Now and then farming skips a generation. Jody and Steve Knoeble didn’t grow up on a farm, but when they married in 1987 they purchased a 40-acre parcel of land in rural Helenville, WI, where they still live today.

While their grandparents had traditional farms in Illinois and Wisconsin, their parents had chosen other career paths. It wasn’t until 2001 that they decided to follow in their grandparents’ footsteps and began farming the land, at first planting 25,000 strawberry plants. They promptly named their new venture Jelli’s Market after daughters Jessica, Lindsay and Libby.

What began as a part-time business to help save for their girls’ college fund has grown to a three-season operation offering much more than just strawberries. The family-owned and operated business now has 16 acres of berry crops in production and 24 acres of vegetables. An orchard offers more than 30 varieties of apples, pears and plums and autumn brings an additional line of product and activities.

Jelli’s offers farm tours throughout the year and also operates two produce stands in nearby communities. The agribusiness recently expanded production capacity with the addition of their own commercial kitchen that includes a walk-in cooler and freezer. If that’s not enough, they also cash crop about 2,500 additional acres of farmland.

Now adults, the three daughters are a key part of Jelli’s Market success, working alongside Jody and Steve throughout the year. Their oldest, Jessica, runs the commercial kitchen and is responsible for daily production of donuts, pies and other seasonal treats. Lindsay is farm store manager; the youngest, Libby, helps manage employees and coordinates social media. Additional staffing during the busy season includes 20 high school and college students and another 10 adults.

The Knoebels practice sustainable agriculture in all of their crop management. Spring field maintenance for the berry crops includes fertilizing, frost protection and spraying for pests and disease. “We use integrated pest management as we monitor for pests,” said Lindsay, “and we only spray as needed.”

Their farm animals are raised naturally without adding hormones or antibiotics.

Product Mix

Open for retail March through December, it’s actually May when their season kicks into gear with freshly picked asparagus at the farm store. At the same time, visitors will find their greenhouse exploding with color with floral hanging gardens, planters and other bedding plants.

U-pick strawberry season typically begins in June, closely followed by raspberries, blueberries and beans. The Knoebels also grow sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables that are pre-picked for customers. The orchard opens for U-pick in late summer.

Strawberry varieties include Honoeye, Wendy, Galletta and Jewel. They grow five varieties of red raspberries and black raspberries.

Besides produce, Jelli’s Market features homemade jams, local honey, maple syrup and other Wisconsin products. Their strawberry donuts are a farm favorite and they are known for their farm-raised Angus beef, poultry, lamb and pork. Donuts and pies are baked daily and pies are available both fresh and frozen in small and large sizes.

“Our most popular pies are strawberry-rhubarb and berry patch,” said Lindsay. Strawberry lemonade and frozen fruit juice bars are a big hit with the kids during the summer months.

Jody with some of the market’s donuts. Her oldest daughter, Jessica, runs the commercial kitchen and is responsible for daily production of donuts, pies and other seasonal treats. Photo courtesy of Jelli’s Market

Fun at the Farm

The farm has several picnic areas and outdoor games for the whole family, including an oversized checker board game. Bright colored red and yellow discs draw kids to the four-foot-tall Connect 4 game. You can even play basketball with hoops above a repurposed grain wagon that uses the chute as a convenient ball return.

A nearby barn invites visitors to see the pigs, cows, goats and other farm animals. Another family favorite is simply the ride out to the fields. Hop on one of their four modified Kubota utility vehicles that accommodate up to eight passengers. There’s plenty of room for people and boxes of fruit too. Group farm tours are offered and tailored to each growing season, from strawberry to apple.

Fall Season

In autumn, farm guests are welcomed by giant painted hay bales of colorful seasonal characters created each year by the Knoebles and staff. Caramel apples, cider donuts and other tasty treats are added to the farm store menu.

“Honeycrisp is our most popular apple,” Lindsay said. U-pick apples include Honeycrisp, Fuji, Gala, Cortland, Empire and Zestar – and these are just a few more of the 30 varieties of apples grown. The orchard also offers pears, plums and peaches earlier in the season.

Free autumn activities include a selfie scavenger hunt, lawn Jenga, Connect 4, corn hole, pumpkin checkers and the popular “Angry Birds For Real” slingshot game. For just one dollar, kids can take a ride on the Berry Blue Barrel train. Photo opportunities abound with traditional painted wood frames with face cut-outs.

“When you own a business, especially a family produce farm, it becomes your entire life,” Lindsay reflected. “From sun up to sun down, my sisters and I are here working on the farm every day to make sure it succeeds.”

That first planting of strawberries more than 30 years ago has grown into the three-season business that Jelli’s Market is today. Looking back, if Jody and Steve’s original goal of saving for their daughters’ college fund is any measure of success, they certainly achieved it. All three of them are graduates of the University of Wisconsin college system.

by Gail March Yerke