J.C. Jones heads family-run farm in Hartselle
By Catherine Godbey
For the Enquirer
When the alarm goes off at 6 a.m., J.C. Jones throws on her farm clothes — the ones that typically “have someone’s poop on them” by the end of the day — and begins her daily chores at Lucky Lop Farms in Hartselle.
She checks on the rabbits, feeds the horses, cat and dogs, and opens the greenhouse and the chicken coop before making breakfast for her two children.
“Every day, no matter if I’m sick, if it’s snowing, if it’s raining or if it’s 100 degrees, the rabbits, chickens, dogs, cat, horses and humans have to be fed. There’s a skeleton checklist that has to be done regardless of what else is going on,” Jones said.
The 43-year-old Jones, who grew up on the Gulf Coast with a backyard garden, became a full-time farmer when she moved to Alabama from Virginia in July 2020 with her husband Courtney Jones, a retired Marine who works full time, her now 13-year-old son Conrad and 11-year-old daughter Jewell, a dog, a cat and two rabbits.
“When we moved, I told my husband that I really wanted to do more with my background in environmental science. We found this 10-acre spot in Hartselle and started Lucky Lop Farms with the No. 1 goal of self-sustainability. After that we sell off the excess,” Jones said.
Almost three years into this new adventure, Lucky Lop Farms is home to chickens, who Jones calls her “girls,” two horses, who Jones calls her “boys,” five beehives, rabbits, a cat, the Great Dane Athena and the schnauzer-Maltese mix Freya.
Combining her knowledge of environmental science with what she learned from rabbit books, chicken books, Zoom courses offered through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Google and podcasts about homesteading and beekeeping, Jones created a farm focused on using organic practices.
Spend some time with Jones and you may learn how long it takes horse manure, rabbit manure and chicken urine to absorb in the ground, how cayenne helps with laying production and how oregano helps with upper respiratory infections.
“I’m a master herbalist, so I’ve taken what we know works for humans and cross-checked it with animals. I’m huge on preventive medicine,” Jones said.
You may also learn how a chest freezer of sap will make only a few quarts of syrup, the benefits of Goji berries, which she grows on the farm, and how she transformed the downstairs of her home into a maternity ward for rabbits.
“Once you get me started talking about the farm, it’s hard to get me to stop,” Jones said.
Along with the animals, the 10-acre farm includes three orchards of apples and pears, a berry patch with raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, asparagus and mulberries, one-third acre devoted to native plants, such as purple hull peas, okra and butter beans, and 50-foot-by-50-foot and 20-foot-by-15-foot plot gardens.
The chores range from feeding the animals to cleaning the stalls and rabbit cages to fertilizing the gardens with a mixture of rabbit manure and water, which Jones calls “rabbit tea,” to moving the chicken coops, which are on four-foot-by-six-foot trailers, once or twice a week.
“We put them on trailers so it makes them easier to move. We’re always trying to work smarter, not harder. As we get older, doing some of these things will be more difficult, so we need to find ways to make things easier for us,” Jones said.
This month, Jones will focus more on her bees, prune the trees, start seeds in the greenhouse and prepare the ground for the spring and summer gardens.
“We ask the Earth to give us stuff to eat, but we don’t give it anything in return. We are like, thanks, but peace out. Then we come back and ask for more. We have to tend to it and provide it with the nutrients it needs. We are asking a lot of it,” Jones said. “We spend every bit of our horse, rabbit and chicken manure on something. The only thing we put in the soil that isn’t something that came from an animal is lime.”
During the summer — the farm’s peak season — Jones stays outside until 7 or 8 at night, only coming in to make supper for her family, who also help out on the farm.
“On Friday nights in the summer, it’s all hands on deck. You may drive by and see us picking purple hull peas and other crops to get ready for the farmers market,” Jones said.
At the Hartselle Farmers Market, Jones sells chicken eggs, fruit, vegetables, plants, tea mixes and canned items.
One of the most popular items from the farm are the chicken eggs.
“I keep a constant wait list for my eggs and this was even before the price hike. I think people like them so much because the eggs are multi-colored. My girls eat non-GMO food and I do Facebook videos all the time so everyone can see their living conditions,” Jones said.
In the fall, work to can and freeze leftover vegetables and fruit begins. There is the canned apple filling, marinara, salsa, apple butter, elderberry syrup, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and more.
In the winter, work includes cutting back overgrowth and poison ivy, tapping the sugar maples for sap if the weather is cold enough and reading as many books, listening to as many podcasts and taking as many classes as Jones can.
“You never stop learning,” Jones said.
Work never ends
Since buying the house and farm in southwest Hartselle, which was first owned by Paul and Bobbie Lee, who brought Piggly Wiggly to Hartselle, the Joneses have built chicken coops, added the orchards, brought in the bee hives, tended to the ground and dug a trench for a half-inch pipe sprinkler system with shut-off valves.
“There is never a time when nothing needs to be done. Something always needs to be done,” Jones said. “Time management is probably the hardest thing here. I want to make sure everything and everyone is OK. I’m everybody’s mom, even to the chickens,” Jones said.
This year, Jones plans on putting two new hives at locations outside of the farm and focusing more on what she feeds the animals. She is also on a wait list for Babydoll sheep.
Along with being self-sustainable, Jones hopes to use Lucky Lop Farms to give back to the community. Plans are in the works for Lucky Lop Farms to host members of the Shining Stars program for individuals with special needs.
“The last two years I taught in Virginia, I taught special education. They have my heart. I want to provide them with a unique experience where they can walk a horse, pet a chicken, pet a rabbit and do a craft. This is near and dear to my heart,” said Jones, who volunteers with the Shining Stars softball and archery teams.
To support other women growers in the area, Jones recently started the Women Farmers of North Alabama Facebook page.
“We are here to support one another, whether you are a hobby grower and want to sell what you grow, or because you want to grow stuff in pots in your backyard,” Jones said. “I want women to feel like they have a place to come. You need to have a group of people that are either as clueless as you are or a group where you exchange ideas. The Facebook group is a way I can bring the community together.”
Among Jones’ support system are two women she talks with about chickens and a female bee mentor. She also serves as a support and help to others. After hearing a friend talk about how muddy her yard was, Jones learned how to drive a stick shift, loaded a bale of hay on a tractor and drove to her friend’s home across from Crestline Elementary.
“I had never driven the tractor outside of the farm before. I was nervous, but it was one of those pull-up-your-bootstraps moments,” Jones said. “When I got home, I called my mom and said, ‘I feel like a champ.’ I am doing stuff I’ve never done before that almost makes not money, but it feels so good and satisfying.”