By David Pendered
Editor’s Note: This is the second of three stories this holiday week that look at the farm-to-table movement in Georgia.
Doug Dillard speaks with as much conviction for the farm-to-table agriculture movement as he has always expressed – and still does – for skyline-changing real estate developments.
“The average vegetable in Atlanta travels 1,500 miles,” Dillard said. “Of every dollar spent, 46 cents stays in the community if it’s imported. If those vegetables are grown on a local farm, 73 cents of every dollar stays in the community. Locally grown is better for us, for local jobs, for the carbon footprint, and for the health of the soil.”
Statement and summation – it’s been the backbone of Dillard’s law practice for 45 years. Now he’s branched out with sustainable farming practices on a spread his father purchased in Gwinnett County in 1960.
Dillard is among Georgia’s small but growing number of small farmers who work to create a market for local produce they have grown with few or no chemicals or fertilizers.
Four fulltime employees work on Dillwood, the farm near Loganville. Dillard oversees the planning of crops and delivery of produce to Savi Urban Market, a grocery and cafe in Inman Park and Brookhaven; to restaurants including Restaurant Eugene and JCT Kitchen and Bar; to farmers markets in Brookhaven, Snellville and Tucker; and to a program that allows consumers to sign up for weekly shares of produce.
The CSA program, short for community supported agriculture, has about 100 members who pay $30 a week for a bag of seasonal vegetables, delivered to a selected location or available for pickup at the farm. Demand is high enough for Dillard to plan to expand production next year.
Dillard brings to the farm the scope of his business background and his legal practice in land use and local government, which he continues as a partner at Weissman Nowack Curry & Wilco. A conversation on the seasonable nature of local produce can turn on a dime to the reason some homeowners may never grow their own food garden – and why that needs to change.
“DeKalb doesn’t allow gardening in anything but R-200, which is 1-acre minimum,” Dillard said. “Governments are not as sensitive as they need to be of the need to have locally grown food. … Our zoning laws and development regulations need to catch up to the needs and abilities people have for gardening in a more urban environment.”
Dillard can rattle off a three-point business plan and quickly add a fourth:
- Make Dillwood sustainable, in and of itself;
Grow the farm and grow the footprint of urban agriculture through the Savi markets and the CSA program;
- Foster a process to establish a cooperative of local farmers that, collectively, can provide locally grown, chemical free food that will make a difference in what people eat;
- Make the process financially successful so that it can be sustainable.
Dillard’s farm spreads across Brushy Fork Road. His dad, George Dillard, who served as DeKalb County’s attorney, grew cattle and hogs and hay for years on land the road splits between a ridge top and a creek bottom. Toward the end of his years, George Dillard grew fruits and vegetables and nursery products, until he passed away in 2006.
Dillard took over the farm in hopes of keeping the land in the family. And, hopefully, he said, for it to one-day become a community gathering spot in a section of Gwinnett that today is just beyond the fringe of development.
To that end, four of the farm’s 60 acres acres are in production and 11 acres are in cultivation. The lower of the portion of the property now grows produce. The upper portion has an old barn that’s a blend of tired and nostalgic; a field awaiting the plow; and a greenhouse type of building, called a high tunnel, where seasonal crops are grown.
In between the fields is an old ranch-style house. Democrats – including Jimmy Carter and Manuel Maloof – once gathered there, when the Dillards were leaders in Democratic Party circles and the house was on another Dillard farm, in east DeKalb County. The house was moved to the present location when the old farm was sold.
“When Dad died, because I always had a passion for farming, my brother and sister were kind enough to let me try to sustain the farm through the growing of organic fruits and vegetables,” Dillard said.
“We’re not there yet, but we want it to be a place you could bring your dog and talk to your neighbor,” Dillard said. “My vision is to bring not agrarian, but a sense of community, and for that to happen people have to have a place to gather and a reason to be there.”
Meanwhile, Rosetta Dillard, Doug Dillard’s wife, is developing a subsidiary to the farm: Good 4 U Foods. It will be the next step in a food career that included her ownership of an Amish-style bakery in Buford.
Rosetta Dillard said she’s resisting requests from consumers to make finished foods out of the farm’s produce. She’s happy to share recipes, but has focused her attention on creating the food component of a corporate wellness and nutrition program.
“I would do the ‘lunch and learn’ programs, where I bring lunches and teach them how to prepare them, and give tips and bits about things,” she said. “I can go in and teach them about things to cook and not cook, and make better food a way of life instead of just a diet.”
As the Dillards wrapped up a tour of the farm, a gentle buzz of activity surrounded the patio behind the house.
Farm managers Seth Hancock and Haley Bryant finished their daily chores and started new ones. They prepared produce to take to an event in the neighborhood, where they could spread the word about Dillwood.
Two Nigerian dwarf goats, Buckley and Clifton, wandered through the patio and sometimes over the picnic table. Ducks quacked as they drank from an old stone watering trough.
“The farm-to-table movement is real,” Dillard said. “Even if it’s not completely chemical free, it’s still more healthy for consumers. I think the younger generation, in particular, is into eating healthier than my generation. They are more conscious about what it takes to be healthy and what it takes to get there.
“We’re not there yet, but it starts with what you eat.”