Politics to Potatoes

With ties to farming and policy, a young Alabamian pioneers a new means of marketing produce from small farms.

By Clair McLafferty | Photos By Jamie Cole

Few people could jump from running political campaigns to operating an agriculture-focused nonprofit. But for Will Dodd of Alabama’s Heirloom Harvest, it’s a return to his roots.

“[Farming] is just something I’ve always been around,” he says. But his love of agriculture was also accompanied by a passion for politics and policy.

Will Dodd with a plate of fresh food at Real & Rosemary, an Alabama restaurant supplied by Heirloom Harvest.

Will Dodd with a plate of fresh food at Real & Rosemary, an Alabama restaurant supplied by Heirloom Harvest.

Immediately after college, Dodd went to work for the Alabama Farmers Federation, then worked on Capitol Hill for Congresswoman Terri Sewell. There, he focused on the farm bill, and realized that small farms like his parents’ didn’t qualify for a variety of programs meant to assist producers. “I realized there was not a seat at the table for people that had an operation the size that my family did,” he says.

Though he moved back to Alabama to run local campaigns, his heart was with helping farmers like his parents. In his free time, Dodd began laying the groundwork for a nonprofit that would help small farmers cultivate steady streams of income aside from farmers markets. Since April 2016, that has meant buying produce from farmers and reselling it—at a slightly higher price to fund Heirloom Harvest’s operation—to local restaurants and other businesses.

But Heirloom Harvest goes beyond just buying crops and reselling them to eateries. “If you want to get GAP-certified or organic-certified, or to get grant money for a hoop house, we’re there,” he says. “We help people with social media marketing, events, all the way down to selling a cookbook. I’m looking to increase revenue for small farmers.”

Based in Birmingham, Heirloom Harvest is still a small operation. Dodd is the only full-time employee, but board members assist when they can.

The next step for Heirloom Harvest is a big one. After a round of intense fundraising, Dodd and crew are trying to expand their markets by reaching out to schools and other institutions. They also hope to raise their visibility with branded refrigerated trucks.

“We’re killing two birds with one stone,” says Dodd. “You’re giving [consumers] what they want, and you’re also providing for someone who’s working hard and barely getting by.”

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