JG Ranch: Three Generations of Growing
Behind the “new” Brooksville hospital runs Wiscon Road, a two-lane blacktop that cuts off of Cortez Road (Highway 50) just east of the Suncoast Parkway and takes you to a family farm that offers locals and visitors the pleasure of a healthy farm life without the daily work.
Located at 17200 Wiscon Road in Brooksville, a large sign tells me that strawberries are available for u-pick Thursday – Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and I turn in, leaving the pavement behind. Immediately I see the “Farm Raised. Farm Proud.” sign letting me know I am at JG Ranch, owned and operated by the Casey families.
Traveling down the lane, past the smaller properties, allows the discovery of a treasure featuring fresh, delicious berries, farm-fresh eggs, cattle, and produce, all hemmed together by the camaraderie of three generations of Floridians who endeavor to share their ranch with you.
I drive through the gate and meander the track past Grandma’s Chicken Ranch, where broody hens are clucking and strutting free range near the farm house. Past some farm equipment and cattle grazing in the fields, through large oak trees the vista opens to acres and acres of fields. Rows of strawberry plants, blueberry plants, blackberry vines and more greet me.
The biggest berries are always at the farm!
The produce stand, which is large and open, echoes the vastness of this commercial-size family farm. Parking is easy and there is a tire swing, sandbox and children’s play area to greet visitors, signifying that the whole family is welcome here.
“My favorite part of farming is having families visit and watching children discover how food is grown. Their eyes widen, and they get so excited when they find out that they can touch their food and pick it from a plant that is alive, growing in the dirt,” shares Jeff Casey, a forty-something man whose generous grin adds to the enthusiasm of his words.
George Casey grew up in Pinellas County, son of a dairy farmer who purchased 156 acres north of Ulmerton Road, where Casey Dairy started with 5 Guernsey heifers imported from Lancaster Pennsylvania in the 1940s. At age 19, he stepped up to run his family’s dairy farm.
George and his wife Joan were on their first date when they learned by loudspeaker that he had to return home to help with the birth of a calf. They are still married today. In the 1970s they sold some of the Casey Dairy land to pay inheritance tax and by 1979, the sold the herd, moving into real estate development.
“We had the last dairy farm in Pinellas County and Jeff had the last beef herd. There simply weren’t any pastures left to work cattle on,” Joan reminisces, “so we decided that if you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em.” In 1999, the Caseys moved their beef herd to Brooksville and began developing JG Ranch.
Jeff participated in the family dairy, cattle operations and development businesses. “While I enjoyed all of our businesses, farming is most worthwhile to me – especially when I see the kids understand where food comes from. It is hard work, but rewarding,” Jeff said.
His wife, Debrah, and their girls work on the 160-acre farm planting and selling the fresh food. Helping to birth calves and feed orphans.
A car approaches the parking area and stops. Three generations of a family exit the vehicle and the young children are drawn to the play area. Mom inquires about strawberries and grandma looks over the produce in the stand, lining up some string beans and peppers.
Kaitlyn Casey, Jeff and Debbie’s daughter, answers the family’s questions and provide pails for everyone to store their fresh strawberry pickings. Grandma gathers the little ones and mom distributes the pails. Together they venture to the strawberry fields and begin the “hunt” for those sweet, juicy orbs of red deliciousness.
In the fields, the children perform a taste test, and everyone is obviously having a great time. In a very short time, they return to the stand with their prizes and the children return to the play area, pushing each other on the tire swing.
The cows come to the fence, appearing curious about who is visiting the farm. George and Jeff cut some leaves from the produce patch for the cows and invite the children to feed them.
The children’s faces show magical delight as they meet “Red Cow” and the herd. They shyly offer a large green leaf and the bovine sticks out its long, black tongue to retrieve the offering. Giggles erupt as the elders come over to join the fun.
A teenage boy and his mother arrive, choosing their own cabbage and cutting it from the thick stalk.
A senior man stops in for strawberries. He and George have known each other for years. He visits a couple of times a month to pick up fresh produce and have a chat, like extended family.
Start your own family tradition, joining the Caseys from late November through mid-April to pick fresh strawberries, in April to pick fresh, ripe blueberries, and in June for thornless blackberries. There is seasonal produce in the stand, along with locally made items. JG Ranch accepts cash, checks and credit cards at the produce stand. Farm-fresh eggs are available, but call ahead.
It’s a good life and you are welcome to partake.