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May 31, 2017

10 questions with town farm stand manager

Photo/Don Del Rosso
A Highland School alumnus, Jon Henry has two master’s degrees in art.
I always tell people to smell the bellybutton of a cantaloupe. That’s the part that’s connected to the vine. The more it smells like a cantaloupe, the riper it is.
— Jon Henry
Jon Henry
• Age: 27

• Home: Divides time between Rappahannock and Rockingham counties.

• Work: Manager, Jumpin Run Farm Stand, Warrenton, 2014 to present.

• Family: Parents, Al and Emily Henry; sister, Sarah. 

• Education: James Madison University, master’s in fine arts, sculpture, 2016; New York University, master’s degree, art and public policy, 2013; University of Richmond, bachelor’s degree, international and world politics, 2012; The Highland School, 2008.
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Staff Journalist
He initially considered a career in the arms industry.

As an undergraduate and graduate student, Jon Henry, 27, studied international and world politics, public policy and art.

“I had internships with defense contractors when I was in college,” says Mr. Henry, who manages his family’s Warrenton farm stand at Waterloo and Sullivan streets, across from Waterloo Station shopping center. “And I thought I was going on that track.”

But the more he studied art, the more he liked and developed a talent for making it, says Mr. Henry, who divides his time between Harrisonburg and his family’s Rappahannock County farm.

In 2014, he received a $500 grant from the Arts Council of the Valley for “The Tomato Project,” which involved using tomatoes as “social sculpture.”

“You would be growing tomatoes, selling tomatoes and then using some of that money to help fund art projects in the Shenandoah Valley,” explains Mr. Henry, who received a master’s in sculpture from James Madison University in 2016.

Artists helped cultivate and pick tomatoes.

Around that time, the graduate student’s father — Al Henry, a real estate appraiser — suggested his son take over and expand the farm stand.

“I said, ‘Jon, why don’t you come and do this’,” recalls the father, who grew up in a family of green thumbs. “ ‘It can be yours’.”

The son accepted the offer and hasn’t looked back since.

Jumpin Run Farm Stand shares the corner property with his father’s real estate appraisal business, which occupies a small, white stucco house.

Al Henry started the stand in 2011, at first selling mostly home-grown tomatoes.

“Then one thing led to another,” he says with laugh.

Last year, the family moved most of the produce into a remodeled garage on the property.

Family farms — one in Rappahannock, two in Shenandoah County — produce the tomatoes, squash, zucchini, pumpkins, cucumbers, beets, kale and turnips sold at the stand.

Other produce, dry goods and dairy items come from 25 to 30 vendors, most of them Virginia-based.

The business has no website and Facebook page.

“We haven’t needed it,” Mr. Henry says. “We want to focus on the product, and find that being nice and having a good product does plenty of advertising on its own.”

Jumpin Run Farm Stand — also know as “The Tomato Stand” — does use MailChimp to send emails to customers.

Despite long work weeks associated with the farm stand, Mr. Henry still finds time to pursue an art career.

In 2015, he used part of a $2,500-grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for a performance art project at the Amherst, Va., traffic circle.

“For an entire work day, from 8 to 5, I walked against the traffic in the circle, listening to Cher’s ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’. . . . It was just sort of an endurance performance theater project, playing with the idea of the absurd, but also with time travel.”

Later this year, he will work with University of Washington art students, “reimaging some of the libraries the Nazis burned” during World War II.

• Of the produce you carry, which sells the best?
Tomatoes. People love a tomato. It’s versatile. You can have it for breakfast, lunch, dinner. You can eat it raw or cook it down into a sauce, a soup. They remind you of summer.

• Least popular produce?
Lettuce goes in waves. Some people love it or hate it. And, eggplant goes in waves, too. People eat a lot of eggplant, and they’re done with it for a while.

• How do you best judge the ripeness of a cantaloupe or a watermelon?
I always tell people to smell the bellybutton of a cantaloupe. That’s the part that’s connected to the vine. The more it smells like a cantaloupe, the riper it is. A lot of people squeeze it. But that damages your fruit.

With watermelon, it’s about hollowness. You just tap it with your knuckles. You want hollow. It’s the opposite of finding a stud in a wall. When it’s solid, it’s not as good. It’s not ripe.

• What has been the most exotic customer request?
Salsify. It’s like a hairy, multi-fingered carrot. It tastes like oysters. I had a lady that wanted five bushels of it.

• Have you ever been stumped by a customer request?
Salsify was definitely a test. Some people have wanted paw paws. They’re actually Virginia’s only native fruit. It looks like a papaya, and it tastes like strawberry and bananas. We were able to get them, but not in a marketable volume.

• Have you ever tried something and decided not to offer it again because customers disliked it?
White watermelon. They didn’t like the taste of it, and thought it was too weird. It tasted like pepper and cumber.

• How do you decide what to buy and how much?
I look at what we’ve been selling, if it’s been popular or not. I know I need to start washing and bringing in more eggs. Instead of having 30 dozen eggs, we probably need to start bringing in 40 dozen.

• What do you like best about the job?
It keeps my mind really active. I like being active in the fields, handling logistics, the numbers and accounting, marketing. I get to go everywhere, seeing older Mennonite famers (at markets near Harrisonburg) in the morning, to downtown Warrenton in the afternoon. So, in a day, I get to see a lot and do a lot.

• You have two master’s degrees in art, you create art and now you manage a farm stand. Did you ever think your life would turn out this way?
Definitely did not think that. I don’t think I ever saw that happening. I had internships with defense contractors when I was in college. And I thought I was going on that track . . . . You have to open yourself up to different possibilities.

• What’s next for the farm stand?
We might have some surprises in the fall with apples. We’re trying to figure out press-your-own cider. You’ll be able to buy the apples and then press it yourself. We’ll have a press here that you operate.
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Bonnie C. · June 1, 2017 at 12:24 pm
Ummm - so, like, where exactly IS the farmstand located. What are it's days/hours open, etc. Geez - one would think that would be NECESSARY info for an article like this.
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