Erin Baumgartner is a trailblazer who’s rewriting the rules of entrepreneurship in organic food. Erin’s unique background in data analytics led her to create Family Dinner, a local farmer’s market delivery service with a mission to revolutionize the food supply chain. Discover how Erin’s vision intersects with the latest trends in meal delivery services and how she’s navigating the challenges of building a sustainable business. Explore how your local choices impact food waste and Family Dinner’s potential to empower small farms worldwide on Search and Replace.
More about today’s guest:
- Get to know Erin Baumgartner at familydinner.com.
- Connect with Erin via her LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.
Explore these related stories:
- Check out Erin Baumgartner’s TED Talk where she outlines her plan to help create a healthier, zero-waste food system that values the quality and taste of small, local farm harvests over factory-farmed produce.
- 5 reasons why you might want to eat your local and seasonal food.
- The USDA guide to the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Directory.
- Dive deeper into the CSA model.
- Consider these 25+ reasons to buy locally grown food
[00:00:00] Announcer: Support for the following podcast is provided by the user experience specialists at Johns and Taylor. More information follows this episode.
[00:00:09] Joe Taylor, Jr: What if the key to advancing a kind of business that’s been around for a century lies within one of today’s biggest trends?
[00:00:17] I’m Joe Taylor Jr. This is Search and Replace.
[00:00:23] Erin Baumgartner doesn’t think she fits the profile of a typical entrepreneur, especially one who runs an organic food business.
[00:00:35] Erin Baumgartner: My background is a little wacky. So my academic background is in French literature. And then I spent 12 years at MIT, most recently in a lab that uses data to understand cities. And while there started thinking about what if you use data to understand the super messy, complex problem of the food system.
[00:00:55] And so we started thinking about making, like, a hybrid between a farmer’s market. Where you go and pick up the food from a variety of farms, and a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, where you work directly with one farm and take their weekly bounty.
[00:01:09] Family Dinner is a local farmer’s market delivery service. Every week we source local meat and fish and cheese and produce and grains and deliver it right to our customers’ doors. But what we’re really trying to do on the back end is use technology and data analytics to, kind of, clean up the local food supply chain, eliminate waste, and support the work of local farmers.
[00:01:31] Joe Taylor, Jr: Farm share groups, or CSAs as we know them today, have been around in their current form for over a century. But the recent popularity of meal delivery services and the ease of placing orders and managing memberships online puts Family Dinner at the intersection of some powerful trends. As Erin says, it’s one thing to catch a wave of interest, it’s another thing to convert that into a successful business.
[00:01:57] Erin Baumgartner: You make all these blunders, and you’re clumsy, and you trip over yourself a thousand times, and then you just iterate, and you dust yourself off, and you try again, and you try again, you try to be a little less foolish the next time. I think that’s the whole point, is trying to be just like a millimeter less foolish and inefficient than you were the last time you tried. And eventually you end up with something that kind of runs pretty well.
[00:02:19] And it’s incredibly hard to make these mistakes and pick yourself back up and be like, that’s okay. That one mistake is made. I’ve learned and kept going. And I’d love to say that I was, like, a fearless warrior in that way, but I wasn’t. It was hard, and it kicks you in the teeth of your self-confidence over and over and over again. And that, for me, in any case, doesn’t change, and it doesn’t go away with time. The only thing that changes is your capacity to either take it, brush it off, or deal with it. And that’s a long learning process.
[00:02:55] Joe Taylor, Jr: Erin’s also been learning more about when it pays to listen closely to your customers and when to take a step back.
[00:03:02] Erin Baumgartner: One of the hardest things – we’re a subscription service – and so one of the hardest things is when people leave, they had been part of Family Dinner, we had been serving them week to week, or maybe they had just tried it once or twice. And when people leave, it hurts. Not just because, you know, your bottom line and your revenue is being affected, but, like, you start to question are all the things that I put on the line here not worth it? Am I not trying hard enough? Am I not good enough? Is the offering not good enough?
[00:03:30] And so it becomes this outsized giant from like somebody just needs to cancel their subscription for X, Y, or Z reason and it becomes something that is an attack on you and the core of who you are, which maybe sounds silly, but that’s how it felt. To the point that it’s midnight and you’re reading cancellation emails and crafting responses in your head and it was bad.
[00:03:53] And so I finally had to, like, employ someone else to read those emails and respond to those emails for me. I had to spend the money to have somebody else do that work so that my brain could be a little bit clearer. You have to find a way to shed the weight and not have it take so much power.
[00:04:08] Joe Taylor, Jr: And while she’s still working through the mechanics of reducing that sense of risk for the Family Dinner operation in eastern New England, Erin recognizes that the systems she helped build could empower small farms in other parts of the world.
[00:04:22] Erin Baumgartner: Our hope is that the suite of technologies and the systems that we have created in the back end are things that can be transferable to different geographies. We want to be able to pick Family Dinner up and move it to different places, not in a cookie cutter way, but in the structure exists. And then you can go out and meet new farmers, meet new people, forge new relationships, create these networks.
[00:04:44] And so that had always been the goal, but we needed to get to a point where the systems, the software, could stand on their own legs. And now that we’re there, we have picked families from Massachusetts and started a satellite in Portland, Maine. Again, the systems, the software, the technology that we’re employing are all the same. The team is different, the farm is different, the way we talk to people, the way we reach out is different. Because it’s a different place. But we’re really excited to find out this is something that is transferable, something that is spreadable.
[00:05:11] We want to create this distributed network of local farms to give the small farmer who is doing such hard work on such razor thin margins a chance to compete at a bigger scale. A chance to bring the right way of doing things, the right way of growing food, a better way of eating to a larger stage and let them compete on the national level. That’s our hope.
[00:05:32] Joe Taylor, Jr: Erin says she realizes that it’s a challenge to get people to adjust their habits, especially when it comes to food shopping, but she thinks that making just one change at a time can lead to bigger impact later.
[00:05:45] Erin Baumgartner: You can start with tiny things. Maybe not every piece of food in your house is locally sourced and every single thing that goes into your body is organic. Like, I love potato chips, for example. I do. I love them. I eat them a lot. Okay. But maybe you could start with local meat and being really careful about the meat that you consume and how much of it you eat. Maybe you think about composting. Maybe you think about supporting a local bakery, coffee shop versus a national chain. All of those things are important steps and they add up.
[00:06:17] It’s also a really big ask to ask people to eat locally because it’s expensive. In no way are we ever seeking to shame people for the food that they can afford to put in front of their family. That’s not helpful, it’s not productive, it’s not kind. So I think any small step that is in front of you, all of these things are little steps. And even if you can’t afford any of these things, follow your local businesses online. Like, share them. Tell their story. That too is a way to support, costs zero dollars.
[00:06:46] Joe Taylor, Jr: That’s Erin Baumgartner, founder of Family Dinner. We’ve got links to Erin’s works in our show notes and on our website at searchandreplace.show.
[00:06:55] Today’s episode was produced by Nicole Hubbard with help from the entire Podcast Taxi team.
[00:07:00] I’m Joe Taylor Jr.
[00:07:05] Announcer: This has been a Podcast Taxi radio production.
[00:07:09] Support for Search and Replace is provided by Johns and Taylor, user experience specialists serving media and technology companies that want their websites to work. Learn more about how top performing businesses eliminate barriers between customers and their goals at www.MakeTheWebsiteWorkForMe.com.