By David Howell
SYLVA RENA – More than five months have passed since thousands of strawberry plants went in the ground at Jones Family Farms. Five months of nurturing the plants that has paid off with delicious strawberries ready for customers marking the start of the season for owners Rob and Jordan Jones.
“This year we have almost 70 acres,” Rob said as he took a break from strawberry picking Friday afternoon. The forecast indicated a strong storm was coming later in the night, and he was racing against both the weather and fading sunlight to get the ripe berries picked. The weather has directed many trips to the patch next to their home just west off Water Valley, off of Hwy. 32.
“Last Christmas Eve when everybody was waiting on Santa, we were covering plants,” Rob explained.
Planted in October, each time the temperature dipped into the low 20s they would pull the covers over each row for protection. And when the plants started blooming in March, Rob said they had to be covered if there was even a hint of a frost. They had a scare when a frost nipped the leaves one still, 39-degree night; thankfully the blooms were okay.
The strawberries are part of the growing acreage for the family farm, now in its third year of large-scale operation. Rob and Jordan started with four acres their first year and expanded to 25 acres last year. Their acreage spans their home place, as well as scattered crops planted on rented land in different locations closer to town.
Planted and harvest by hand, Rob explained that strawberries, like other fruits, are expensive to grow. The plants are fertilized weekly and several colonies of bees were brought to the field to boost pollination.
“This is our biggest year, our make-it or break-it year,” Rob added as he listed off all of the fruits and vegetables they are growing. The early tomatoes, squash and zucchini should be ready next month. The layout also includes 30 acres of purple hull peas, over five acres of butterbeans and as many green beans. Cantaloupes will follow, planted behind the strawberries this summer; the list seems almost endless as he adds peppers and almost three acres of sweet corn already in the ground.
“Then we will roll right into the fall with winter produce, plus we are going to have a you-pick-it pumpkin patch. We have had a lot of people ask about that,” Rob continues.
The operation grew from a love of growing and visiting area farmer’s markets.
“It started as a side business with a pumpkin patch and a few tomato plants and turned into full-time affair,” Rob said.
“And full throttle,” Jordan adds.
Admittedly, operating the farm in addition to their other roles is challenging. Rob serves as pastor at Woodland Hills Baptist Church in Water Valley and is a full-time student at Blue Mountain College. He will graduate in May with a degree in Christian Ministry and hopes to attend New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary remotely to earn a Master of Divinity.
Jordan stays home with their daughters, Reagon and Millie, and attends Mississippi State University online to pursue a degree in elementary education. She takes care of their livestock and peddles their produce at area markets.
“It tests my faith a lot,” Rob said about the workload.
“But through the farm, we have been able to minister to a lot of people. It is just crazy to see how things have played out that way,” Jordan explained. “The girls are out here every day, with us. Millie is on my back; it is a family operation.”
They report that the tight-knit community has been invaluable, as friends and neighbors have helped along the way. Area farmers including the Brooks family and Mike Williamson have provided a wealth of knowledge and encouragement.
“I can call Travis (Brooks) at 9 o’clock at night and he will be over here in five minutes. I can’t express how grateful I am for him. He has farmed his entire life, and I didn’t any farming experience,” Rob said.
“Being a first generation farmer is very difficult. We started from nothing; we didn’t have a bunch of equipment,” Jordan continued.
“Half of the implements I have, they were in the bushes over at Travis’ place,” Rob explained.
Last year with Covid, the demand for their produce increased with grocery shortages and reinvigorated desire to shop local.
“It doubled our demand, especially around the Desoto County area. A lot of our stuff goes up there,” Jordan said.
Their produce stand, located on the edge of their property on Hwy. 32, was also extremely busy last year; and many of their regulars are already stopping by this year.
“We missed them during the off-season. We have some new customers stopping in too,” Jordan said.
The produce stand is currently open from 2 to 6 p.m. on weekdays. In addition to strawberries, they have tomato plants and a few other plant varieties available to purchase. The selection also includes baked goods from Jordan’s oven – zucchini bread, French bread and rolls. Starting Monday they will transition to summer hours – 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.
The long-term plan is to build a store adjacent to the produce stand to expand their offerings with additional locally-sourced produce.
“Our goal is to stay open year-round,” Rob said.