When John Deere Journal visited with Jon Jackson in early 2019, he was about as busy as one man could be. Now he seems about as busy as two men could be.
Jackson is the founder and operator of Comfort Farms in Milledgeville, Georgia. He started the farm to help fellow U.S. military veterans recover from PTSD and other combat-related injuries through the peaceful but highly disciplined occupation of farming.
John Deere Journal recently spoke with Jackson between engagements on his over-full calendar.
“I just got back from California, where I spoke at the world’s biggest heirloom seed expo,” Jackson said. “I’m showing small farmers how to use heirlooms to develop niche products that aren’t available in most grocery stores. I’m a seed geek. I fell in love with preserving heirloom seeds.” Jackson expects to go “100 percent heirloom” — growing nothing but heirloom plants — at Comfort Farms sometime in 2020.
Jackson also spoke twice at the Southeastern Meat Conference in Texas — on a panel about diversifying farms and their income streams by including pasture pork and other meat products, as well as on a panel to engage and encourage African American farmers, who represent only a small fraction of American farmers.
Along with appearances in California and Texas, Jackson has addressed groups in South Carolina and New Mexico, from sea to shining sea, in a manner of speaking.
By returning to Comfort Farms, he jumped from the frying pan into the fire.
“We have about 1,500 people coming to the farm this week for our ‘Comfy Funky Pumpkin Patch,’” said Jackson. The Halloween-themed event offered visitors a chance to see heirloom pumpkins Jackson brought in from Michigan. He’ll be using his John Deere 3032E compact utility tractor to help with rides and hopes to add a John Deere Gator someday.
Of course, there have been hiccoughs. Although Comfort Farms avoided major damage when Hurricane Dorian wandered up the east coast of the U.S., it took a hit last summer during a severe storm. A lightning strike took out the freezers and one of the walk?in coolers at Comfort Farms, costing Jackson about $30,000 from meat spoilage.
He called the loss “catastrophic,” but he did what most farmers do when catastrophe strikes. “I’ve just been grinding,” Jackson said. “Pushing more product, crawling out slowly.”
All that counts
Jackson said his top priority still is to keep Comfort Farms open for military veterans?— “be there for when the guys need me,” he said. “That’s all that counts.”
The emotional rewards of helping fellow vets are immense, and sometimes they’re even accompanied by a check. Jackson started a campaign to get people involved in his mission by contributing $10 a month, or $120 a year. “One guy called up out of the blue and pledged $300 a month,” said Jackson, who hesitated to accept a pledge for 30 times to suggested amount. “The guy said, ‘I just want to thank you. You have no idea how much you helped me out.’”
What’s next for Jackson? Certainly not rest.
“My wife and I started a company called American Farm Hustle Outfitters,” he said. “The company sells t-shirts to help raise awareness of the plight of small farmers, particularly, and of farmers in general.”
That’s not all. Jackson hopes to raise enough money to operate his own print shop. Why a print shop? Because once he starts growing heirloom cotton?— “the same cotton my ancestors grew here as slaves,” Jackson explained?— he’ll be able to close the circle: he’ll grow and harvest and spin the cotton to make signature Comfort Farm shirts and then he’ll be able to print the designs himself. “From seed to shirt,” as Jackson described it.
And he’s already planning what he’ll do if that business succeeds. “We want to help farming communities build infrastructure to get their produce and meats from rural areas to urban areas,” said Jackson.
Like his seeds, Jackson’s mission is growing, growing, growing.