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Non-profit helps streamline process from farm to table

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Will Dodd is the founder of Heirloom Harvest, a nonprofit group working to grow the Alabama food economy.

By Jennifer Kornegay

It’s coming full circle, but there are gaps in the farm to table process, gaps a new non-profit organization called Heirloom Harvest is hoping to bridge. Founded by Will Dodd in April 2016, Heirloom Harvest is creating a more streamlined process for getting locally grown products to consumers and chefs.

Dodd saw the need while working in Washington D.C. “I was working on the big farm bill in Congress and realized that the regulations and public policy of agriculture are not set up to benefit the medium and small farms. These guys are having a hard time getting their product to market and expanding their market. They don’t have the resources,” he says.

The farmers spend so much time farming that they don’t have the opportunity to “sell” themselves well. “We want to get the harvest from a farmer in Selma and take it beyond his immediate area; we want to get it into a restaurant in Birmingham,” Dodd says.

The organization is setting up a database of the state’s farmers to show who is growing what, how much and where. “Our mission is to grow our local food economy and make farming more profitable so more people consider going into farming,” Dodd says. “We’re losing a lot of farms here.”

To do this, Heirloom Harvest is gearing up to become a wholesale market for farmers’ foods. It will buy from farmers and assume the risk of then selling the products to restaurants. “This helps them solve issues like transportation,” Dodd says. “They don’t have the means to get their products across the state.” It also gives them a more consistent income.

And Heirloom Harvest will be providing other business services too, in addition to the overall promotion of the “eat local” concept. “We want to create a narrative that is tied to our state’s agricultural heritage and our food culture,” Dodd says. “We want to inspire people to get back to the tradition of eating this way and to also get interested in growing their own food.”

As Dodd pointed out, you don’t have to have a restaurant reservation to dive into the farm-to-table movement. You don’t need a lot of space or specialized equipment to have your own flourishing vegetable patch. But if you’re not into gardening, turn to the experts and shop at farmers markets. It’s easier than ever to find one near you. According to Don Wambles, director of the Alabama Farmers Market Authority, in 1999, there were approximately 17 farmers markets around the state; today there are 162.