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Local farms to local tables: The journey from the ground to Heirloom Café

By Heather Bryan

 

Her mother’s vegetable garden just outside her bedroom window and surplus of veggies then shared with neighbors and friends is a childhood memory that would come to shape Jessica Rothacker’s life.

This idea of organic farming creating and feeding a community epitomizes Heirloom Café and Fresh Market, a restaurant Rothacker opened in 2011 with her father, Travis Burch.

Heirloom Café, named after the passed-down love of food and community thanks to her mother’s garden and grandmother’s family meals, is a restaurant not designed to merely serve a tasty meal or full-bodied Merlot. It is more of a sanctuary, sustaining local farmers and Athenians alike.

“Our mission is to create community, celebrate local farmers and tell a story through food,” Rothacker said. “I really feel like the best way to enjoy a person’s company and also enjoy a meal is to get together, sit down, have some good wine and just be able to relax into a place as if it were your own home.”

Almost every week, Heirloom buys its food from Collective Harvest’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). CSA is basically a partnership between farmers and buyers—whether it’s a restaurant buying at wholesale or a community member. This membership allows the participating farmers the guaranteed financial freedom to grow what is best for the land and season, rather than what will yield the highest profit.

“We just really like to be able to tell the story behind food, and that kind of goes together with celebrating the local farmers,” Rothacker said. “So we know who grew the things, we can introduce you to them, we can show you their pictures.”

Basically, a farmer will grow and harvest a certain amount of crops, bring them to CSA, located out of Full Moon Farm in Winterville, wash, weigh and bag them and then the CSA will deliver said crops to restaurants and individuals. The CSA works as a middleman to make sure both farmers and consumers are happy—facilitating a farm-to-table model all within the same community.

What makes Collective Harvest as a CSA a little unusual is the fact that it is a multifarm, meaning more than one farm work together. The farmers of Full Moon Farm, Front Field Farm and Diamond Hill Farm knew each other from the Athens Farmers Market, and wanted an additional option for selling produce.

“They decided if they came together and pooled their resources that they would be able to provide more to the CSA,” said Collective Harvest CSA manager Rachel Waldron. “Having someone who can organize and aggregate all of that is great for the farmer and then also it helps us as an entity be a lot more reliable.”

In addition to reliability and quality seasonal produce, the CSA also helps facilitate a healthy farming community rooted in support rather than fierce competition.

“The farming community in and around Athens is awesome,” said Front Field Farm co-owner Jacqui Coburn. “We do have a lot of farms, and everyone is very supportive of one another…it’s probably the most supportive community I’ve been a member of.”

Rothacker expressed her deep passion for serving local, ethically sourced meat and produce, but said at the very least, she hopes the customer leaves feeling like family.

The farm-to-table movement in Athens, Georgia is sustainable not only in the sense of fresh, often organic produce—this model also sustains the community. Farmers benefit from more reliable, consistent incomes, money stays within the same region and consumers come together to share a meal from farmers that live in the same postal code.

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