According to Mrs. Helen W. Fields, her husband is top notch at farming, but she’s top notch in presenting the fruits of his labor. She ensures Joseph Fields Farm has an impeccable display at the Forsyth Farmers’ Market every week.
For Women’s History Month, we want to highlight the women who help bring fresh produce to Savannah. In this conversation, Mrs. Fields discusses how she began farming, her dedication to presentation, and the importance of pruning the next generation of producers.
Note: This Q+A was edited for length and clarity.
DC: Hi, Mrs. Helen. Can we start by you telling us a little bit about who you are?
Mrs. Helen W. Fields: My name is Mrs. Helen W. Fields. I am the wife of Joseph Fields. We’re located at 3129 River Road, Johns Island, South Carolina. My husband is a third generation farmer. He’s been farming since he was a little boy. During that time, they did conventional farming. After we got married in 1973, he continued that task for about eight to ten years. We have now been certified for about twelve years. It took us about five years to purge all of that conventional stuff out to get to organic. We’re also GAP-certified and produce safety certified.
We have an array of different vegetables. Collards, cabbage, kale, beets, kohlrabi, tomatoes, pickles, squash, melon, strawberries, muscadines, and some blueberries. A lot of other stuff also. We have about two to three people that we can depend on every day, but how many people we have on the farm depends on what we have going on.
Let me tell you what I do as a woman. My husband is the farmer, but I coordinate all of the markets. I do all of the bookkeeping. I’m responsible for all the taxes and all of the payroll. I can coordinate a market because I worked for a shipping company for 29 and a half years. I learned customer service is very important. Presentation is number one. If you’re going to set up a market, your presentation is going to help you sell more produce. You only bring top quality stuff to the market. And that’s what we do.
DC: I can see you have so many items, and they look so delicious, so beautiful. Why do you think it’s important for women to be involved in the farm industry?
HWF: Well, men need help, and they can’t do it without us. My husband does a good job, but I do an excellent job with presentation. Now he can handle those people in the field. I don’t know when to plant, how much to plant, or whatever. That’s not my area. He’s top notch in that, but I’m top notch in the market. So the two of us make a good team.
DC: Absolutely. Two equal parts to make a whole. And have there been any women specifically who have impacted your career in the farm industry?
HWF: Cynthia Haze with Saffron was very instrumental because she helped us to get our organic certification.
DC: Did you get involved with farming when you met your husband, or was it before?
HWF: I actually worked for my husband’s family on the farm before we got married. I started working when I was like, 13 years old. I was paid fifty cents a bushel for picking beans, ten cents a bucket to pick tomatoes. And I got to know the family, and later on we started dating when I was in 12th grade. I was 22, and he was 23 when we got married. He told me that someday he was going to be a farmer. He was a certified welder at the time. I didn’t realize that some day was going to be three months after we were married. This year is going to be 50 years.
DC: Oh, wow. Congratulations. How did you get started working for that farm?
HWF: I had to work. That’s all that I knew how to do. My grandfather planted corn and beans on a very small level. And mama knew the family. And during the summer, you just didn’t sit around. You had to find something to do. And that’s how I started working.
DC: Okay. I get that for sure. So you told me a lot about your responsibilities, and you told me a lot about your farm and how it’s organic and certified. Is there anything else that you think people should know about your farm?
HWF: They should know that we’re trying to get the next generation interested in farming. We work with Earth Heart Growers. They bring elementary, middle school, and sometimes high school students to the farm to teach them about farming. You’ve got to teach a child. You can’t wait until they get to be an adult to be interested in farming.
When they come to the farm, we give them tours. And what really got me was when a child came, and we showed them a brown egg, and they asked, “How did a chicken lay brown eggs?” Honey, it’s a variety of chickens. They have no idea how the food gets into the grocery store. So that’s why we have got to teach them.
Another thing that’s very important: parents have got to teach their child the value of holding on to your land. You start this when they’re little. We’re not selling for no reason at all, and our children know that. You have to keep it in the family. Think about how hard your foreparents worked to get it.
DC: Absolutely. Who’s helping you here today?
HWF: Candice is my cashier. She comes every week. If she can’t come, her mother or another lady. They help me set up. Well, Ms. Candice comes in around 8, 8:30. I’m here at 5:30 in the morning. I’m up at 2:30, and I leave the house at 3:15.
DC: Wow. How far away is it?
HWF: A little over 100 miles.
DC: Every Saturday?
HWF: Every Saturday.
DC: So why 5:30 if it doesn’t open until nine?
HWF: Because I like to take my time perfecting my presentation. You don’t want a rushed job.
This feature is part of a series to highlight the women who provide fresh food to Savannah. Happy Women’s History Month.
Interview and photos by Darriea Clark. For any leads, inquiries, or concerns, please contact us.