Early Wednesday morning, farmer Greg Hutchins and his daughter Grace loaded up the family truck with milk, eggs, jam, grass-fed beef, pastured chicken and pork, Christmas turkeys, and produce like apples, carrots, and arugula. But they weren’t headed to market—the ones they frequent have already closed for the winter. Instead, they were headed to Cumming, Douglasville, Dunwoody, and Sandy Springs to meet up with customers who had already paid for the food in the Hutchins’ vehicle.
The Heritage Farm truck runs on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the market “off-season,” enabling the family and some of their farmer friends to earn income year-round. Of course, the farm truck also allows customers to enjoy locally and sustainably grown food year-round. The result is a program that is part mobile store, part custom-order CSA.
"We’re not trying to get really big," explains Greg Hutchins, who runs his Bowdon farm with his wife, Lainya. "We like to get to know people. We like to cater to individual-type needs."
In past years, Hutchins sent out a weekly e-mail listing what he would have available to deliver, and subscribers would respond with their requests. This year, he's gone high-tech with an online market through LocallyGrown.Net, a system developed by Eric Wagoner of Athens and used by farmers markets all over the world to manage customer orders. At heritagefarm.locallygrown.net, anyone can view the weekly offerings and place orders between Saturday and Tuesday, and then meet the farm truck for delivery at one of nine drop sites covered on Wednesday and Saturday.
"We were not computer savvy enough to take a Wordpress site and get it functional," Hutchins says. "But the LocallyGrown system is kind of an out-of-the-box solution."
In a typical week, in addition to the beef, pork, poultry, milk, and produce produced by Heritage Farm, the ordering site also lists goat cheese from Capra Gia, soaps and oils from Painted Lady, produce and eggs from Stems N Roots, and jellies and jams from Littleton Farm. Customers can order what they like and know exactly what they'll receive at their pickup site.
“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Hutchins, who estimates the site is bringing in a respectful 60 to 70 percent of sales of a typical summer market. Plus, it's helping the family-run farm find new loyal customers.
“The online presence has added a lot of people we didn’t know before, who found the site on their own and put in orders because we’re convenient.”
Hutchins hopes to grow the online market and farm truck deliveries. He’s seeking a host for a drop-off site in Alpharetta, and he is looking into areas like Dallas and the east side of Atlanta for early 2014. He hopes to eventually operate the delivery program year-round, in addition to his regular farmers markets (Dunwoody, Douglasville and Peachtree Road).
For now, he’s not worried about getting too many orders to fit into his delivery vehicle. “I feel like we have room to grow,” he says. “And if necessary, I’ll buy a bigger truck.”
Holiday bonus: This week, Heritage Farm has added some special last-minute gift ideas to its online market list: spring CSA shares, gift certificates, gardening, and animal processing classes, and even butcher shares in livestock. The gift recipient will receive via e-mail a certificate explaining what was purchased for them, and who purchased it.