Farmers, entrepreneurs and community leaders, Terry and Jean Crum Jones, of Jones Family Farms in Shelton, Conn., received Eastern States Exposition’s 2021 New England Fellowship of Agricultural Adventurers award. The award was presented on Connecticut Day, Sept. 22, at The Big E.
The Joneses see their organization as an embassy for agriculture. "We're ambassadors for the rest of American Agriculture," Terry said. "We have to do what ambassadors do – promote positive relationships and better understanding." Part of that is their dedication to the farm's longtime motto, dating back to the mid-1800s and farm founder Philip James Jones, "Be good to the land, and the land will be good to you."
Jones Family Farms is a 400-acre working farm which has been cultivated by seven generations of Jones family farmers, growing Christmas trees, strawberries, blueberries, pumpkins, gourds and squash and managing 50 acres of hay and 50 acres of woodlots. More than 10 acres are in production for the farm’s winery.
Working with multi-generational family members, Terry and Jean have transformed a traditional family farm into a direct-to-consumer marketing destination farm emphasizing public relations and education programs.
In 1969, Terry Jones graduated from the University of New Hampshire and became the fifth generation to join the family farm in southwestern Connecticut. While still in college, he began the Pick-Your-Own strawberry enterprise. He and his wife Jean met at UNH and upon returning to the farm, began to expand and diversify, first by planting blueberries as a new crop.
Jean's more urban and suburban background, combined with her academic and professional
background in nutrition, dietetics, and public health, made her an invaluable and innovative partner in growing their farm business as an “embassy for agriculture.”
Located just 80 miles from New York City's Times Square, the farm continued to grow and prosper. Its suburban surroundings and proximity to New Haven to the east and New York City to the west pose many challenges to operating a working farm. But this family team has focused on the market potential of their location.
In 1985, the Joneses purchased additional nearby farmland allowing the family to expand itsportfolio and seasonal reach of harvest-your-own enterprises, with the pumpkin patch at Pumpkinseed Hill, Christmas tree plantations, and more.
In 2009, Jean returned to her passionate interest in food as a professional registered dietician and community nutritionist, by opening the Harvest Kitchen to teach the joy of cooking with fresh, local ingredients. The Harvest Kitchen Cooking Studio is a laboratory, the farm website explains, for learning about environmentally sensitive farming and about the provenance of foods from our agricultural region. “We are a farmhouse kitchen where we create meals of healthy, nourishing foods with as many ingredients as possible from our farm, sharing in the enjoyment of cooking, and afterwards, eating a delicious meal together," she said. Jean leads a suite of food and nutrition internships and classes in a historic farmstead setting.
After graduating from Cornell University and returning to the family farm business, son Jamie Jones started the Jones Winery, and continues to oversee many farm operations. In his first term as a director of Farm Credit East, Jamie chairs the Governance Committee. His wife Christiana works with Jean, overseeing the farm's hospitality, education, and safety activities. With a master's degree from the Yale School of the Environment and work experience with the State of Connecticut as a museum curator and environmental educator, Christiana also brings advanced technology and human resources skills to the farm business.
Daughter Gwyn Jones has used her degree in graphic design from Rochester Institute of Technology to create logos and labels for the farm and winery. She is also responsible for creating farm publications and packaging for special farm products. Her husband Terry Eagle handles IT and computer support for the farm.
These proud representatives of agriculture have been involved in the greater community in countless ways. Terry has been a standout leader of farmland conservation at the local, state and national levels. As chair of the Connecticut Working Lands Alliance steering committee for 15 years, he helped build one of the stronger state farmland conservation programs in the country through innovative thinking and political skill. Seeing the critical value of dairy farming to maintaining and stewarding the state's agricultural lands, he has been credited with leading the effort to initiate and fund the state's vital Dairy Sustainability Fund farm support program as part of the Community Investment Act, with dedicated funding from a recording fee on real estate transactions. This funding stream has provided resources for Affordable Housing Projects, Historic Preservation Projects, Open Space Acquisition, Farmland Preservation and other Department of Agriculture Staffing and Programs.
Terry has been a leader of the Connecticut Farm Bureau and with two land-grant universities. He enjoys writing Op-Eds about farming, conservation, and humanity which appear from time to time in the CT Hearst newspapers.
After earning her University of New Hampshire degree in foods and nutrition, Jean completed her dietetic internship at the Yale New Haven Hospital and received her Master's in Public Health from Yale University. She has worked as a nutrition educator in clinics, colleges, and with her own business. In the mid-1980s, she began a pumpkin harvest education program in October for local kindergarten and first grade children. Currently, over 2,000 kids participate each year. In 2002, she started a summer farm college internship/work program to provide hands-on experiences in sustainable farm practices. From 2009 to 2019, she offered healthy-cooking classes to farm guests at the Harvest Kitchen Cooking Studio on the family's farm.
Jean represents Shelton on the Board of Directors of the Naugatuck Valley Health District and serves on the Board of Directors of the Griffin Hospital, Derby, CT. From 2005 to 2018, she wrote quarterly articles about Connecticut's food and agriculture for the Connecticut Woodlands, a publication of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association. She currently mentors Dietetic Interns from the University of New Haven in Sustainable Agriculture.
The Jones family has built a tradition of intergenerational partnerships--where older and younger managing generations work together with mutual respect, and with what Terry and Jean describe as "fierce cooperation," so farm transitions can happen smoothly. Their farming practices and stewardship, products and programs, communications and relationships with customers and larger community, all clearly communicate values of science, innovation, and customer focus, combined with respect and recognition for heritage and tradition. This alchemy of innovation and tradition draws legions of loyal customers and visitors to the Jones Family Farms.
The Fellowship of Agricultural Adventurers has honored outstanding leaders in New England agriculture since 1953. A special committee, appointed by the trustees of Eastern States Exposition, selects its annual fellow on the basis of innovation, pioneering and lifetime dedication to the betterment of agriculture.