Coffee, Crops, Repairs, Repeat…A Day in the Life of Joe Smith
Beyond the famous cookies, pumpkin displays, and family attractions the Smith Family is farming hundreds of acres in Kenosha County.
We know and love Jerry Smith Farm for its iconic cookies, corn maze, hayrides, hand painted pumpkin scenes, and the memories dating back to 1975. But what happens behind the scenes to fill the Country Store, Green Acres, and local grocery stores? Did you know that a farmer’s day starts at 5 am and doesn’t end until the work is done, 7 days a week?
While sitting in his truck out in the tomato fields, Joe Smith paused for a moment and spilled the beans about what it takes to run his farm.
“The first thing you have to know is that some days are better than others, but you have to enjoy it all,” shared Joe.
Farmers are always planning ahead, checking the weather and managing ever-changing priorities. “First thing you have to check is the weather, on every station at around 5 am. Everything we do revolves around the weather.” Joe records all the stations’ weather forecasts the night before as well as the 5 am and 6 am forecasts to get as much information as possible.
The weather runs the show, Joe explained, everything done on the grounds pivots to the rain. Every single day is different. He even said that if we wanted to understand what he does in a day documented properly, we’d have to give him a call every single day because they differ so greatly. For the most part, however, a few things remain the same.
The first thing: coffee.
Joe begins his day with coffee at 5 am, checks the weather stations, and heads out to the fields. Next, he checks the oil and the diesel in the tractors and wagons.
Depending on the rain, mud, or dampness of the fields he assesses if he is able to bring the cardboard boxes out to be filled with the produce. “Just like you see the big cardboard boxes in the stores, we use those in the fields to fill up the sweet corn, melons, pumpkins, and so on.”
Something many people don’t realize about Jerry Smith Farm is just how many acres of land hold their growing array of crops in Kenosha County. Depending on the stock of fruits and veggies in the Country Store, and at their sister store Green Acres, he determines what needs to be picked daily. The crew simultaneously monitors crop ripeness and weeds, while determining how, when, and what to pick. Joe refers to his team in the fields for planting and harvesting as an “army.”
“There are so many people with all hands on deck to get our produce from field to table,” shared Joe Smith.
This morning specifically, Joe and the team picked sweet and spicy banana peppers, eggplants, sweet corn, Yukon gold potatoes, tomatoes, and pickles, as well as called partner farmers to place fruit orders. There aren’t a lot of fruits raised directly on the farm, so Jerry Smith Farm supports other farmers to bring in Georgia peaches, plums, apples, Michigan blueberries, and more. When we need a bushel of a crop-we send someone out to pick it. Whatever produce is a priority that day is picked, washed, and if it’s sweet corn it has to be cooled.
“This brings us to about 8 am,” Joe explained, it’s around this time that the first wagon is ready to go, and the corn is brought up to the Country Store and Green Acres to be cooled down. We pre-cool the corn so that it isn’t hot when it is sold wholesale to grocery stores and vendors. Today there were 60 bins of corn, but tomorrow there will need about 100 bins of corn picked. Jerry Smith Farm picks and transports about 4-5 semis full of sweet corn a week!
“We always have to plan ahead. Even today, one of my workers, she’s wonderful, asked if we were picking orange or red tomatoes today. But just in case it does rain in the next few days I needed her to pick the pink ones too. So we have inventory that will be red by Saturday in the Country Store in case we need those red ones and it does rain. A big part of our job out here is guessing, planning ahead, staying on top of what we need, and making sure we do all of that while keeping everything as fresh as we possibly can,” said Joe.
Another big part of Joe’s job is calling in orders for things like palettes, cardboard bins, and parts for things that break. “Nearly every day something breaks,” Joe said, “which is to be expected when you’re working with so many moving parts, wagons, trucks, tractors, and so on. There are hard days where things go wrong but you’ve still got to love it.”
“What do you want people to know?
Most people don’t know that we started first planting the pumpkins in June, they don’t realize that our small army has been tending to acres and acres of plants and how many hands have nurtured each plant to help it grow. Many don’t realize how many people it takes to get the pumpkin to Jerry Smith Farm to make you smile when you bring it home and carve it up.
What motivates you to continue farming?
“I love it. I grew up doing it. People say things like, ‘it’s in your blood’ and yeah, I think it is. If I was a grain farmer, I think maybe I’d get bored. The veggies are the most exciting part to me. I love to watch the whole process, from start to finish. We help feed people as all farmers do. You’re getting the joy of seeing that thing grow and someone else smiling and taking it home for dinner. I love growing them.”
Do you like working with your dad?
“Dad (Jerry Smith) drives the tractor and plows. I love working with my dad. It’s gonna be hard when he’s gone. I don’t have to explain a thing to him. He just gets it. Like the other day, we were picking sweet corn, and he says ‘Joe skip the hill, the hill’s looking short.’ And we just knew to come back to that to pick in a few days, because sometimes the corn on the hill doesn’t grow as fast. But not everyone would know that. And he knows that. He’s just a wealth of knowledge. He likes to mess with me and does not always tell me when there’s something I can do differently. He always has to have the one up, always teaching me something. Even now,” shared Joe.
When asked how he manages it all on the farm, with an operation this big. He said, “Well my better half… my wife, Amy Smith, manages west of the shed, and I manage east of the shed. Everything that’s happening up there is run by Amy and her super people, and everything I do in the fields is me and my super people.”
Do you ever get a day off?
“Winters are the easiest time, I tell everyone the winters are so easy,” said Joe.
But do you get a day off when it’s not wintering? The answer is no. There are no days off. “Twice this summer I was able to go golf with my son in the late afternoon, play 9 and be back to the farm in 3 hours.” Joe explained that the end of August and the beginning of September is crunch time during harvest season. They have to take the time to diligently check the crops, and weeds, scout the rows, and monitor that everything is looking healthy as they approach the finish line – pumpkin season. Joe reiterated the number of people helping, and he’s surrounded by really wonderful people in the fields. He said it’s never boring because they never have to look far for something to do.
What has changed most over the years?
Joe explained that the volumes of the crops and the people have increased dramatically now that larger grocers have come on board to stock Jerry Smith Farm produce and the varieties of veggies have grown over the years as well. There are new hybrids of plants that they grow that differ from earlier years.
Finally, next time you’re behind a farmer give them a break because they’re working just as hard to feed your family! Joe went on to say, “The crowds are very different, and the traffic is too. One thing I wish people would know is that when they’re trying to get to work, so are us farmers out there. We may not be able to drive as fast as you on our tractor or wagon, but we are trying our very best.”