Thriving on community support
by Sally Colby
When Jake Harward was about 10 years old, he and his brother wanted a four-wheeler. “Instead of buying us one,” he said, “my dad told us ‘You can earn one– grow some sweet corn and sell it.’ We grew about eight rows around the edge of the silage corn.”
Jake and his brother got up early every morning, picked sweet corn on the Springville, Utah, farm and sold it from the back of a ’37 Ford pickup. During high school, the family added a few more corn stands, developed what their trailers and stands would look like and initiated a reputation for Harward Farms’ sweet corn.
Part of Jake’s initial plan included college to study ag business. “I left for college, came home four days later, then left the farm for several years to serve an LDS mission in South Dakota,” he said. “I was working hard, but it was different from farm work. It was good to get away, see another part of the country and meet other people. I thought I could figure things out when I got back.” While he was away, he had time for personal reflection and to think about his future plans.
When Jake returned to the farm, his dad and brother were still growing sweet corn to stock the stands, and had started growing tomatoes. Since the time Jake was in high school, the family was growing 80 acres of sweet corn to supply four stands. “The season was staggered,” he said. “We’d start mid to late July and go through Labor Day. Now we’re growing close to 200 acres of sweet corn for 25 stands.”
The family eventually started growing more produce themselves. “We also sell a lot of tree fruit from other growers,” said Jake, adding that the family is still best known for sweet corn. “We were buying watermelon before, but now we’re growing our own and have established a good reputation for it.”
In 2006, after the Harward family decided to grow their own watermelons, Jake and his wife Sara took a trip to California to meet with seed dealers. While in the Stockton area, Jake asked if there were any watermelon growers he could talk with. He met with the Van Gronigans, a large watermelon grower, and developed a friendship with them.
The Van Gronigans shared information about growing melons, and mentioned they had been shipping a lot of pumpkins to Utah. They asked if Jake would be interested in growing pumpkins for them to avoid the high cost of shipping pumpkins.
“We tried growing about 20 acres of pumpkins and we were successful,” said Jake. “But about five acres was close to the road going into Springville, and we had to keep chasing people out of the fields. My dad said ‘Why don’t we just open it up and start selling pumpkins – let people go out and pick their own?’ That’s how Jaker’s got started.”
Today, Jaker’s is more than a pumpkin patch. “It started as pick-your-own pumpkin, but now we have a corn maze, petting zoo, a corn pile and hay rides,” said Jake. “The community has supported us – we have about 50,000 to 60,000 visitors every fall.” Jake added that most pumpkin patches don’t allow guests to actually cut their own, but that’s an option at Jaker’s. “We have a big display where they can choose a pumpkin or they can go to the field and cut their own.”
The pumpkin patch that’s open to the public features about 30 different varieties as well as miniature pumpkins and gourds. Guests who want to cut their own pumpkins are provided with shears and instructions about how to properly cut the vines. “We tell them where the different varieties are and how to cut them,” said Jake. “It’s good for them to get out and walk around in the dirt and vines. They can spend an evening together as a family.”
Rather than adding pumpkins and other autumn products to the highly successful corn stands, Jake said it’s been better to close the corn stands at the end of the season and focus on making the pumpkin patch better. In addition to the pumpkins, Harward Farms grows 200 acres of commercial pumpkins. Jake said the main commercial variety is Magic Wand, a popular carving jack-o-lantern pumpkin.
With just 20 inches of rain annually, most of which falls between November and April, Harward Farms rely on reservoirs to supply irrigation water for crops. “We weren’t doing drip irrigation at first, but now we’re one of the biggest users of drip irrigation in the state,” said Jake, adding that drip irrigation saves a significant quantity of water and crops grow better with less water. “On a typical piece of land, an acre would have four acre feet of water that comes with the ground. That’s generally what the pioneers figured was needed to grow a crop. But with drip irrigation, we use less than a foot, so we save about 75% of water and grow better crops.” With irrigation, Harward Farms grows 200 acres of sweet corn, 50 acres of seedless watermelons (mostly Fascination and Exclamation), 20 acres of cantaloupe and 10 acres of tomatoes and other vegetables.
About 2,000 acres is devoted to alfalfa, which is managed by Jake’s father Jud. Jake said a typical crop rotation is alfalfa for four to five years, followed by corn, pumpkins, watermelon, then back to alfalfa. Some of the alfalfa is baled in small bales and direct marketed to horse owners. Hay customers can come to the farm and purchase any number of bales, or request delivery for larger quantities. “Utah’s number one export is alfalfa,” said Jake. “We grow high-quality alfalfa, which is sent to California. They press 1,500-pound bales to half the size for shipment to Asia and other countries.”
Harward Farms’ market is currently on leased land, but the family plans to purchase property and construct a permanent, on-farm market. Jake believes proximity to the interstate and established customers who are familiar with Jaker’s will mean a successful farm market.
Sara handles the farm’s office work and helps when she’s needed elsewhere. “She’s involved with Ag in the Classroom, and she spends a lot of time going to schools,” said Jake. “This spring, she received the Agriculture Advocate award from Farm Bureau.” Every year, Harward Farms hosts Farm Bureau’s Farm Field Days, which brings 3,500 second graders to the farm to learn about agriculture.
As for the ongoing success of the farm, Jake said, “We’re in the middle of development, but my dad has said for a long time, ‘Don’t fight ‘em – feed ‘em.”