MISSISSIPPI — With their 66-year-old tractor on the fritz, Mississippi vegetable farmers Randy and Josephine Alexander sent a plea into cyberspace asking for cash to upgrade. In just a few months, 137 people had ponied up $31,000.
The Alexanders got their new tractor thanks to Barnraiser (www.barn
raiser.com), a crowdfunding website similar to Kickstarter or Indiegogo but dedicated to supporting farm and food projects.
The standard all-or-nothing model works like this: If projects get enough pledges from friends and virtual strangers to meet their goal by deadline, backers’ credit cards are charged. But if the project goal falls short, the project gets zip.
While Barnraiser is based in the United States, Canadian farmers can get in on the money if they find a U.S. sponsor with a stateside bank account to accept funds.
In the last year, supporters have funded nearly 70 projects from outfitting an on-farm kitchen and butchery, upgrading a milking system, and introducing farmers’ and butchers’ guilds.
It’s a time investment. Farmers and foodies have to sell themselves to the online community with personal stories on slick project pages that include videos and regular updates. Gifts or rewards for various funding levels — such as hats, T-shirts or farm products like seeds, ice cream, or vegetable shares — aren’t mandatory but can help get pledges rolling in.
Projects can run up to 60 days and must have a tangible outcome and a fundraising goal of at least $2,000. Barnraiser and its payment partners each charge a fee of about five per cent on successful projects.