Mother-daughters team up for family enterprise
HELENVILLE - Sixteen years ago the Steve and Jody Knoebel made the decision to start a produce business on their Jefferson County farm.
They had been raising cash crops and Angus cattle but were seeking a way to directly involve their three daughters in the farming business.
Jody Knoebel says, “They really took ownership of the pick-your-own strawberry patch we started that year. After that, whenever we considered making a change or adding something to our selection they were in on the decision and still are.”
In fact, they named their business for the girls. The “Jelli” name uses letters from each of their names.
Jessica now works off the farm but helps in the on-farm store and the gardens each day after work; Lindsay sells farm seed and also works alongside her mother on the produce venture. Libby is still in school but works full time with her family.
Jelli’s Market continues to evolve and now includes an orchard, planted by a neighbor on their land. The orchard provides pears, peaches, plums and apples.
Starting out with strawberries, the family soon added blueberries, raspberries and asparagus. They plant a field of peas that are ready to be picked at the same time as the strawberries and beans that are ready for picking the same time as the raspberries.
Jody says, “Each time we added something it was because our customers were requesting it. People like to pick things.”
They started with the strawberries because the timing of it worked well with their other grain crops. The bulk of the work was in summer when the girls were available to help.
Their blueberry patch is unique to the area and very popular. They started seven years ago with 720 plants and t hen added another acre of 1000 plants.
“We have five varieties – early and late,” she says. “We do that with all of our crops.”
There are not many farms in Wisconsin that raise blueberries. It isn’t so much the climate, she says, as the fact that they need very acidic soil to thrive. To establish their crop they mulched the area with wood chips and applied ammonia sulfate. Each year they add more mulch, readily available in the area. The mulch also serves to conserve moisture and deter weeds.
The farm also includes 15 acres of sweet corn that they hand pick each day throughout the season. In fall they raise pumpkins.
An on-farm store provides a great place to sell the individual meat products out of their freezers including beef, lamb, pork and chickens. The store also includes some country crafts and honey.
They keep bee hives around for pollination and honey but they also bring in bumble bees.
”Plums blossom so early when the honey bees aren’t active yet,” Jody says. “Bumble bees are out all of the time.”
Besides getting help from her daughters, Knoebel hires other youth to help in the busy summer seasons.
“We start when they are 12 years old and this is their first job. Those who enjoy it come back the next couple of years,” she says.
“Often parents will offer their children’s services but we make the kids call us themselves,” she says. “Then we interview them, usually in a group. We tell them what we expect of them. We let them know we expect them to show up.”
They all start in the strawberry patches, picking and helping customers by carrying baskets and directing them where to pick. Those who come back work their way up to jobs with more responsibility and driving the small utility vehicles that move customers to the fields.
Besides the produce and livestock, the farm also includes a pen with some fun animals for visitors to see.
Jody says, “We don’t like to call it a petting zoo but customers like to see farm animals.”
She also custom-raises calves for two area farmers, something she has done for many years.
Along with marketing products they also see the farm store and pick-your-own business as a way to help promote agriculture and tell the farming story.
Lindsay says she is always trying to combat the myth that farmers are not responsible caretakers of the land by simply sharing all farming practices they do to ensure a future generation can work the same land.
“Agriculture is a very consumer driven market and as consumers become further removed from agriculture, conversations about farming practices are becoming crucial to ensure everyone understands the path from farm gate to dinner plate,” she says.