Crowdfunding for food startups grows in the Sierra Foothills and Truckee

CROWDFUNDING, RAISING MONEY FROM a large number of people on the internet, is democratizing entrepreneurship. In recent years, the crowdfunding economy has more than tripled to more than $5 billion.

Nowhere is the practice better suited than to our region, where entrepreneurs can launch their businesses with community donations. This includes becoming a “new bank” for food startups in Nevada County.

“Crowdfunding seemed like a natural fit for us, because we wanted to be a community gathering place,” says Shana Maziarz, co-owner of Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co. in Nevada City. “I had no idea it would so successful.”

Three Forks planned to raise $30,000 with Kickstarter, a popular crowdfunding platform, but it raised $42,000. The money helped to fund the buildout of Three Forks’ space, which includes a bakery, restaurant and brewhouse.

Kickstarter contributors benefitted too, from receiving rewards, as well as taking pride of ownership. A $200 pledge, for example, meant 12 free pizzas. “Donors also feel like it’s their place,” Shana adds.

Crowdfunding is helping to launch other food-related business, including the Tahoe Food Hub in Truckee and Wheyward Girl Creamery in Nevada City.

Tahoe Food Hub is a nonprofit that distributes food to the Tahoe-Truckee area from within a 100 mile radius. Together with the Sierra Business Council, Tahoe Food Hub raised $28,000 to buy a refrigerated food truck to service the area. “When people see the van driving around town, they see their donation at work,” says Susie Sutphin, director of the Tahoe Food Hub.

Wheyward Girl Creamery in Nevada City turned to a Kickstarter campaign to open Shana Maziarz and Dave Cowie of Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Nevada County’s first creamery. The business secured a $50,000 business loan and turned to crowdfunding to raise $20,000 for a cheese vat.

“One can imagine Wheyward Girl having the same impact on Nevada City as Cowgirl Creamery did in Pt. Reyes 20 years ago,” says co-owner Roberta DesBouillons. Award-winning Cowgirl cheeses are now sold nationally, and West Marin is one of the most vibrant local food sheds.

“Crowdfunding allows locals to invest in the businesses and economy they would like to see for their community,” says former Nevada City mayor and community leader Reinette Senum. “Mom and pop businesses like these are the backbone of our economy.”

(Photo: Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co.)

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