A saying from Jamie Jones’ three-greats-ago grandfather endures as the mantra for the farm today: Be good to the land, and the land will be good to you.
“The goal is to hand this land off to the next generation in possibly a better condition than you inherited it for farming,” says Jamie, a sixth-generation operator who farms with his wife and parents at their more than 150-year-old farm in Shelton. “You don’t get to choose where you are born, but I feel blessed to have this opportunity.”
Throughout Connecticut, agriculture boasts many multi- generational farm operations. Some have stayed the course for generations. Others, such as the Jones family, have changed direction or diversified the farm, yet they build upon the success and experience of their ancestors.
Once a long time dairy farm, the Jones Family Farm today offers three locations with on-farm experiences for locals. They grow pick-your-own crops of berries, pumpkins and Christmas trees. They operate a vineyard and on-farm winery. And Jamie’s mom, a dietitian, offers cooking classes in their Harvest Kitchen. Collectively, the farm’s modern-day offerings symbolize generations of growth built on generations of knowledge.
“Wherever you are farming in this country, the knowledge that you need to develop just keeps evolving with the things that are passed down from one generation to the next, and sometimes are so intangible,” Jamie says. “I feel fortunate I was able to learn those things and pass that knowledge on to my children.”
Writing the Farm Story
The Jones Farm story begins with Philip James Jones, who sailed from Ireland in the mid-1800s. In his lifetime, Philip worked and accumulated between 250 and 300 acres in the rolling White Hills, and much of that land is still part of the 400-acre farm today.
For more than 100 years of their history, the Jones family’s land supported a dairy. By the 1960s, the cows left to expand the Christmas tree business that Jamie’s grandfather (another Philip) founded in the 1930s. The trees originally started as a 4-H forestry project. But the project transitioned to a harvest-your-own tree business when the neighbors paid for the opportunity to cut evergreens for Christmas. Today, the farm includes 100,000 Christmas trees on about 200 acres.
The Jones Family Farm benefited from the first partnership of its kind with the state of Connecticut, USDA Natural Resource & Conservation Services (NRCS) and City of Shelton to preserve their farmland and enable them to expand and thrive.
Jamie’s parents, Terry and Jean, still active today as the farm’s fifth generation, saw the potential for direct marketing as the farm is situated just 80 miles from New York City. From the 1960s to 1980s, they added picking experiences with strawberries, blueberries and pumpkins.
While the pumpkin patch started out of financial necessity to help fund a land purchase, Jamie added the vineyard and winery around 2005 out of pure interest. The family soon learned the value of a value-added product with a shelf life. The winery stays open from March to December while the berries, pumpkins and trees provide seasonal income.
“Wineries just seemed like a fascinating project,” Jamie says. “It’s amazing. You start a vineyard by planting grapes that are sticks with roots on them. You take care of it, nurture it and watch it grow. It’s very rewarding to see that harvest happen, regardless of whether it’s grapes, strawberries or Christmas trees.” In particular, Christmas trees grow seven to 10 years before they reach a marketable height. Jamie’s dad continues to plant trees past traditional retirement age and seems as motivated as ever by the farm’s future.
“You really need to have a long-term view of things,” Jamie says. “We have the seventh generation growing up on the farm. That’s impressive, but that’s just a good start. This is a legacy that we want to leave for as long as we can.”