Eileen Gordon, co-founder of Barnraiser, on tackling the corporate food production system through crowdfunding.
Barnraiser is a crowdfunding community dedicated to powering the good food movement. Its goal is to collaborate with sustainable food artisans, farmers, educators, and community leaders to launch projects that reshape the food systems by putting $1 billion in the hands of food innovators.
Over 41 million Americans and their global counterparts make decisions based on health and sustainability. Barnraiser empowers those same people to connect with innovators, share their inspirational stories, and collectively fund their success.
The campaigns on Barnraiser range from raising money to build a barn that would serve as both a community gathering space and facility to make and sell the farm’s homemade ice cream, to bringing a variety of nut-free, GMO-free organic snacks to the marketplace, specifically targeting children with severe nut allergies. While the crowdfunding campaigns are all unique and varied, they are united in their commitment to a more sustainable food future.
Barnraiser emphasizes telling the stories of the people who are changing the way we eat. What is the story behind Barnraiser? How did you develop this idea?
Eileen Gordon: I was inspired to develop Barnraiser in large part because I was discouraged by the dominance of the large-scale corporate food production system in the United States, and wanted to help inspire people to create a different food future.
My initial venture into this idea occurred when my husband, Michael Chiarello, and I partnered with Connolly Ranch to develop Dirt to Dine Adventure Camps. After the camp launched and gained success, I asked myself, “What is the bigger picture here?” In my mind, the big idea was to help provide a radical overhaul of the economic factors that affect modern agriculture.
I wanted to help get money into the hands of the farmers, food artisans, and community leaders who are helping to bring sustainable, humanely farmed, pesticide-free food to our markets and tables, which is why I developed Barnraiser, an online crowdfunding source for food innovators across the country.
What has been your biggest success so far?
EG: Our biggest successes so far have involved seeking out, presenting, and funding the most innovative and viable projects for Barnraiser. We were excited to support longtime California organic agriculture expert Amigo Bob Cantisano in his campaign to raise money to create an heirloom “mother” orchard of fruit and nut trees that are drought-and pest-resistant. This type of project is especially important given California’s current drought. Additionally, the Falling Fruit campaign, which helped to develop a mobile app for Falling Fruit’s collaborative urban food sources, draws attention to the possibilities of uniting tech innovations with food issues.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs looking to launch their own businesses?
"If you want to increase your odds of success, base your business on something you’re passionate about. It’ll be easier to put in the long hours and go the extra mile when you love what you do. Otherwise, what’s the point?"
As one of the leaders of Barnraiser, what qualities do you think are most important to be a quality leader and what advice do you have regarding leading a team?
EG: In order to provide quality leadership, you must also practice quality listening and communication skills. By actively collaborating with your team and listening to their ideas, you can build a stronger and more robust environment for growth within your business.
Barnraiser places a lot of emphasis on community. How do you build a strong community within your business and why is this important?
EG: Strong community building within the business environment can be seen in small daily moments such as shared lunches or larger moments such as off-site field trips to collaborate with fundraising partners, like visiting Rob from the Napa Valley Bee Company (who is developing a local hub for information on sustainable beekeeping). By providing opportunities for community building, we not only create strong ties within our team, but reflect the very philosophy upon which we’ve built our business, which is to provide community support to lift up and launch important ideas and innovations.