From Tech to Table: How the co-founder of Exact Target is revolutionizing agriculture
Mar 03, 2015 11:12PM
By Lanette Er
Chris Baggott is the co-founder of Exact Target, which helped Indianapolis achieve the ninth spot on the Forbes 2013 list of cities creating the most tech jobs. Exact Target eventually grew to over 5,000 customers in less than five years and a cash buyout by Salesforce.com for $2.7 billion in 2013. Baggott left Exact Target in 2006 and has since shifted his efforts into revolutionizing the agricultural industry.
“The system is broken,” says the co-founder of Greenfield-based Tyner Pond Farm on his career shift. “These large agricultural conglomerates can offload the entire financial burden and risk onto the farmer.”
Baggott cites the book The Meat Racket by Christopher Leonard, which explores the meat industry and how a handful of companies have seized it, overcharging consumers and putting farmers on the brink of bankruptcy.
“Besides putting the entire financial burden on the farmer,” continues Baggott, “how chickens grow depends on how they start, which is out of the farmer’s control since the company provides the chicks. Same with the feed—if the feed is mixed with gravel, that’s what you feed the chickens you eat and the hens that lay your eggs.”
Baggott and Duff Farrell started the vertically integrated company in 2010 after realizing that food is going through a craft movement, somewhat like the movements associated with the coffee and beer industries.
“What Starbucks and Sam Adams did for those industries was to educate people,” says Baggott. “There isn’t just one way to make coffee or one way to make beer, and there are gigantic opportunities to sell formerly undifferentiated food products based on superior quality.”
Tyner Pond Farm specializes in pasture-raised beef, pork and chicken at affordable prices. They have free delivery from their online store and an on-site Farm Store that is open 24 hours. Baggott is also the co-founder of Husk, which produces locally grown, frozen sweet corn, green beans and squash that can be found in over 300 grocery stores and supermarkets throughout the Midwest.
“These grocery stores want local and sustainable because that’s what their customers want,” says Baggott, “but small, local farms can’t compete, so we had to figure out how to get more local food on the market.”
Baggott is referencing the recent announcement of the creation of Farm League, which is considered a food incubator. Business incubation is designed to nurture new and small businesses through the early stages of development. Farm League will be in a unique position to help other small food businesses increase manufacturing capacity and market reach, thus increasing production to meet the high demand and increase sales. Two small companies have already aligned with Farm League—a line of gluten- free bakery mixes from Brooke’s Naturals of Dana, Indiana, and a frozen soup line from Urban Ladle based in Carmel that utilizes Husk and Tyner Pond Farm products.
Baggott also owns The Mug in Greenfield, a farm-to-curb burger, hot dog and ice cream joint where everything is local and made from scratch; the Tyner Pond Grill To Go food truck; and soon a farm-to-table gastropub in Greenfield. Baggott’s quest to bring alternative and sustainable agriculture into the mainstream might seem quixotic to some, but even corn and soybean farmers are starting to realize their work is no longer paying off.
“People have to stop imagining alternative agriculture as something small,” says Baggott. “Hoosiers spend $17.8 billion on food each year and 97 percent of that food is imported, which means we are sending a great deal of our community wealth out of the state and the country.”
“Demand isn’t a problem,” continues Baggott, “but we have to give conventional farmers a real alternative and consumers significantly better quality food and it has to be big to compete. We’re buying land to convert it to pasture and rent it to young farmers that would otherwise have trouble acquiring it.”
To learn more about the food industry, Baggott recommends reading In Meat We Trust by Maureen Ogle, in addition to The Meat Racket. When asked what advice Baggott had for others that are thinking of switching careers and becoming farmers, he said, “You have to take a risk, take the leap.”