Small U-Pick Farm Expands by Adding New Products for Customers

By Frank Giles

Beginning farmers face obstacles when there is no land, equipment and expertise being handed down from one generation to the next. But many multigenerational farms face similar challenges when family transitions take place.

The Casey family in Hernando County has dealt with those issues as the younger generation sought to keep the farming tradition alive. Jeff Casey, owner and operator of JG Ranch in Brooksville, Florida, had to find his own path and embarked on an entirely new farming enterprise to do so.

Jeff Casey has become skilled in growing berries with the help of grower associations and local Extension agents.

His father, George, and grandfather ran a dairy operation that grew to over 1,000 cows at one point. The dairy was sold in 1978 and the farm transitioned to beef cattle. As George and his wife Joan (the namesakes for JG Ranch) neared retirement age, the savings they built farming would be needed to maintain their lives in retirement.

“By the time Jeff was to take over the cattle ranch, there was no way it would support two families,” George says. “So, he had to figure out what he could do to earn a living for his family farming. Many farm families must deal with this. The next generation has to figure out its own path.”


In 2000, Jeff along with his wife Debrah, began their own chapter in the Casey family farm story on timbered property that they cleared for farming. They started a u-pick blueberry farm on the property in 2001. In the years since, strawberries and blackberries were added to the u-pick offerings.

The berry u-pick is a good lineup to extend the season. Business kicks off with strawberries, then transitions to blueberries followed by blackberries. The u-pick opens on Halloween and runs until mid-June as the blackberries play out. By then, Casey jokes, “I am tired of seeing people.”

Casey had no previous experience growing berries, so he had a learning curve on production as well as running a u-pick business. He says he made use of local resources to help learn about growing the crops.

“I got a lot of help learning to grow these crops from the Florida Blueberry Growers Association and Florida Strawberry Growers Association. I also tapped into University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) for help.

UF/IFAS Extension agent Matthew Smith has worked with Casey and says he has built a great farm business.

“Jeff is one of the best complete growers I work with, which is to say not only does he excel at growing crops but also modern direct marketing,” Smith says. “And not for nothing, Jeff grows what is still to this day the best strawberries I’ve ever eaten. The farm is still a working ranch from when his parents started the operation. It’s a multigenerational family farm that has successfully weathered the changing Florida landscape by adapting with the times and technology and successfully branching into new markets.”

Blueberries where the first u-pick offering on the farm.


As JG Ranch built a customer base, it became clear that adding more to their offerings would benefit the business and give customers more reason to come back again and more often. This is an evolution many u-pick farms go through.

Beyond berries, Casey also grows a small amount of lettuce and other leafy greens and hot peppers on the farm. He says the peppers have been a hit with customers. He also has a fruit and vegetable stand, so customers can stock up on other items not grown on the farm while visiting the u-pick. Eggs and beef produced on the farm also are sold.

In addition, customers can purchase home-baked goods, jams and jellies from Juney Sweets. This part of the business has grown into a significant part of the farm’s revenue stream.

“The home baker would trade out goodies for strawberries,” Casey says. “When the state passed the cottage industry law, it allowed her to start selling those goodies here on our farm through a commission agreement with us. That law is a big deal for small businesses like hers and our farm.”

Other touches keep the customers coming back, like letting people feed the chickens and cattle. Casey also has a play area for kids visiting the farm. But he’s focused on keeping the experience a relaxing, low-key affair.

“More power to the farms that want to have all the entertainment, bands and sell alcohol. And there’s a market for that,” he says. “That’s not what we want to do, and it’s not what our customer base is looking for when they come here. Many want a place to get out of the house to spend the day, pick some fruit and relax.”

Casey says the evolution from starting out with just blueberries to all that JG Ranch now offers has been critical to its success over the years.


For any u-pick farm, marketing ranks high among priorities to achieve success. JG Ranch has made very effective use of social media to reach its customer base. The farm utilizes Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to connect with customers.

“We started social media marketing about six years ago, and it literally doubled our customer base,” Casey said. “Before that, we started with a website, which we still have, and also an email list, but the social media is a great way to reach the public.”

Casey invested in Facebook promotion and support a few years ago. The investment was around $300 per month and the company would help with posts and driving traffic to their farm page.

“It really boosted sales and was worth the investment,” he said. “Then, last year, my daughter Kaitlyn took over managing social media for the farm, taking what we had learned from Facebook and Go Daddy, which we invested in to get our website up and running. She’s done a great job with it.”

Another marketing milestone for the farm happened when local TV news stations came calling. The Fox affiliates from both Tampa and Orlando did live segments on the farm for their morning shows. The segments aired a week apart when people were looking for things to do safely outside in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The farm is 35 miles outside of Tampa and 55 miles from Orlando.

“Goodness did that TV coverage bring in the people,” Casey says. “We had lines of cars waiting to get onto the farm after that.”

JG Ranch strawberries are a favorite among the u-pick customers.


Some would argue dealing with the public is more of an art than it is a science, but in the u-pick and agritainment game, it is a must. Casey says if you don’t have the personality or the patience to deal with people, then this type of business is probably not the best choice.

“We have always said you stay away from the hot-button topics like politics, religion and child rearing,” he says. “I’d say about 70% or more of our customers are women, and most everyone I have working on the farm are women. I think the customers come here (many with kids) to be out in the country in a safe environment. We talk about food, cooking and baking and I drop the occasional bad dad joke.”

Casey also emphasizes the importance of communicating clearly with customers whether in-person on the farm or through social media, with the understanding most don’t know a lot about growing a crop. He says it’s common for a customer to see a crop being planted and ask if it will be ready for harvest in the next couple of weeks.

Another big communication task for the u-pick is informing customers of the volume of berries on plants to expect when they visit. Casey developed a simple but effective way of doing this for strawberries through a code used on social media. A “few” berries means volume is very light, and it will take about an hour to pick a 5-pound bucket. “Some” means it will take about 45 minutes to pick a bucket. “Plenty” means it will take about 30 minutes, and “lots” mean you can pick a bucket in about 15 minutes.

“Once I tell people the code, they figure it out,” Casey says. “If you are dealing with the public, don’t use words that don’t have definite meanings.”  

About the Author

Frank Giles

Editor-in-Chief AgNet Media Publications