New England 2023 Jones Family Farms & Winery Shelton, Connecticut Leopold Conservation Award Recipient

Like the four generations who have worked its fields and forests before him, Terry Jones has a deep respect for the landscape of Jones Family Farms and Winery.

Terry credits his conservation ethic to working alongside his father and grandfather as a child. An avid gardener in his teens, he sold vegetables on a card table to families coming to their farm to buy raw milk. The proceeds from his produce sales helped pay for his tuition at the University of New Hampshire, where he met his wife, Jean.

Over the next 54 years, they grew the former dairy farm to more than 500 acres. Pumpkins, strawberries, blueberries, vegetables, and Christmas trees took the place of cows. Twenty years ago, their son Jamie developed an award-winning vineyard and winery on the farm. This scenic spot in rural Fairfield County provides a “micro-Vermont” getaway for the one million residents who live within a 20-mile radius.

The farm’s motto, “Be good to the land and the land will be good to you,” is attributed to Terry’s great-great grandfather, Philip James Jones. Terry has spent his life honoring this credo by adopting conservation practices that have produced higher-quality crops while benefitting the environment. He says better yields are just a dividend of properly caring for the land.

Conservation leadership has run in the family. Terry’s grandfather encouraged his father to fence off steep slopes and rocky pastures to plant trees. These areas have since produced more than five rotations of Christmas trees, while others are in timber production of Tulip Poplar and Eastern White Pine. Terry’s father also experimented with innovative erosion control by interseeding a cover crop of winter rye into unharvested corn fields 75 years ago.

Other steep, rocky slopes where mowing is unsafe were treated with low rates of herbicides to suppress weeds. The result was a diverse mix of herbaceous flowering plants that provide habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects, while stabilizing soils. Native wildflowers flourish in the soils among the pines, and along old stone walls, to encourage bee and butterfly populations.

Another example of adopting the best available science to improve ecological sustainability was their early adoption of crop rotation and cover crops to replace soil fumigation where strawberries are grown. Soil health improved, common root diseases were suppressed, and strawberry plants lasted longer. Thousands of tons of wood chips are composted to amend the soils around berries and Christmas trees.

The Jones family also found success in planting pumpkin seeds into rye straw. A winter cover crop of rye grows to about six feet high in the spring. After crimping the rye with a roller, pumpkins are seeded directly into the flattened rye straw versus a tilled field. The pumpkin roots feed organically from the decaying straw, which also protects the topsoil from erosion from heavy rains and keeps the pumpkins clean.

Each generation of the Jones family has, as Terry says, “tried to leave the wood pile a little higher than they found it.” Jones Family Farms is a frequent host of school tours and research trials. Terry has advocated for farmland preservation and environmental causes by chairing Connecticut’s Working Lands Alliance, a project of American Farmland Trust. He also led local efforts that protected over 1,000 acres of farmland and forests, and secured 30 miles of public recreational paths throughout Shelton.

Since childhood, Terry has felt proud that his family was presented a National Gimbel Award from Eleanor Roosevelt in 1942. He hopes the 2023 Leopold Conservation Award will inspire and instill pride in future generations of the family.

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