Jackson talks to women’s group about roadside shop

Staff Writer

DOVER, Del. (March 1, 2016) — Kelly Jackson and her husband, Paul, a sixth generation farmer, have grown a roadside stand in Cambridge, Md., into a thriving business complete with bakery and a kitchen where local chefs give demonstrations on how to make the most of local ingredients.
Jackson described how she and her husband grew their business in the keynote address of the 15th annual Mid-Atlantic Women in Agriculture Conference Feb. 11 at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino.
The conference had record registration of about 200 attendees.
Earlier generations of Jacksons had grown vegetables and fruit before getting into grain farming in the 1950s, so growing a few vegetables on the farm brought the family full circle.
The Jacksons’ first roadside stand consisted of a few bales of straw under a tent, with sales on the honor system.
Jackson was a Maryland State Police officer and pregnant that first year.
She and Paul soon named their business “Emily’s Produce,” in honor of their daughter, born in 1999. They determined they would use the operation to teach their daughter the values of farming and hard work.
Their stated mission is to “provide our community with a local farm experience that demonstrates honest, hardworking family values combined with exceptional products and superior customer service.”
Customers loved the homegrown, local foods and let the couple know they wanted more.
Year after year, they made small improvements to build the business.
In 2002, Paul and some friends erected a building from which to sell.
They added more variety of produce and created a community-supported agriculture buyer’s club.
They now include in CSA boxes of produce from fellow farmers, and look upon that part of the operation as an opportunity to introduce people to agriculture.
Pick-your-own pumpkins and strawberries were offered, allowing customers a day on the farm as well as the freshest produce.
After a few years, they enlarged the building and added refrigeration. They added a greenhouse so they could start their own fruit and vegetable transplants and offer plants for Mother’s Day.
They grew cut flowers and hanging baskets.
With high tunnels and low tunnels, they can get an early or late crop. “We even grew sweet corn transplants,” Jackson said.
“Our priorities were to build trust with customers, to remain a reputable source of local food, to remain visible in our community, to teach our children values and work ethic, to be good stewards of the land, to remain educated and to demonstrate improvements every year.”
Remaining educated includes attending seminars such as Women in Ag and keeping notebooks which are helpful, even years later.
Paul and Kelly are very involved in the off-season with a national group which holds a week-long seminar for marketers. For 10 years, they’ve joined a three-day bus tour of other operations and sat in classes for two more days.
“We take this seriously,” Jackson said. “We do everything we can to be better marketers and growers, to make sure our customers understand we pay attention to detail.”
Kelly Jackson continued working the entire Eastern Shore as a police officer until her retirement as captain in 2012. “My mom and dad helped a lot,” she said.
Emily, too, helped and became an important part of the business. Her younger brother, Kyle, was included as they added “Kyle’s Farm Fun,” a playground, and then “Kyle’s goats” in a petting zoo.
Eventually, Kelly Jackson said, Kyle had a realization: “Wait a minute! The market is named for Emily.”
The playground and goats were not enough. So they added income-producing animals, grass-fed beef, which are his and chickens.
When she retired, they increased the market building to 8,000 square feet, adding a kitchen.
“I wasn’t a ‘foodie’ early in the project,” Jackson admitted, “but it’s natural now to be one.”
They bake pies and other baked goods, jams, salsas and soups, using their fresh, local, natural foods in different ways. “We have a ‘zero waste mentality,’” Jackson said. “When we have a glut of something, we make a value-added product.” When there are too many eggs, they make quiche. Too much corn? Make sweet corn pizza.
Visitors are invited to picnic on the farm with a freshly made lunch, and those farm fresh lunches can be delivered to businesses as well.
The Jacksons invited Patrick Fanning, chef at The High Spot gastropub in Cambridge, to create a dinner menu from their products in their kitchen, seating 24 guests on-site.
On-farm dinners, wine-tastings and a craft and vendor fair extend their outreach.
Last year, on a leap of faith, the Jacksons hired more help.
They have four to five employees, including kitchen help, at the market on weekdays and seven to eight on weekends.
This year they may hire a “marketing and logistics” person, as there are a lot of events planned.
Asked about financial challenges, Jackson said, “It helped that in the beginning I had a full-time job, and now, retirement money. As the market grew, we figured out this was more than a teaching opportunity for our kids, but an income-producing business. Now we’re making more improvements to keep the business financially stable.”
This winter they’re making improvements to the kitchen. “It’s scary. Our goal is to work harder and make the market sustainable,” she said.
Emily, now 16, is loving it. “She loves agriculture, loves the customer service aspect,” said her mother. She was chosen “Miss Dorchester Ag” in 2015.
She plans to study agriculture in college. “We never wanted to force her, although the market was named for her,” JKelly ackson said.
Kyle is also interested in agriculture and enjoys helping his father on the farm.