‘Agricultural ambassadors:’ Shelton’s Joneses earn Big E recognition

Terry and Jean Crum Jones were the recipients of Eastern States Exposition’s 2021 Agricultural Adventurers Award. Pictured at the presentation, held at The Big E, are ESE President and CEO, Gene Cassidy, Jean Crum and Terry Jones, and Steve Taylor, ESE trustee and Chairman of the Agricultural Adventurers Award Committee.

Terry and Jean Crum Jones were the recipients of Eastern States Exposition’s 2021 Agricultural Adventurers Award. Pictured at the presentation, held at The Big E, are ESE President and CEO, Gene Cassidy, Jean Crum and Terry Jones, and Steve Taylor, ESE trustee and Chairman of the Agricultural Adventurers Award Committee.

Contributed photo

SHELTON — Terry and Jean Crum Jones call themselves agricultural ambassadors — and the couple’s dedication has helped make Jones Family Farms a household name in Shelton and throughout the state.

Jones Family Farms, a 400-acre working farm, has been cultivated by seven generations of the Jones Family. Each year the farm produces Christmas trees, strawberries, blueberries, pumpkins and more, while also cultivating 50 acres of hay and 50 acres of woodlots, and using more than 10 acres for production for the farm’s winery.

The couple, working alongside their children and grandchildren, have transformed the traditional family farm into a direct-to-consumer marketing destination farm emphasizing public relations and education programs. And the results have earned regional recognition.

The Joneses received the Eastern States Exposition’s 2021 New England Fellowship of Agricultural Adventurers award at the Big E’s annual Connecticut Day Sept. 22.

“It’s such an honor,” Jean Jones said, “But we are very much aware of the fact that we do what we do because we are blessed with wonderful people that work with us. We feel strongly about our culture here, the culture of family, or ‘farm-ily’ as we like to call it.”

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, Terry, said, 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.”

“Agriculture is everything,” Jean said, saying part of the farm’s success is that the family was blessed with a “hospitality gene.”

“When you’re a farmer you are excited to have people come and see you, see what you do,” Jean said. “I’m blessed, too, as a registered dietitian, I am doing food service from the ground up. Eating well, enjoying family. We love what we do.”

Terry said another unique aspect of the farm is the focus on education.

“We’re very focused on educating our guests what farming is all about,” Terry said.

On Pumpkinseed Hill, Jean said there is a bird sanctuary for people to see what types of birds are in the area and learn how the farm supports the ecosystem.

In 1969, Terry 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 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 and public health, made her an 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 its portfolio and seasonal reach of harvest-your-own enterprises, with the pumpkin patch at Pumpkinseed Hill and Christmas tree farms.

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 cooking with fresh, local ingredients.

“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.

The Joneses also offer food and nutrition internships and classes in the historic farmstead setting.

Terry said he has also focused on farmland conservation at the local, state and national levels. As chair of the Connecticut Working Lands Alliance steering committee for 15 years, he said he helped build one of the stronger state farmland conservation programs in the country.

Seeing the critical value of dairy farming to maintaining and stewarding the state’s agricultural lands, Terry said he helped lead the effort to initiate and fund the state’s 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, he said, has provided resources for affordable housing p rojects, historic preservation projects, open space acquisition, farmland p reservation and various Department of Agriculture programs.

After earning her degree in foods and nutrition, Jean completed her 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, more than 2,000 kids participate each year, she said.

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 Griffin Hospital in Derby. She currently mentors dietetic interns from the University of New Haven in sustainable agriculture.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com