North Texas Daily

Jubilee Farm family up on their feet with help from the community

Jubilee Farm family up on their feet with help from the community

Benjamin and Kade Chessman hold their son Elijah at their farm in Denton. Colin Mitchell

Jubilee Farm family up on their feet with help from the community
November 16
15:27 2016

The Chessman family spent three long years searching for the perfect place to set up their family farm. After road bumps and unexpected turns, they became rooted in the Jubilee Farm, their home and family business.

For Ben, Jade and 11-month-old Elijah, the end of this month will mark two years of owning and operating Jubilee Farm, which was first settled by German immigrants in about 1909. They had a vision of a holistic, diversified farm with heirloom variety, seasonal vegetables and animals with a lot of room to roam free and be happy. Overall, they wanted a place where they could cultivate healthy food responsibly and efficiently.

“Turns out a functioning farm doesn’t look like it does in the story book,” Ben said.

Prior to Jubilee, the Chessmans lived in Pennsylvania while Ben was interning on a small, diversified vegetable farm in 2010. There, he learned how to farm in a community that he said wholly supported farmers and the culture behind them.

Ben, a UNT alumnus with a degree in history, is the sole caretaker of the land, takes matters of farming and raising animals into his own hands. Jade, a UNT alumna with a degree in sociology, runs the social media for the farm. They both handle the business end of their homestead.

“Most people wouldn’t even know the farm exists without her,” Ben said of his wife.

Farmer Benjamin Chessman pours feed for his sheep. Along with the sheep, Chessman owns chickens. Colin Mitchell

Farmer Benjamin Chessman pours feed for his sheep. Along with the sheep, Chessman owns chickens. Colin Mitchell

In February, struggling to merge their passions with the demands of running a business, the Chessmans launched a Kickstarter for Jubilee Farm, asking for help in raising $25,000 to aid in upfront startup costs. They were in need of farming equipment, seeds, money to pay the bank and other massive expenses. By the end of their Kickstarter campaign, they raised $27,315 from 154 backers.

“People who we didn’t think even cared about what we were doing came through and offered with their pledge these huge words of encouragement,” Jade said. “They believe in what we’re doing, they care about it and they want us to grow and develop and be a viable source for food in our community.”

The Chessmans, as part of a thank you to donors of a certain level, held a dinner to express their gratitude to community members who helped them get on their feet. A long table was set up in a grazing pasture under a string of lights beneath an overhanging tree.

Sheep sauntered around the dinner table, curious, while this farming family enjoyed the fruits of their labor with community members who believed in them.

“When Ben and Jade talk about the farm and their vision for it, it’s so easy to get caught up in it,” Caitlin Crawford said, who attended the intimate dinner with her husband, Clint, as backers to the Jubilee Farm. “They want to get in touch with a process that wants to cause more good than harm.”

She said they were surprised to arrive at the dinner and see many longtime friends that had also donated to the farm. She and Clint, both UNT alumni with their own degrees in psychology and communication design, met Ben and Jade in college and have been friends ever since.

“I think that speaks to Ben and Jade’s strength as individuals within a community,” she said. “They are just so loved and they are so easy to love.”

Taylor Ratcliff | Videographer

With the money they raised from their Kickstarter campaign, the Chessman family is now looking to provide their services to Denton and beyond.

On the farm, Ben uses practices of crop rotation, varying the types of crops grown on the farm, hand-weeding and hand-turning his own soil, and raising their animals with plenty of room to live respectably.

The family operates on roughly 18 acres total. This land includes pastures, living space and three-fourths of an acre plot for vegetable cultivation. They raise pigs, sheep, chickens and roosters on their pastures, but Ben’s primary focus is the small acreage used for vegetables.  

“On three-fourths of an acre you can grow a blow-your-mind amount of food,” Ben said. “I couldn’t handle more than about an acre by myself, there’s no way, of just vegetable cultivation.”

He sees his practice, without the use of chemicals like herbicides and fertilizers on his plants or steroids on his animals, as a way to farm responsibly. It also provides a connection to farmers around the world who live a similar life as he and his family without the aid of the technology in the commercialized and industrialized corporate farming world.

“There’s value in feeling like, in a sense, that I’m part of a global community of farmers and that we kind of struggle with the same sort of things together,” Ben said. “I don’t think technology and industry have the answers to most problems on a farm.”

The Chessmans sell their produce at the Denton Community Market, a producer-only farmer’s and artist’s market held every Saturday morning on the corner of Mulberry and Carroll streets.

Benjamin Chessman walks out of a barn with feed for his chickens. Colin Mitchell

Benjamin Chessman walks out of a barn with feed for his chickens. Colin Mitchell

Ben and Jade said each weekend at the Market can be different. Some are better than others, and they said sometimes they notice the local farming culture isn’t always supported as heavily in Denton as they remember from their experiences at other markets in Pennsylvania.

“It’s not the mindset here in Texas,” Jade said. “In Pennsylvania it was, but in Texas we’re very much having to gently help change culture and change the way of thinking to value the things that we value. I think we’re getting there.”

However, Cecelia Gandy often sees a different perspective as produce manager at the Cupboard, a grocery store in Denton which sells local produce from farmers around the area. She does business with anywhere from three to 10 local farmers at once, including the Chessmans. Gandy sees how much people appreciate locally raised products on a regular basis.

“[The Chessmans] are really sweet and knowledgable,” Gandy, 28, said. “Everything I’ve bought from them is gorgeous and they sell really well.”

Gandy, having worked with the Ben and Jade for over a year, has had fresh sage, sweet peppers, heirloom tomatoes, herbs and other produce in stock from the Jubilee Farm. She says that when Ben comes into the store she likes to “grill him about his experience,” as she wants to become a farmer herself.

Ben said being able to see who you are doing business with as farmers and consumers is something special in and of itself, which is why supporting locally at the Denton Community Market or at a local grocer is so important to him and the community.

“They meet me and can talk to me and there’s that personal connection,” Ben said. ”And that’s what people value.”

Featured Image: Benjamin and Jade Chessman hold their son Elijah at their farm in Denton. Colin Mitchell

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Kyle Martin

Kyle Martin

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