Grower Perspective: It’s Worth the Fight

Grower Perspective: It’s Worth the Fight


From Left to Right:
Jackson Farming Company’s Brent Jackson, Debbie Jackson, Rodney Jackson, and Melissa Jackson, American Vegetable Grower Editor Carol Miller, United Fresh Chairman Cindy A. Jewell, United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from the acceptance speech given during the ceremony celebrating Jackson Farming Company winning American Vegetable Grower’s 2018 Grower Achievement Award.

I never dreamed that we would have made it this far. None of what we have today, nor our entire farming career would have been possible or as successful as it has been without our faith in God.


We have always tried to do the right thing in all situations. That applies to the way we treat our employees, our vendors, and our customers as we would want to be treated. And we strive to be moral, ethical and truthful with each of these at all times (I’m sure I haven’t always succeeded, but we have made an honest effort).

I learned early in my childhood and in my two careers — building Jackson Farming Company and serving in the North Carolina General Assembly — that if you will tell people the truth, you’ll have nothing to apologize for.

So Many to Thank

I thank God for his many blessings to me, my family, and our operation. I want to thank my wife, Debbie, for standing by and doing whatever had to be done to make it work.

In the early years she worked in the fields, supervised crews, cooked lunch and dinner, and raised three young boys. She more than did her part to make Jackson Farming Company a success.

I want to thank my oldest son, Rodney, for his dedicated commitment to assisting us his entire life, as well as being willing to take the helm and lead Jackson Farming Company into the second generation and hopefully beyond.

I want to personally thank the American Vegetable Grower magazine for selecting us for this award, as well as Carol Miller in working with our crazy schedules to get all of this done after we were chosen! I also want to thank the board and members of United Fresh Produce Association for your involvement in this award and what you do daily for us, your members!

Started Training My Son Young

I want to tell you a short story on just how long Rodney has been involved in working with Debbie and me to make Jackson Farming Company what it is today.

Rodney started driving a tractor at the age of 4 years old. I can remember that while Debbie and I picked cucumbers, we’d take turns getting the tractor headed down the row. Rodney would drive until we got to the end, then one of us would go take over and turn the tractor around because he wasn’t tall enough to reach the pedals.

In today’s world, I would probably be locked up for child abuse if I were to do that now. But back then we needed every person in our family to do what they could, we really didn’t have a choice.

It Hasn’t Been Easy Getting Here

As the first generation, it wasn’t easy, nor simple and took us many years to overcome the obstacles of inexperience, lack of financing, capital, and, of course, weather and market conditions.

We were told many times by bankers and friends we weren’t going to make it. I began to think there was a local pool going on at the country stores as to which year was finally going to do us in!

In hindsight, I guess I was just too stupid and or too hardheaded to quit. In the early days there were many times I personally would get discouraged, but Debbie would always say or do something to encourage me to continue. And we did continue. Debbie, thank you for your encouragement to help me to overcome these valleys of despair.

Finding Inspiration at My Lowest Point

I would like to share another short story with you. Many years ago, we went through a valley of despair and doubt. After paying out that year’s expenses, we were broke. Our bank, which we had dealt with for years and had never been a day late or dollar short, turned us down. The loan committee decided we were a bad risk and basically told us they were cutting us off.

It was a very low point for us. Then a couple of things happened.

By the grace of God, we found another bank that welcomed us with a larger line of credit than we had with our former bank.

Just as important to us, if not more so, was finding a source of inspiration. I ran across a story in one of the produce industry magazines about how the A. Duda & Sons operation got started. The story riveted me. I could envision the stress that Mr. Andrew Duda and his sons experienced during the early years. How they failed on numerous occasions, yet never losing their faith nor determination to make it work.

How they have since thrived is now history. But back then, I thought to myself if they can make it through by their faith and determination, so can we!

Nothing will ever convince me differently than that story was meant for me. It gave me the faith and will power to move forward and to this day I have never looked back. So I must say thank you to the A. Duda and Sons family for sharing your story.

It’s a Dream Fulfilled

To be fully truthful in hindsight, it was extremely tough on Debbie, our three sons, and me at times, but also so enjoyable working side by side together. To know what we were trying to do wasn’t just for us, but for our children and their children’s children, as well as my underlying mission of attempting to feed a hungry world.

From the very beginning of Jackson Farming Company, it has always been my hope and dream that it would live on many years after I am gone and for generations to come. And today, I really believe it will!

We have always had a saying: “We do what we have to do to make it work, as long as it is ethical and moral.” We lived by this in the early days, and that saying is still very much in practice today at Jackson Farming Company.

In closing I would ask each of you to please remember the victims of Hurricane Florence in your prayers, thoughts, and however you so choose to help. Eastern North Carolina has been devastated by this horrific storm of three to four days of unrelenting rain, up to 36 inches in some places. And it has hit our produce industry family members that were in Florence’s path in the worst way, possible.

Thank you again for recognizing Jackson Farming Company with the 2018 Growers Achievement Award and may God continue to bless all of us in the produce industry, as well as the United States of America!