This Christmas, my partner and I ventured to Tupelo, Mississippi to visit his family. His dad told me about an awesome farm cooperative just down the road from their place, Native Son Farm.
“An Eagle Scout from Mississippi and a farm girl from Vermont meet at college, Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, and return to Tupelo to start a farm. While it may sound like the opening to a novel, it’s actually the life of Will and Amanda Reed, owners and operators of Native Son Farms. Will is a fourth generation homegrown Mississippi Boy who graduated with honors from Tupelo High School before heading off to California to earn an Anthropology degree. While there, he worked on Deep Seeded Community Farm and lived “off the grid”. But this native son had to return home and share his love of sustainable agriculture by creating his own farm.
He, his wife Amanda, and their daughter Magnolia now have 25 acres and farm about 8 of them with the help of interns and volunteers. Starting out in 2010 using just one acre and a walking tractor and filling 15-20 orders each week with a pay as you go system, they now have a thriving CSA of 140 boxes per week and also sell at local farmers markets. Their sustainable, Certified Naturally Grown food is cherished by the exact people Will came home to feed.” – from Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network
Their story is as beautiful as the service they provide – local sustainably-raised produce shares in a region better known for commodity crops and with one of the top adult obesity rates in the nation. They also source to several local restaurants. Beyond the romantic vision of farm life, Amanda and Will seem to be quite successful with their business – which is what a working farm is. Many people forget that running a farm requires the same skills as any other business (balancing books, managing wages, paying taxes, navigating liabilities, etc.), on top of the plethora of agricultural wisdom and handiwork savvy. For sustainable small-scale agriculture to be successful, farms have to be successfully sustained into the future, which requires finding a business model that works.
Though we drove down to see the farm, it was closed during the short time we were in town. In my search for more info about their operation, I happened upon a wonderful video of Amanda explaining their beginnings, lessons learned, and overall lives as farmers. She also explains their business model, customer base development, and the way they nurtured their initial presence in the community to being a well-loved and respected farm.
I love learning about the various approaches farms have taken to being both true to their mission and identity, as well as successful in terms of business and financials. The different models and practices that small-scale farms use are diverse – because they have to be. No one model fits every place, because every place is different. Each is special. Native Son Farm is a very special place, offering the only sustainable CSA service in the area while nurturing a community based on health and happiness .