Meet Barnraiser: Kickstarter for Farmers, and So Much More

Yahoo Food is proud to announce a new partnership with Barnraiser, a crowd-funding site which features entrepreneurs in the farm and food business looking to expand their businesses. Yahoo Food will feature a project each week, as well as the personal stories of these small business owners.

By Laura Holmes Haddad for Yahoo Food


Eileen Gordon and her family. Photo: Contributed.

Ohio butchers Cheryl and David Smith hope to expand their business from a downtown Columbus market to sprawling farm in nearby Marysville. Farmer Meg Paska needs capital to expand a facility in Navesink, N.J., to launch her goat’s milk soap business. In Watsonville, Calif., Cesario Ruiz is trying to expand his start-up, My Mom’s Molé, which produces culturally authentic and responsibly sourced molé powder and conducts cooking classes for how to use the Mexican seasoning.

While a few years ago these types of endeavors might have required taking out personal loans or borrowing money from friends and family, these entrepreneurs now have another funding option: Barnraiser.

Launched in 2014 by Eileen Gordon, Barnraiser is a crowdfunding organization that works to support projects that promote a sustainable food system, from food products and farming to organic fabric production and green building. There are five project categories (farming, food, media, education, and community) and all project ideas are considered, from adding an item to a product line and launching a sauce-making business to buying a piece of farm equipment or creating a curriculum for an urban school garden.


New Jersey farmer Meg Paska is raising funds for her goat’s milk soap business. Photo: Barnraiser.

The process is straightforward: fund-seekers (whom Gordon calls “innovators”) submit a project through the Barnraiser website and Gordon and her 10-person team review it, vet it, and assist with questions. (A dozen advisors from food, wellness, and beverage communities donate their time to assist in evaluating the projects.) The project (which includes a short video) is posted on Barnraiser, along with a timeline for funding. Structured on the “tilt” model of crowdfunding, the project is only funded if the requested amount is obtained in a defined period of time. Gordon’s goal is to help them get the funds they need to move forward. “We want to take the financial burden off these innovators. Innovators need fast and flexible capital for growth,” Gordon says.

The minimum funding request is $2,000, with most project “asks” between $10,000 and $30,000; the average funding is $12,000. (Barnraiser takes a 5 percent fee and small service fee for processing credit card payments if the project is successfully funded.) Barnraiser helps innovators at every step, with step-by-step instructions and support to help them maximize exposure and ultimately, reach their goal. Barnraiser projects are funded 70 percent of the time.

The innovators are a broad group, men and women from 30 states. (While Barnraiser hasn’t launched internationally, five countries have inquired about joining the site.) What’s surprised Gordon the most is the large number of women innovators that have sought funding. “The Barnraiser community involves a higher percentage of women than what is typical of early crowd-funding sites, indicating the move toward more mainstream adoption,” she says.


My Mom’s Molé offers culturally authentic and responsibly sourced molé powder. Photo: Contributed.

Since its launch in September 2014, just under $1 million in funding has been raised on the site. From edible school gardens (Green Bronx Machine in Bronx, N.Y., which builds indoor vertical hydroponic farms in classrooms) to EscarGrow, California’s only snail and snail caviar farm, they all used capital raised through Barnraiser to move forward. Barnraiser also works with food and wellness organizations such as Slow Food USA, Clean Plate, and Animal Welfare Approved to add content to the site and help spread the message of changing the food world.

Now they’re working with Food Day, an annual event held Oct. 24, 2015, across the U.S. that promotes real, local food and policy change through local food events. Food Day launched their 2015 campaign on Barnraiser and their goal is to raise $20,000 to reach 10 million Americans.

Gordon, who lives in Napa, Calif., was interested in food well before she made it her life’s work. Her mother’s family farmed apricots in Marin County and her cousins are dairy farmers and cheesemakers in Northern California. With a background in marketing and branding and working in educational software at Apple, Gordon joined Chef Michael Chiarello (now her husband) to launch his food venture, NapaStyle, with a website and two stores that sell food, wine, and lifestyle products. The couple eventually transformed their home garden and vineyard into a sustainable vineyard, which inspired Gordon to get the idea “that had been following her around” off the ground.


Cheryl and David Smith in their Ohio butcher’s shop. (Photo: Contributed)

Gordon’s inspiration to move forward with Barnraiser was her connection with Chiarello and his Italian heritage, which was focused around the food culture. While knowing where your food comes from is just now becoming mainstream in the U.S., “this was how Michael’s family lived and how he lives,” says Gordon. “One person made wine, one family member made cheese, one made pasta.” This notion of one person making one specific thing was something that struck Gordon. “These are traditions of preservation and food is the conduit for that,” she says. “For looking forward and looking back.” These food traditions, plus the storytelling aspect that is at the core of the NapaStyle brand, were Gordon’s driving forces in getting Barnraiser up and running.

Gordon is constantly thinking ahead; in five years Barnraiser “will be a really robust community and the funding strategy will shift from primarily individuals to the larger community,” she remarks. “You will see other levers of growth being involved, including corporate matching funds and foundations.”

Gordon sees big change to the food system coming through these innovators. “There are thousands of interesting things happening,” she says. “I love what we do and I love the people. This is a celebration of people and we can make the food future the way we want it to be,” says Gordon.

Inspired? Here are more people who are working to make a difference:

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The Sweet Business Behind Ben & Jerry’s Iconic Cookie Dough

Kinder-Garden: Edible Schoolyard NYC Cultivates Young Minds