Chris and Jenny Jackson own Jenny Jack Farm in Pine Mountain, Georgia. The couple has been growing certified naturally grown produce on land Jenny inherited from her family nearly a decade ago.
Jenny Jack Farm is a regular vendor at Uptown's Market on Broadway, where many of the farm's CSA families pick up their produce each week.
Ask any of the CSA members, and they'll tell you that Jenny and Chris are the type of people we all want to be. They're young. Healthy and vibrant. They live off the land. They give back. They mentor. Jenny and Chris are the type of folks everyone wants growing their food.
The farm has a team of workers who mirror Chris and Jenny. Young interns and part-time workers who are patient, gentle, and content working with their hands.
When I first visited the farm in 2014 for a story about our local farmer's market, I was moved by how peaceful and quiet the farm was during my time there. Other than the hum of the overhead power lines, the only sounds on the farm were made by the chickens or workers laughing in the field.
This year though, everything changed.
Enter Tulsi, the precious baby girl who made Chris and Jenny parents last summer.
Tulsi was born just ten months ago and has made her mark on the very heart of the farm. Team members beamed when asked about her, saying that she is "the happiest baby" and "a joy to be around all of the time."
Everyone knows there's nothing better than a brand new baby, but we couldn't help but wonder what life was like on a farm with an infant. Especially when both parents are the full-time co-managers and growers that keep the farm running year-round. How does it work?
We sat down with Jenny to talk about the farm's growth over the past few years, what it means to be Certified Naturally Grown, and what a day on the farm has looked like during their first season as parents.
This interview was done on location, and has been edited for length and clarity.
What's it like to farm with a baby?
A: She's ten months old now. It's been a challenge, of course, because Chris and I were both full time on the farm before Tulsi. We co-manage the farm together, so last year, in anticipation of having the baby, we hired another part-time person. Just to see if we could make that work.
It worked. Last year, even with me here most of the time, farming pregnant meant that I wasn't as full-time as I had been previously. It worked out really well last year to have a someone else on staff.
This year, having Tulsi here has meant that Chris and I have been away from the farm more. This is because we want to have her here with us. We are making our way through it. It's working, it's just harder than it used to be. We definitely could not have done it when we first started farming. We've gotten a lot more efficient now. We have some systems in place that make things around here run a lot more smoothly, so that was key. We wanted to make sure we had systems in place before we brought a baby into it since being parents does limit our time on the farm.
We are really happy to have Tulsi with us on the farm. We love having her with us here, and we make it work with the help of our team and family.
What makes it work? Who helps and how do you manage it all?
We live right across the street from the farm, so we can easily go back and forth. My parents also live next door, so they are a big help. They keep her a few hours every week.
Shannon, who runs our on-farm market, keeps her on Thursday mornings at our house. We have a lot of good help, and we are very thankful to our team. It's working really well.
I'm not sure what's going to happen when she's a toddler and walking around. I'm sure she'll be a little bit harder to keep up with, but right now, I can set her on a blanket and have her in the stroller while I do quick jobs here and there.
How has your role changed since Tulsi came along?
Mostly, my role has become Manger/Overseer, and not so much doing the labor. I am in more of a directing role.
Have you enjoyed that change?
Yeah, most of the time. What I mean is that, it is sometimes easier to just do a job rather than explain to someone how to do it. There are a hundred different jobs to do on the farm every day. We grow such a variety of produce that we are constantly planting new things. When you grow that many things, there are always new crops, and because our labor is seasonal, it means we are constantly training.
It's been a big challenge to keep up with the management of new people.
I see. How many people do you have on staff now?
Currently, we have two full-time apprentices and two part-time workers. Plus, Shannon works the market for us on Wednesday. So there are six of us on the farm, and Shannon makes seven.
We could actually use another. We don't want to manage more people, but for the farm to run more smoothly it would be helpful for us to have another set of hands at least part-time.
That's really amazing. The first time I came out here, in 2014, it was just three or four of you. How has the growth of the farm and your new role as parents changed the workflow on the farm?
We are doing a little more mechanization than we did originally. Everything used to be done pretty much by hand. Now we have a small tractor that we use for initial cultivation, and we are starting to incorporate more tractor work. It helps with the weeding.
We also have a new plastic mulch layer that we are using. We are planting some crops on a biodegradable plastic.
Yes. I saw that out in the field. What is it, and what does it do?
It's made of non-GMO cornstarch, and after several months it biodegrades back into the soil. It keeps the weeds down in a natural way that isn't harmful to our land.
It is not currently permitted under certified organic standards, but we are not certified organic, we are certified naturally grown.
Do you mind explaining the difference between those two? I know as a consumer it can be very confusing to understand the different practices and how the system works.
Yes. They are very similar to each other, but certified naturally grown is more of a grassroots approach. It's a smaller non-profit that oversees it. The main difference is that they don't certify big corporate farms, they certify small family farms.
There is not a certifying agent that comes out to check your farm. Each grower is responsible for asking another grower to come out and be their certifier each year.
That's fascinating. So who else has done that for you? Do you mind me asking how that works locally?
The requirement is that every farm who is certified by another grower, must also certify another farm as well. It is a really great system because of the way it works. As growers come out to inspect our farm, they can learn from our practices and when we go certify other growers, we learn from them as well. It is a nice information sharing process and a design that encourages everyone to keep learning.
It's a great way to go about it, we think. The standards are very high. Like I said, it's very similar standards as certified organic: No chemicals. So no fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides are to be used.
They also take input for the growers. For example, because certified organic does not allow this biodegradable mulch, certified naturally grown was considering also putting a restriction on it. However, they put it out there to their members to get feedback, and many of us who use it and feel good about it were able to respond. Right now, it's permitted because it's constantly an open conversation with the growers themselves.
It's really great that they take into account the opinions of the growers. From what I understand, certified organic is not that way.
It is really big. Certified organic does have a board that corresponds with their growers, but my understanding is that the input from that board is not going to hold as much weight in the future. So that is kind of scary, because it may mean that corporations may have more of a say in what is permitted and what is not. Over the years, as Big Ag has wanted to put the organic label on their products, you have seen the standards change.
So, we are happy with Certified Naturally Grown. We believe in the process and the standards, and are glad to be a part of it.
I'm noticing the active farm market that is taking place here this morning. It's grown a lot since I was last here. How has the CSA grown? What's changed?
We have about 120 members now. Columbus is our biggest membership area- we have about 40 members based out of the city. Columbus members can pick up at Dinglewood Park on Thursday afternoons, at our on-farm market Wednesday mornings, and we also make a delivery on Tuesday afternoons to La Grange.
We have also added an Auburn delivery this year. We did this because we saw an opening for a farm to move in there. Auburn did not have a CSA, surprisingly, so we decided to offer one there this year.
Auburn does have a farmer's market, but it seems to be more hobby growers. Just like at the Columbus Market where there are a ton of hobby growers during the summer, but in terms of a year-round supply of produce there doesn't seem to be one in Auburn right now. Or at least not that we are aware of. There was one CSA, but that farmer has decided not to continue with it. They run a pick your own blueberry farm as well, and just decided not to do both.
So we are hoping to grow our Auburn CSA in the future, and are currently delivering there on Thursday afternoons as well.
You have grown a lot! Do you have a lot of repeat customers that have made that growth possible?
Yes, we have many people who choose to stay with us. We love the CSA model and we love getting to know our customers. We have a really good retention rate- between a 75-80%, which is really high for a CSA in general.
That is really high. How do you achieve those numbers?
We just do what we can to keep the shares as diverse as possible. We grow things that the customers like. Even some things that aren't profitable for us, like broccoli, we grow for the CSA.
Interesting. Why isn't broccoli profitable?
Broccoli is just an example of something that takes a lot of room in the field and takes a long time to mature. For one head of broccoli and all of the labor involved to grow it, the return is just very minimal. So we don't do many crops like that, but some things that are very popular we sacrifice the time and effort for the pleasure of our customers. It's important to us to make sure they have what they need and want to see.
I noticed that your pigs are gone, but you still have chickens. There is no meat produced from your farm for sale today. May I ask why you decided not to produce meat anymore? Where is the meat you're offering customers sourced?
We carry meat from Turntime Farms now. Justin is a good friend of ours and he is doing pork, beef, chicken and eggs. So we have decided to focus on the produce, and to get our meat to resale on the farm from Justin at Turntime. We do sell that here on the farm on Wednesday mornings.
We keep the small flock of chickens for ourselves. It's about twenty hens. We wanted to have fresh eggs whenever we want.
So they're just for you all. That's great. Does Tulsi interact with them at all?
Oh yes, she loves the chickens. I'll send you some photographs of her with them.
The pigs were so much fun to have around . They are so intelligent and have such big personalities, but on our scale they were just not profitable. We miss having them for the life that they added to the farm, but we don't miss the work in exchange for no money.
Just has great products, and he is just up the road. We are so happy that we have access to his meat for our customers, and for ourselves.
Do your CSA members ever come out to the farm for a visit other than to pick up their produce?
We have had dinners in the past, and are hoping to bring back more CSA Pot Luck Picnics in the future. We love our customers and really enjoy spending time with them.
I know that they feel the same about you and Chris as well. One kind man was in the greenhouse earlier talking about how wonderful you and Chris are. He also said how much he and his wife adore seeing Tulsi.
Speaking of Tulsi, she's napping now. How did you manage that? (Laughing)
What does a normal day on the farm look like as you balance your role as Tulsi's mother and your role on the farm?
Well, Chris and I switch off a lot. It kind of depends on the day. Usually, one of us will come down to the farm and meet with our employees at 8 o'clock while the other keeps Tulsi up at the house.
Because Chris and I have a division of labor, he is in charge of the tractor work, irrigation, cover cropping, and fixing anything that's broken. If that stuff is going on, then I am more of the caretaker that day.
If our day is more production-oriented, or training the staff on harvesting techniques and things like that- he will take her for most of the day. Because she is still nursing, it is so nice that he can just bring her to me or I can run over to the house.
Any other tips for other young farmers who are experiencing farming with a baby for the first time?
We are committed to keeping her on her schedule. She takes a morning nap and an afternoon nap, and we don't push that. When she's ready for a nap, it's really nice that one of us can take her up to the house and put her down. Then, that is when we get the majority of our computer work done while she's sleeping.
Other than that, she's back and forth over here with us. We love it. Everything is really working well. We are thankful. ◼︎
Get to Know the Farm:
For more information on Jenny Jack Sun Farm owned and operated by Chris and Jenny Jackson, visit their website at https://jennyjackfarm.com/.
*We recommend signing up for the farm's newsletter. Chris is an accomplished writer and gives a beautiful account of life on the farm each week. Readers can also get a preview of what produce is available each week for purchase, and access to information on how to join the farm's CSA.
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