A businesswoman and entrepreneur, trained chef, and now CEO of Barn2Door, Janelle Maiocco grew up in an agricultural community and has been in the food industry for 20+ years. Recently named Seattleite of the year by Seattle Magazine, winner of Northwest Entrepreneurs FLF, and Top 40 women to watch, Maiocco is a member of chef organizations (IACP, Women Chefs & Restaurateurs, Chefs Collaborative, FORKS), wrote a nationally recognized blog for 10+ years, and is an advisor for PCC Farmland Trust.
For people visiting the Pacific Northwest for the first time, what local products would you recommend they try?
How long of a list can I have? Salmon, mussels, crab, oysters — all seafood hands down. I would also say berries. Our farms are very well known for blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries — famous for blueberries especially. If you are into foraging, you can easily find the likes of blackberries, currants, and huckleberries (to name a few). Foraged foods would be a natural place to start if your goal is PNW food. We have gorgeous fiddlehead ferns, nettles, chickweed, dandelion greens, herbs like rosemary and sage that grow like weeds, and we have an ideal climate for a plethora of mushrooms.
While most people experience farm-to-table cuisine from the seat of a restaurant, you have a behind-the-scenes look at it with your company Barn2Door. Why do you think farm-to-table cuisine and local produce is so important in the Pacific Northwest?
Not only does Washington state have approximately 40,000 small farms, the combined terrain of the PNW are ideal for a wide range of fruits and vegetables. We have access to oceans and lakes, and climates from cool damp mountains to hot plains and lush valleys. Our river system, especially the Columbia, has been ideal not only gifting us food, but helping us irrigate and transport our food.
We have some of the best crab and salmon, clams and shellfish in addition to all the berries and greens and roots. If you go east across our mountain ranges then you can grow all kinds of foods that love sun from stone to citrus fruits and melons, tomatoes, peas and potatoes. The PNW is ideal for farm-to-table dinners — there’s really exciting and varied, seasonal local cuisine for people to tap into.
Tell us a little about how Barn2Door was founded and what your goals are for creating relationships between farmers and consumers.
I grew up in an agricultural community. My grandfather was a dairy and chicken farmer, so I spent time on his farm as a little girl. My adult career included business, technology, marketing, and often food. I even penned a food blog for ten years, and went back to culinary school (later in my career). At some point, I wasn’t happy with the quality of food at mainstream grocers and started to try to source my own food — and think of all the amazing food in and around the PNW — still, it was difficult to source. I was amazed at how much clean, sustainably grown food was being grown, but not successfully sold. Farmers didn’t have a great solution to offer direct sales and less than 1% of them are represented at farmers markets (many just don’t have the time!). Grow it and they will come didn’t really work, so they needed some way to get their food to market and that’s where Barn2Door comes in.
No doubt being in a technology and startup-loving city — plus being a consumer of companies like Airbnb and Uber that have given us quick access to existing but previously undiscoverable supply — laid the groundwork for my ah-ha moment: people are used to technology bringing supply and demand together in a proactive way. And the market was and is screaming for direct access to local food. There was no easy way to discover all local farms, let alone have 24/7 access to buy their food. Farms, I had discovered, had lots of glorious food to sell, but they didn’t have easy access to buyers.
It’s interesting, for reasons that make sense (and probably some that don’t) we moved toward aggregation of supply, consolidation of [food] varietals and morphed into a conventional food system with large trucks hauling food to big box grocery stores. Local food as we knew it started to break down (as did community relationships and our connection to food) as sourcing beef and carrots and strawberries from the grocer was easier than buying from your farmer down the road. I get excited when I think about how technology can now be leveraged to build direct relationships, curated access, and community.
How are you making it easier for local farmers and local chefs to work together?
There’s a growing expectation and a growing desire to be able to shop for everything with one click. So our goal is to help local food be one click away for chefs. Before we could do that, we needed to build an e-commerce platform for farmers to make it intuitive and easy for them to fill up and maintain an online store so people can browse and buy 24/7. That took a lot of listening, trial, and error to find what works best for them. Farms can now auto-upload their items for sale and auto-repost them. And chefs can discover new farms, order regularly from their favorites, and shop by direct delivery, delivery day, food item, bulk rates, and more. We are very excited about how far we have come, especially now as we see the difference we are making in the lives of chefs and farmers.
One example of making things easier and increasing engagement between farms and chefs is a recently added feature: Flash Sales. If a farm has extra boxes of romanesco or beets or radishes or apples — food they need to move and move quickly — they can post it as a last-minute Flash Sale. This means the sale is on today / tomorrow only, first-come first-serve and is at least 30% off the normal price. If a chef opts-in to Flash Sales, they can get a text of last minute local offers and, in one click, take advantage of a great deal.