Chefs Make Change
Eileen Gordon Chiarello with husband Michael Chiarello and son Aidan
© Briana Marie Forge

Good food entrepreneurs recently gained a new crowdfunding platform dedicated exclusively to them, called Barnraiser. It’s the brainchild of Eileen Gordon Chiarello, the wife of California star chef Michael Chiarello (pictured with their son Aidan, at their Napa vineyard).

Barnraiser will not suffer from a lack of competition—along with Kickstarter (whose model it emulates), there are a half-dozen other food-centric portals. But none may match Barnraiser for ambition. “My desire is to drive billions of dollars into the hands of innovators remaking the food system globally,” Eileen says. “We can do it thousands of projects at a time, small, medium and large.”

Barnraiser has started small. For now, Eileen handpicks all projects, whether it’s an app to glean urban fruit trees or a national guild to support artisan butchers. Of the four projects launched in the first month, three have already “tilted” (crowdfunding-speak for reaching their goal).

Now two more have launched: the Napa Valley Bee Exchange, a sustainable apiary to preserve local honeybees, and a nonprofit orchard. A project of the renowned organic farming guru Amigo Bob Cantisano, the orchard will cultivate heirlooms dating back to California’s Gold Rush, varieties hardy enough to withstand pests and drought.

This fall, Eileen Chiarello opens the platform to the public. She plans to add features to help entrepreneurs tell their stories. She’ll also tap her wide network of cooking personalities to help spread the word, because when it comes to entrepreneurs, she’s not looking for celebrities. “I want to build something inclusive,” she says. “Crowdfunding shouldn’t be about how big a person’s social network is. It should be about how great their idea is.”

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