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Jones & Church Farms started with a handshake

Erwin Record photo by Richard Rourk • Renea Jones-Rogers points to stacked cartons of tomatoes, picked and ready for shipping. Her father, Carl Jones, along with Buckley Church, as well as their wives, Sue Jones and Charlene Church, founded Jones & Church Farms.

By Richard Rourk

The origins of one of the area’s biggest agricultural operations all started with a handshake. These days, that inspiration to try cooperation has definitely paid off.

“We are a family run operation,” said Renea Jones-Rogers.

Jones-Rogers, the daughter of one of the founders of Jones & Church Farms, said that the family farm merger got started when two local farmers made a handshake deal that resulted in two families coming together with the goal of producing top quality tomatoes. 

“We started back in 1975, when Carl Jones, my father, and Buckley Church, along with their wives Sue Jones and Charlene Church, agreed to join their two farms together.”

Their decision worked.

“Since then the children and grandchildren have all worked together to grow this business,” said Jones-Rogers. 

“It’s neat to think that my dad and Buck were mail carriers and farmed on the side,” she said. “They had the vision to join together to form what now produces close to 600 acres worth of tomatoes and packs out close to a million boxes in a 90-day period.”

Unicoi County’s Jones & Church Farms continues to grow and expand years after the idea to merge two struggling farms together. The success of that handshake deal continue echo down through the generations, according to Renea Jones-Rogers. 

Jones & Church Farms has been supplying the market with tomatoes since 1975.

Jones & Church Farms has tomatoes growing  in four other counties beyond Unicoi County. 

“We have farms in Washington, Greene, Cocke, Hamblen and, of course, right here in Unicoi County,” she said. “Our largest farm comes from Hamblen County and has more than 300 acres of land.”

Jones-Rogers told The Erwin Record that Jones & Church supplies locations around the globe with various types of tomatoes. 

“We send tomatoes across the Eastern Seaboard and as far west as Chicago, Alabama and Texas. We also ship up to Canada and down to Puerto Rico.”

Erwin Record Photo by Richard Rourk • A trailer at the loading docks is ready to take on cartons of locally-grown tomatoes from Jones & Church Farms in preparation for shipping to destinations throughout the country.

Jones & Church Farms produces a wide variety of tomatoes. “We have round and Roma tomatoes,” Jones-Rogers said. “They will also be picked in different stages and colors.”

Jones-Rogers announced that 2021 has been a good growing season.

“We just loaded 22 tractor-trailer loads on Tuesday,” Jones-Rogers said. “We are very blessed. Good weather and good crops. We seeded in March, we start to harvest in July and we will run until October.”

For Jones-Rogers, being able to have such a large-scale, family-run operation in Unicoi County has been a blessing. 

“We feel like we contribute a lot to our local economy,” Jones-Rogers said. “Our employees stay here and spend local, they buy local and they shop local. Half of our workforce is local.”

For more information about Jones and Church Farms, please follow them on social media.