#HomeGrownStories – Joe & Kelsey Fulton
August 24, 2017
High school sweethearts, Joe and Kelsey Fulton, are part of a three generation farm operation at Fulton Farms. Joe was born and raised on the farm. Kelsey was born in North Carolina but moved back to her family’s roots in Miami County when she was ten years old. Both started working on the farm in their teens. This year Kelsey is coordinating the Sweet Corn Festival at Fulton Farms. They help Joe’s mom, Bev Fulton, manage the market at Fulton Farms.
On their connection to Miami County:
Joe – I was born on the farm and raised here. My father passed away when I was very young, about three months old. I was raised by my mother and my grandparents here. I was always involved with the farm as it was growing and changing. I started working at a young age on the farm, about ten or twelve years old. I didn’t get very involved with the market until I got back from college. When I got back my brothers and I started running different parts of the farm.
Kelsey – I was born in Wilmington, North Carolina and lived there until I was ten. My family is from Miami County, which I didn’t know when I was younger. My grandparents actually lived one country block away from Fulton Farms. Joe and I both went to Miami East. I’m glad that we came back, even though we moved away I got to move back to all my family history.
Joe – We’re high school sweethearts. It’s been fun because we grew up together.
Kelsey – For both of us, this was our first job. I started working here when I was fifteen or sixteen. I worked in the greenhouse with Joe’s mom, now my mother-in-law, Bev. [laughs] We’d be out in the greenhouse every spring and summer. Over the last ten years working here I’ve fallen in love with the farm.
On the history of Fulton Farms:
Joe – My grandparents bought the first 60 acres of the farm in 1958. By 1977 they had expanded the farm to 2000 acres. They started an outdoor market about a mile down the road. Later they purchased this barn and the south part of the farm. They turned into the barn into Fulton Farms Market. They started growing strawberries in the late 60s, early 70s. It was one of the best things to happen at the farm in years. My grandpa and Steve Hamilton started the Strawberry Festival in Troy. My grandparents were on the board for the festival for years. That was one of the things that lifted us up and got our name out there. We became very well known for it.
They started growing sweet corn pretty early on. Initially, it was extra income. In the beginning, they would pull the corn wagons in the barn. People would line up around the wagon with bags and get their corn. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that we have the best sweet corn. People will travel from out of state, from West Virginia and Michigan to buy their sweet corn. They come from all over.
About Fulton Farms today:
Joe – We’ve been farming this land for three generations. My grandparents, my mom and uncle, myself and my two brothers, along with my cousin Levi. It’s neat to work with your whole family all day. My brother Josh does a lot of the planting and harvesting. He also does a lot of our wholesaling to Kroger and Meijer. Our cousin Levi does a lot of our small crop production. His wife, Christie, works here too. They manage the farm workers and keep on schedule out in the field and bringing in the crops. We have farm workers that have been here for twenty and thirty years. They’re like family to us and that’s how we treat them. That’s how they deserve to be treated. They’ve dedicated their whole lives to the farm. It’s hard to find people like that. We appreciate them so much.
About the Market at Fulton Farms:
Joe – We meet a lot of people at the market. People who we would never have a chance to talk to otherwise. We hear amazing stories. That’s one of the neat things about the market. People are happy when they come here. We want to give them an experience. We don’t want to be some grocery store where they stop at, get their corn and leave. We want parents to take their kids to see all the animals out back. We have a big 700-pound pig, Charlotte. She eats like six times a day. We want them to come out to the farm and make a day of it. Have some lunch and ice cream.
Joe – Kelsey and I are in charge of the cafe now. We’re trying to modernize and bring in new revenue.
Kelsey – We’ve been sprucing it up and making some changes. We started the new shake and sundaes menu. The popular one right now is the blackberry one. Peach is another popular one.
Joe – We focus on items that were grown here on the farm. It’s also seasonal, the blackberry shake is a summer shake. We’ll do a strawberry shake in the spring and a pumpkin spice one this fall. My dream is to open a field to fork or farm to table restaurant out here.
Kelsey – Using our own ingredients adds so much extra flavor. There’s nothing like having a homegrown tomato on your sandwich – it makes such a difference.
How visitors can enjoy Fulton Farms:
Joe – One of the things I love seeing families do is come here to pick strawberries. It’s an experience. We always joke that we should weigh the little kids when they come out of the fields. There are some people that are just covered in strawberries – and we don’t care – that’s why they’re here.
Kelsey – That’s me when I pick. I’ll have half a quart in my belly [laughs].
Joe – We have people who tell us that their mom brought them here to pick strawberries when they were little. So they’ve brought their kids and grandkids to pick strawberries. It’s neat to see a community that has been raised with Fulton Farms and how appreciative they are.
In the fall we have hayrides and u-pick pumpkins. People will walk all the way across the field to get that perfect pumpkin. I always tell people there are a lot of good pumpkins right up front because everybody goes way out [laughs]. The fall is one of my favorite times at the farm. We have the hay maze and a petting zoo with lots of baby goats.
About the Sweet Corn Festival:
Joe – The community has loved this festival and this is our first year doing the event ourselves. The past three years were a collaboration and the event was held here.
Kelsey – I’ve become the event coordinator. The feedback that we’ve gotten from everybody so far has been amazing. We will have a classic rock band play on Saturday. On Sunday, a local country band, ReFlektion will play. They’re an awesome band from Piqua.
We’ll have jumpies for kids out here. Free face painting and games for the kids. We’ll have a corn shucking contest. There will be four age categories, age 4-7, age 8-12, age13-17 and age 18-up. There will be prizes for the winners of each of the brackets.
I can’t wait to sample all the food vendors. We have thirteen different food vendors. We have Thai food, Cajun food… there’s so much variety this year. They’re all local too. Some of the vendors have restaurants in the area so it’s a way for them to show off their items. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get through all of them! We’re having a competition for the food vendors too. Everybody will have tickets. You can vote for your favorite food and favorite beverage. Whichever vendors win will get a gift basket from the farm – and bragging rights [laughs].
Joe – Everybody has something different. That’s what we wanted. We didn’t want one kind of food, we want food from different cultures.
Kelsey – One of the new things for this year is a surprise that Joe’s brother did for the event. He planted a huge sunflower patch. He showed it to me last week – I didn’t even know it was out there – and my jaw dropped. It goes on and on, all the way back to the tree line.
Joe – We’ll have hayrides out to the sunflower patch and sunflower u-picks. People can go out and see it, and take pictures.
We feel the need to give back and the need to show our community that we appreciate them. Anytime somebody approaches us we definitely want to help them and do anything we can. We want to help out when people need help. Having the Sweet Corn Festival is our way to give back. People can bring their family out here and learn about the farm.
Kelsey – That’s one of the reasons we wanted to keep the Sweet Corn Festival free. A lot of people were telling us that we could start charging tickets and make a lot of money. We don’t want to do that. We want to keep it free and have something fun for the kids and families. Our sponsors have helped us keep it as a free event. We’ve had a really good response from our sponsors.
It’s so important to expose kids to where their food comes from. Families can come to our u-pick and pick their own tomatoes or peppers and get back in touch with their food. So many folks grow up only going to the grocery store and not seeing where their food comes from.
Joe – A lot of our sponsors are friends and family but we’ve had people we don’t know reach out and say they want to help. It’s cool to see how interested people are. These are people that we don’t know and they want to get involved because they love the experience and want to help. My mom always told me to be a blessing when you can.
Kelsey – Be a blessing, not a burden is what she’d say. I remember the first time you went camping with my family, we were seventeen. Your mom sent you to the campground with three boxes full of produce and food – we were only there for the weekend. There was no way we could eat all that food [laughs] but you were like “Mom said, be a blessing, not a burden.” It was so cute [laughs].
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