When Shirley Daughtry opened the Heritage Organic Farm, it was the first of its kind in the state. To fill what she saw as a void in the local organic produce market, Daughtry launched a form of community-supported agriculture in which subscribers paid to have locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables delivered to their homes or neighborhoods. Today, the 20-acre property in Guyton, Ga. (just outside of Savannah) is at the center of a national movement, and in January it will re-introduce service to Hilton Head and drop off goods at the Sea Pines Montessori Academy. Daughtry talked about what it’s like to champion organics in a world where processed food is still king.
Q. Why did you start the farm?
A. I bought the farm in 1980, when I was middle school principal at Savannah Country Day School. I bought it mainly because my daughter was interested — she had a degree in large animal sciences from Virginia Tech. It just so happened that people in Hilton Head heard I was growing organic food. They reached out and asked that I sell to them. Before then, it was a hobby.
Q. How did people find out about you?
A. We’ve been connected with Hilton Head off and on for a while. We used to sell organic veggies and low-cholesterol eggs to Piggly Wiggly. We took trips over every weekend to sell the eggs.
Q. How many boxes do you sell?
A. 500. We have kind of an unusual situation here: Being so close to Gulf Stream (headquarters), people from all over the world — Germany, Japan, Argentina, Russia — pick up boxes. It’s amazing; they eat organic food in their own countries, but when they come here they find it so hard to get.
Q. CSAs are popular in cities. Are you surprised there aren’t more here?
A. Surprised and disappointed. We don’t have a lot of organic growers here. Georgia is the peach state, yet you don’t see one organically grown peach in Georgia. We have to go to South Carolina to get organically grown peaches for our boxes. We’re just way behind the times.
Q. Walmart recently made a move to push organic products in its stores. Is that good for the movement?
A. That’s wonderful. All of the stores need to do that. President Obama recently held a President’s Council on cancer, and the final push was “eat organic.” Since then the administration has been pushing organics. They also have been giving grants for new farmers who want to get into the organic program. The undercurrent is really fabulous.
Q. Did people doubt you at first?
A. When I first became interested, I went to California and North Carolina for workshops, just trying to find out more about it. Most people said you can’t grow organically in the Southeast because the summers are too hot and the heat will break up the organic matter. When we started, we had tons of bugs. We didn’t have any organic matter. But we use cover crops. Now we have crimson clover, rye grass, one field with buckwheat. It’s a big complicated program, but it’s the natural way. And nature is always complicated.