 percent, raising over $12,000. The additional funds will go toward developing a training program for new butchers.
“Our experience with Barnraiser was stellar,” said Guggiana. “There was so much feedback and openness with their contacts and ideas. It really felt like collaboration more than a platform.”
Barnraiser is the brainchild of Eileen Gordon Chiarello, who though raised in Northern Virginia, spent summers in the Bay Area (her mother is from Petaluma, and an aunt married into the Giacomini family, who now makes Pt. Reyes Original Blue Cheese). With a background in technology, Chiarello worked for Apple and several startups earlier in her career, specializing in education and then later branding and storytelling. When she met and married Chef Michael Chiarello of Bottega and Coqueta not to mention Food Network fame, she helped him launch Napa Style, which markets artisanal food products, along with furniture and kitchenware, and the family converted a piece of fallow land near their Napa home into a sustainable and biodynamic vineyard.
After founding a summer camp for children to learn about where their food comes from, Chiarello felt ready for her next venture: “to celebrate and empower all the innovators who are remaking our food system around the globe.”
“There are 41 million Americans who align ourselves with health and sustainability,” she said. “With Barnraiser, we can build the food system the way we want it to be. There are barriers for innovators, but not always big barriers. I love the idea of a lot of people giving a little money. It’s important for us to back the small, medium and large changes together, to help these innovators remake our food system. It doesn’t matter whether someone is moving the needle an inch or a mile, but together, we can all create a big wave of change.”
Barnraiser operates on the same model as most crowdfunding platforms, taking a five percent cut if the project gets funded, nothing if it doesn’t, with an additional four to five percent charged for the credit card transaction. Campaigns must be looking to raise at least $2,000. It has hosted about a dozen campaigns so far – carefully curated by Chairello herself -- since its soft launch in April, and plans to open to the public in September.
In addition to the Butcher's Guild, some other projects that have been funded include Foraged Feast, a Denver-based organization that collects and donates foraged backyard fruit to the needy, organic farming pioneer Amigo Bob Cantisano who intends to plant a Gold Rush era “mother orchard” of heirloom fruit trees in Nevada City, and Slow Food for Fast Lives, a Bay Area-based healthy energy bar company, part of whose profits go to the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank.
Chiarello envisions a wide range of projects on Barnraiser, everything from an entrepreneur creating a new snack to a mom wanting to self-publish a cookbook of healthy kids’ treats to school gardening programs to citizens trying to bring healthy food into their own communities.
With one hub for all of these projects, Chiarello’s goal is for someone donating to one cause supporting another venture as well.
“If I come on the site to support my child’s school garden, I may see some unexpected discoveries, like a mom trying to market a healthy snack for her kids. Her story might excite me because I’m a mom, too. We’re collecting a cohesive community of people that care about these projects, who are part of a much bigger movement,” she said. “With a specialized approach, you bring in additional partners and money, and grow your audience for what you’re doing.”
Additionally, she said, one never knows how someone will find an entry point into caring more about their food.
“You cannot predict how someone will get turned on to wanting to know where their food comes from,” she said. “People come to Napa for wine but leave thinking about the seasons or soil, and realizing it’s not just about the wine, so the greater the variety of projects we have, the better opportunity to create a robust community.”
Chiarello hopes that as projects like those found on Barnraiser succeed, organic and sustainable can become the norm, not the exception.
Calling those who are changing our food system “modern-day heroes,” Chiarello said not only does Barnraiser give them a platform to create change, but it gives consumers a means to “drive what they want and make it happen.”
She concluded, “As much as we read about the bad news of agribusiness, I’m buoyed by the possibilities here.”