By Mary Catherine Gaston
After finishing college and learning their trade by working for other farmers, rural Georgia natives Chris and Jenny Jackson followed their dream of making a living—and a full life—farming.
Rural roots: While Chris grew up in the small town of Calhoun, Georgia, Jenny grew up on the land the two now farm near Pine Mountain. As a child, Jenny enjoyed helping her parents with their small cattle herd and showing sheep as part of Harris County’s 4-H program. She knew she wanted to farm for a living one day, so she studied horticulture at the University of Georgia. That’s where she met Chris, a history and education major. Since 2007, the couple have owned and operated Jenny Jack Farm, a certified naturally grown fruit and vegetable operation that sells directly to consumers through an on-farm market and community supported agriculture program, or CSA. CSA members purchase shares in the farm’s produce annually and, in exchange, receive fresh produce weekly from what Chris, Jenny and their six employees harvest April through December. The venture they began while also working various off-farm jobs has both expanded and morphed to match their growing, changing market for the past 13 years.
What makes them heroes? In addition meeting demand for fresh, locally grown organic fruits and vegetables directly to consumers in the Pine Mountain/Columbus/LaGrange region, the Jacksons’ operation contributes to the local economy by employing four people full-time (including Chris and Jenny) and two others part-time. “We do our best to provide a good working environment, a good culture and good wages,” Chris says. The couple credit their friends and former employers, Skip and Cookie Glover of Douglasville, with inspiring their desire to help others, especially aspiring farmers, through work experiences on the farm.
Causes that are close to their hearts: For both Chris and Jenny, caring for the land and providing high quality, nutritious food are motivating passions. As they raise their daughter Tulsi on the very soil Jenny grew up on, the couple are also focused on their family’s quality of life and future. “It’s such a gift to have the use of this land that I have so many good memories of,” Jenny says, explaining that her love of the farm itself drives her desire to care for it responsibly. At the same time, both Jacksons would like to produce more without sacrificing the quality of life they, their two-year-old daughter and their employees enjoy. Though their production methods differ from larger-scale producers, Chris echoes a sentiment that surely resonates with all farmers. “I am passionate about developing systems that allow us to operate more efficiently and produce more without compromising our quality of life.” While the demand for their product is increasing, they want to find ways to meet it without a significant cost to their family life.
Something they want every rural Georgian to realize: There’s more to farming than meets the eye. “Part of the draw to this way of life is the idealistic, romantic view of the so-called ‘simple’ life,” Chris says. He’s watched as some folks have relocated to give it a try, only to realize it’s a lot harder than they thought. “There’s so much unseen work that goes into farming,” he says. He and Jenny both want all Georgians to recognize that the state’s rural population are working exceptionally hard and providing many of the resources urban populations throughout the state and nation literally couldn’t live without.
Where they see hope for rural communities: A student and former teacher of history, Chris sees hope for the state’s future in the knowledge of our past. “There is so much land stewardship wisdom among the older generation in rural Georgia,” he says, adding that he is inspired when he thinks about the untapped “agricultural possibility” rural places represent. Jenny is encouraged as she sees fellow rural Georgia natives growing in awareness of the benefits not only of eating more nutritious food, but also of supporting small, local businesses like theirs. “The internet and social media in particular have helped educate people about the economic, emotional and physical benefits of buying local,” she says.