Keeping up with the Joneses: Gallatin County Brothers are Continually Working to Improve on their Farming SuccessPosted on Jul 1, 2020
When Kentucky’s agriculture industry took a big turn away from a one-crop economy more than 20 years ago, Taylor and Zac Jones were still very young. They have since watched agriculture in the Bluegrass State evolve into one of the most diversified ag sectors in the country using investments made by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board.
So, having a diversified farming operation has come naturally to the Jones brothers. Today, the two grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, they have a large wholesale tomato operation, they have invested in a fairly new hemp business, and they also continue to raise more traditional crops, like tobacco and alfalfa hay, along with raising cattle on their 360 acres of farmland.
“We’ve been raising produce for years. But our bread and butter, I suppose, when it comes to produce, is the tomato operation,” Taylor said. “During the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college, and Zac’s first summer out of high school, we grew 278 tomato plants, and that went well and the business just kind of grew from there.”
Soon after, the Joneses added watermelons, cantaloupes, and sweet corn to the produce operation, and now they also raise pumpkins.
It is their love of raising produce that has led them to a new venture that could turn out to be their biggest success so far.
“Our wholesale buyers who have been with us for a decade are now operating at about 20 percent of their capacity due to the coronavirus,” Zac said. “And we have enjoyed having these relationships that have allowed us to move 30,000 pounds of tomatoes in a week's time. But, if they're operating at 20 percent, we had to get creative to figure out what we were going to do to sell our tomatoes.”
That is when an earlier discussion between the two about selling directly to the consumer became more than just talk.
“There’s no doubt the onset of COVID-19 caused us to try something new,” Taylor said. “We were shouldering along just fine from a profitability standpoint. But I guess, maybe it's a blessing in disguise, forcing us to get out of our comfort zone, which is something we're very accustomed to doing.”
It could very well be because of Taylor and Zac’s ability to move away from traditional comfort zones and think outside the box that this new side of their farming business came about – and did so in a hurry.
“We decided that if we can get our produce to the customer, it would be like bringing the produce aisle in the grocery store directly to them,” Taylor said. “Many people are worried about picking up germs from all of that food right out in the open at the supermarket, so we figured there would likely be a demand to bring the produce to them, but it came about quickly, and we quickly jumped on it. So far, it looks like we may be fortunate enough for it to work out.”
That may be an understatement considering the kind of attention this new venture has gained in a relatively short period of time.
“It's been received, quite honestly, remarkably well, thus far,” Zac said. “We're picking up, on average, about 100 subscription customers per week, since we've started. I don't know if we'll be able to maintain that, but you can't ask for much quicker growth than that.”
The attention they are getting is coming mostly from a very traditional grassroots way of marketing; word-of-mouth and the good old-fashioned information flyer.
The two have a longer-term goal of 2,000 subscribers, and at the rate they are going, that expectation seems to be very realistic.
“I also believe that we can expand it to a 12-month long service, and it'll be a way to create a year-round cashflow on the farm, which is typically non-existent,” Taylor said.
The produce business is as traditional to the Joneses as is the tobacco crop they grow, the hay they produce, and the cattle they raise. Couple that with their hemp business, Jones Brothers Farm is a classic example of a new kind of farming diversity, but they are hoping the new to-your-door produce venture will be the big winner for their farm in the years to come.
“We have the opportunity to provide consumers with price-competitive products,” Taylor said. “We can put it on their doorsteps, and we genuinely believe that it will taste better and be healthier. Best of all, they don’t have to leave their home to get it.”
“I'm more excited about it than anything we've done, and yes, I think it has the potential to last long after the coronavirus is gone.”
Deliveries for the new door-to-door service are set to begin July 1, and more information can be found at www.jonesbrothersfarm.com.
KFB Farming Footnote
Taylor Jones serves as the president of the Gallatin County Farm Bureau taking position this year. He is also District 6 Young Farmer Chair. While he admits it is a tough time for farming operations across the country, the need for a strong agriculture advocate is greater now than ever before.
“I’ve learned a lot from the time I have been involved in Kentucky Farm Bureau,” he said. “But the most valuable is, we are at a time when advocacy is as important as the soil we till. The question isn’t, ‘Are you a member of Farm Bureau?’ but, ‘How can you not be a member if you are going to farm?’ The role this organization plays is far too great to be without it.”