Heritage Farm tests “buy first, shop later” CSA variation

Last week I wrote about the unfortunately named “community-supported agriculture” economic model, in which customers pay upfront for a weekly share of a farm’s output throughout the growing season. It’s a great system that generates revenue for farmers when they need it most, at the beginning of the season, and provides a steady flow of good food to the subscribers.

But, as the invention of Double Stuf Oreos has taught us, most good ideas can be tweaked into something even better. Farmers and other resourceful people are always rolling out new variations on the basic CSA plan. You can sign up for CSAs that allow you to customize your orders (Moore Farms and Friends), skip weeks at your convenience (Taylorganic Farm), or pay for your weekly share with work instead of cash (Salacoa Co-op CSA).

Now Heritage Farm in Tyus has come up with a variation (a cultivar, if you will) on the CSA model that looks like a real winner. Greg and Lainya Hutchins, who own the farm, are calling it Reserved Farm Shares. Here’s how it works: You buy shares, in $50 increments up to $250, right now. Once the farmers market season begins this spring, you use that credit to buy goods at Heritage Farm’s market booths—at a 5 percent discount off the walk-up price.

Just like with a weekly-farm-box CSA, you invest your money now, when farmers need it most. But unlike that model, as a Reserved Farm Share holder you choose when, where, and what you buy with your investment. You can cash in your credits at any time over the season, at any of Heritage Farm’s markets (Peachtree Road in Atlanta, Cotton Mill in Carrollton, 10:10 in Douglasville or Dunwoody Green), and on any of the farm’s products: about 60 varieties of produce, eggs, and pasture-raised meats including chicken, ducks, turkey, beef, pork, and rabbit. Share holders receive advance notice of each week’s availability and have the opportunity to reserve their favorite items.

“It’s just a lot more flexible than the CSA model,” says Greg Hutchins, who’s been kicking around the idea as a way to finance an upgrade to a higher quality of animal feed. “We thought, ‘Hey, let’s just put it out there and see if our relationships with our customers are what we think they are.’”

The initial response has been inspiring. Before he had even finished notifying his most loyal customers by e-mail, he was already getting replies back, saying, “Sign us up.” “It brought tears to my eyes,” he admits.

Less than two weeks later, the Hutchinses say the program is nearly full. It’s another gratifying example of what happens when consumers come to know the farmers who raise their food.

“That has been our focus for the past year, to build those relationships,” Lainya Hutchins says. “It’s been very humbling to see how much our customers believe in us.”

To learn more about Heritage Farms’ Reserved Farm Share program or to sign up, contact Greg or Lainya Hutchins at theheritagefarm@yahoo.com.

Fundraiser for Truly Living Well: Shop at any Atlanta-area Whole Foods market on March 9 to help out a new urban farming initiative. That day, Whole Foods is donating 5 percent of its net sales revenue to Truly Living Well’s new Wheat Street Garden.
Image: Heritage Farm’s Greg Hutchins with son Jacob.