“OUR MISSION IS TO CHANGE THE WAY PEOPLE THINK ABOUT PET FOOD AND MAKE IT EASY AND AFFORDABLE TO KEEP THEIR DOGS AS HEALTHY AS POSSIBLE,” says Brett Podolsky from his office in Williamsburg. Enter the aptly-named The Farmer’s Dog, which Podolsky launched with business partner Jonathan Regev launched as a direct-to-consumer, e-commerce pet food delivery company featuring fresh, whole food ingredients. “Just because a bag of pet food has the words “real,” “healthy,” “natural,” or “organic and shows vibrant photos of ingredients, it doesn’t make it equivalent to real, fresh food. It doesn’t even come close.” This commitment to the quality of their product–and their four-legged customers–has proven to be successful. The pair earned a coveted spot on Forbes’ most recent 30 Under 30 list and their company shows no signs of slowing down. We caught up with Regev and Podolsky–along with their pooches Jada and Buddy–who talked breaking the rules in the world of commercial pet food, the importance of company transparency and how they personally taste-test their pets’ food, and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Photos by Sasha Israel
What inspired the launch of The Farmer’s Dog?
Brett: A few years ago, Jada developed serious stomach issues. It was heartbreaking to see how uncomfortable she was and I looked everywhere for a solution, basically trying every pet food on the market. Finally, her vet suggested a fresh, home cooked diet and the results were amazing. Jada’s symptoms were completely cured within a few days. I started researching fresh food for dogs and realized that it’s difficult to cook a nutritionally balanced diet for your dog at home — not to mention inconvenient. Dogs have a very specific nutritional profile, so feeding Jada chicken and sweet potato every day would have put her at risk of serious nutritional deficiencies down the road. We knew we had to create a solution for other pet parents who were searching for a healthy, trustworthy option so we created The Farmer’s Dog.
When did you notice the lack of healthy food for dogs?
Jonathan: After witnessing the power that fresh food had on Jada’s health, we discovered an entire community of people who were terrified of commercial pet food and seeking healthy alternatives. We heard amazing stories about dogs who had recovered from serious illnesses simply by switching to a fresh food diet and we heard about seemingly healthy dogs who underwent immediate transformations: no more tear stains, less odor, balanced energy levels and other unexpected benefits. No magical ingredients; just a switch to freshly made food.
How did you come up with the first recipe? What was in it?
Brett: AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) lists the minimum requirements and nutrients all dogs need to have to avoid deficiencies. We spent several (very long) months researching and building out a nutritional database while we developed our first recipe, but we wanted to get it approved by a veterinary nutritionist before feeding it to any dogs. We were connected with one of the leading vet nutritionists in the country and learned a lot about their work balancing recipes for really sick dogs who were in need of homemade diets. The doctor really believed in our idea and concept and came on board to help us develop our recipes. Our first recipe was a lot like our current Beef & Lentil meal. Fresh, human-grade beef and beef liver, lentils, sweet potato, carrot, kale, sunflower seeds, and kelp (which naturally produces 64 essential nutrients alone). You don’t need to guess what’s actually in our food. You can literally see it, smell it and even taste it.
What health principles does Farmer’s Dog adhere to when making the food?
Jonathan: Human-grade is our number one priority. Everything that goes into our food — from the meat and vegetables to the vitamins we include in our nutrient blend — is human-grade. What many people fail to realize is that the “beef” or “carrots” listed on a pet food ingredient label is a far cry from the beef or carrots we know and find in the grocery store or on a farm. Pet food is largely made with expired and inedible ingredients and is burned at extremely high temperatures to kill dangerous pathogens and for shelf stability. We don’t need to cook our food at extremely high temperatures since it’s always human-grade. We also don’t need to use any preservatives or additives since we know exactly how much food we need to make and we send it to our customers within days of cooking.
We know that a lot of people have (rightfully) lost trust in big pet food, so we make it a point to be completely transparent and avoid all the marketing fluff. Most companies need to differentiate themselves on the shelf and play all kinds of marketing games with their ingredient labels. We only focus on creating products that are the healthiest for our customers.
You say the food is good enough for humans. Have you tried it?
Brett: Many times! We first started making our food in a tiny kitchen in the East Village and we would taste test our recipes the same way we would sample a batch of spaghetti and meatballs. At the end of the day, dogs are dogs and do need to eat different things than humans, but they still need real food. They need meat and vegetables for optimal health and when you pour open a bag of kibble, you don’t see meat and vegetables come out (regardless of what’s pictured on the bag!) Feeding our food isn’t about spoiling your dog or being fancy. It’s about recognizing that no natural digestive system (both human and dog) is made for highly processed food. So when we say our food is good enough for humans, we mean it.
What is next for the Farmer’s Dog?
Brett: We definitely have plans to expand our product line, but given the sad state of pet food in America right now and the demand that we’re seeing, we still have a lot of work ahead of us.
What are three things you each do to ensure your dog’s health beyond eating well?
Jonathan: Buddy is a hunting dog and he loves to use his nose (which gets him into trouble), so mental stimulation is key. Playing games and teaching him new tricks keeps him sharp. He’s also smarter than most humans I know. At this point, he teaches me tricks and I essentially just enforce them. Regardless of breed, all dogs need three things to be healthy: exercise, a healthy diet, and love. I take Buddy for quick runs, let him sleep in my bed and always remind him how much I love him.
Brett: Jada is a Rottweiler, so we’re mindful of the fact that she’s at a higher risk for congenital issues like dysplasia and arthritis. We give her slow walks and let her take her time exploring and sniffing our neighborhood. I’m a huge believer that happy is healthy for both humans and dogs. For Jada, happiness means snuggling and holding hands. On Sundays, she loves sleeping in and watching Sex & the City with her mom.