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Finally, a ‘Kickstarter’ for Sustainable Food Projects

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.”

Eileen_Gordon_Chiarello“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.”

 

Photo captions, from the top: The Barnraiser website, Eileen Gordon Chiarello, courtesy of Barnraiser.

Feeding China’s Pigs: Is US Agribusiness Losing its Global Domination?

Meat consumption in China has been on a dramatic rise for the last three decades, with one-third of the world’s meat now produced in the country and more than half the world’s pork. Most of it comes from factory-style systems of farming, with large numbers of confined animals fed on grain. A lot of grains.

“We’re heading towards a new era…as the majority of the world’s feed crops are destined for China’s pigs,” predicts Mindi Schneider, an agribusiness researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands. Read more

Some Kosher With Your Kale? The Sustainable Kosher Trend Grows

People crowdfund all kinds of projects these days–art shows, T-shirt businesses, indie rock bands. Emily Weisburg is crowdfunding a sustainable kosher restaurant. The 26-year-old Wisconsin native, who now lives in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx, New York, has plans to open Moss Café, an eatery that, according to her Kickstarter project page, is “committed to community, sustainability, quality, and creativity”—and also happens to be certified kosher. Read more

‘We the Eaters’: Ellen Gustafson Wants to Change Dinner and the World

Ellen Gustafson’s We the Eaters: If We Change Dinner, We Can Change the World, may have a clumsy title, but the book takes a trenchant and well-researched look at America’s high tech farming and the denatured food it produces. The food activist goes further, by laying out how processors take that food and fill it with sugar, fat, salt, and additives while draining out the nutrition.

And Gustafson goes further still, describing how fast food corporations and junk food convenience stores are muscling out indigenous farming practices and wholesome food not only in our country, but around the world. Developing nations are getting a double whammy, she says, as nutrient-deficient junk food creates growth-stunting hunger in children, and she documents how this results in obesity later in life. Read more

10 Reasons to Oppose ‘Right to Farm’ Amendments

Editor’s note: A “Right to Farm” amendment is up for a vote in Missouri this August, and while the Missouri Farm Bureau says the bill will “permanently enshrine and protect the rights of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices,” many worry that it could also make it impossible to criticize or regulate controversial farm practices, regardless of their impact. The Kansas City Star published an editorial calling the amendment a “concerted effort to shield factory farms and concentrated agricultural feeding operations from regulations to protect livestock, consumers and the environment.” A similar amendment passed in North Dakota last fall and there are two more coming up in Indiana and Iowa.
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10 Things You Should Know About the American Seafood Supply

The United States seafood supply is a marvel to behold in its illogic. In spite of the fact that we control more ocean than any country on earth, more than 85 percent of the fish and shellfish we eat is imported. But drill down deeper and it gets even weirder. Here are 10 things that you may not know about the fish on your plate.

1. Some Alaska salmon make a round trip to China. Read more

Start it Up: A Report from Food+Tech Connect’s Hack//Dining Hackathon

Last weekend, nearly 200 participants inhabited the Manhattan workshop space General Assembly for a weekend-long marathon of hacking solutions to the dilemmas facing dining today. Called Hack//Dining NYC, the event was the latest in the series of hackathons hosted by Food+Tech Connect, founded by Danielle Gould. Previous hackathons have focused on Meat (Hack / Meat) or the Farm Bill (Farm Bill Hackathon). Through these and other events, Food+Tech Connect has garnered a following from both the tech and food communities eager to find more advanced ways to address today’s food system challenges. Read more

An App for That: Technology as a Solution to Our Broken Food System?

This weekend, at a high profile “hackathon” in New York City, tech blog Food+Tech Connect and design thinking service Studio Industries will lead a 48-hour event designed to “re-engineer the future of food.”

Sponsored by Google, Chipotle, and Applegate Farms, the event is part of a growing trend of software engineers, food entrepreneurs, and angel investors that believe a properly “disruptive” information technology can revolutionize how food is produced, valued, and experienced. To promote the event, the organizers have solicited short editorials from selected food innovators to answer the question: “How might we use technology and design to hack a better future for dining?” Read more

Organic Checkoff: Is it What’s for Dinner?

Imagine an ad campaign for organic food as ubiquitous as “Got Milk?,” “Pork. The Other White Meat,” and “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner.” That’s the idea behind a proposed federal program that would collect money from organic producers and put it in a single pot for promotion and industry research for the whole organics sector. Read more

Fresh Picks: Two Books Explore the Edible Wild

When I was in high school, a science teacher took questions from the room about what factors contributed to the demise of grass lawns. When someone raised a hand and said, “weeds,” she let out a shrill laugh and wrote on the chalkboard: “Weeds = Plants Where People Don’t Want Them.” Years later, attending an edible foraging tour of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park with “Wildman” Steve Brill, I asked our guide why hedge mustard isn’t harvested wild like ramps in the spring. He didn’t so much as laugh, but let out a frustrated exclamation: “Because people don’t think of it as food.” Read more