What would happen if you took the idea behind Uber or Airbnb and made it about clean, sustainable food? That’s what Janelle Maiocco, founder of Barn2Door, asked herself. Now, such a platform exists, a place where farmers and foodies can meet in cyberspace to exchange and learn.
Maiocco says she has long been inspired to create a platform for easy access to good, healthy food produced by local growers, food that she says is often wasted.
“Most farms have about 25 percent extra food that does go to waste,” she says. “Let us help you sell that.”
The concept is so simple it’s genius: individual farmers are given a free online store where they can post what they have available and where they are able to deliver: farmers markets, drop-off points, even mail delivery for certain producers. They then get a unique URL that they can share with interested buyers, and the rest is just good old-fashioned Internet magic.
For Maiocco, who grew up in an agricultural community, Barn2Door truly is a project of passion. “My grandfather was a dairy farmer, and so I always had great affection for farmers, I was the kid who picked berries and drove tractors, so it's certainly close to my heart.”
But even having spent her entire professional life in food, she wasn’t sure that a startup was for her. “I really didn't want to do a startup unless I knew it was something I was passionate about,” she says. For her, easy access to sustainable food and, more importantly, allowing farmers to make connections and increase their client base, was that passion project. When she saw the possibility to unite the people who were growing these sorts of products and the people who wanted to buy them, she didn't hesitate.
“Technology was to the place where we could create a marketplace and help people find each other,” she says. “People are growing clean, sustainable food, and that's the kind of food that people want to buy, and so let's connect them.”
To be a part of the online community, a farmer must prove that he meets the standards of Barn2Door’s strict mission statement guaranteeing the quality of the food and the practices used to grow it. “Trust is huge,” Maiocco says. “We want people to be able to come here and see that farmers are using these practices.”
For the most part, the farmers on Barn2Door are not certified organic because of the expense of procuring the certification. But this is an area where Barn2Door allows farmers to express themselves. After meeting a bare minimum of requirements – no hormones, no antibiotics, no GMOs – farmers are free to define their growing practices in a way that best suits them via their online store.
“We will increasingly be adding some really meaningful features around you, the buyer, being able to quickly scan what their practices are," she says. "They have this fantastic baseline standard, but then on top of that, we'll just start layering some even more meaningful transparency around their practices.”
For farmers, the site is easy to use and makes connecting with customers that much easier. That being said, the benefits are not just for farmers, but for foodies as well, something that Maiocco understands from her own experience buying local food.
“I buy from farmers pretty regularly, but I never know what they have,” she says. “If they could send me a link and say, ‘Oh, here's what I have right now and I'm coming into town on Saturday,’ then I would buy even more.”
By providing this structure, Maiocco allows farmers and customers to communicate: farmers are able to sell extra produce that might have gone to waste otherwise, and foodies are able to ask questions and learn even more about the products they purchase. "We're all about them having a direct relationship with their customers," says Maiocco of the farmers she works with. "If a customer has a question about how to cook a heritage turkey, or 'Can you tell me about the cassava melon?' they can ask that farmer directly, and the farmer gets their food into the hands of people that are excited and appreciate it."
At just a couple of weeks past launch, the site is still small but quickly growing. Barn2Door has sold produce in 15 states, from Vermont maple syrup producers to Hawaiian coffee growers to Maiocco herself, who sells produce from her urban farm on her own store. Maiocco says that most farmers are currently in the Pacific Northwest, but there’s nothing stopping any farmer or urban farmer in the U.S. from opening their own shop. In fact, Maiocco explains, there’s nothing stopping anyone worldwide… except the development of a currency feature, something that she hopes to add to the platform soon.
For now, the project continues to be a labor of love, something that Maiocco compares to being married to a restaurant, but she couldn't be happier.
“Every day is new and interesting," she says. "You can go from talking to a farmer about their grass-fed beef to talking to investors, and then you'll turn around and the farmer will walk in and talk to you for ten minutes about how to ripen green tomatoes. There's never a dull day, and I wouldn't want to be doing anything else.”
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All images care of Barn2Door