Meet alumna Jennifer Syme

Jen Syme holding a large bouquet of flowers and standing in front of Christmas trees growing in a field.
Jen Syme

Jennifer (Adinolfi) Syme grew up in a farming family, and knew she wanted to continue that tradition. She and her husband, Bill, also a graduate of the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, started out by growing chrysanthemums on leased land. Ten years ago, they purchased a twenty-acre farm and started diversifying their crops, with a goal to move toward sustainable agriculture. As fourth generation 4-H members, both of Syme’s daughters are involved in the day-to-day operations of the farm. Syme feels that studying at UConn gave her a good start as well as a connection to the close-knit Connecticut agricultural community. She’s a big proponent of education both for ag producers and the general public, but she’s also a fan of hands-on experience, suggesting that new graduates not be afraid to accept an entry level position to learn more about their field. Here’s what she had to say in an interview.

What was your major in the College? When did you graduate? With what degree? 

My major in college was horticulture. I graduated in 1994 with a BS in plant science.

What CAHNR class was most useful to you? 

I cannot narrow it down to just one class, because I feel that every single plant science class I took has contributed to my knowledge and success in the industry. A few that stand out and have proven most useful are greenhouse management, soils, plant pathology and weeds.

Tell us some of your fond memories of UConn.

Some of my fondest memories while at UConn are centered around extracurricular activities in the College. I was a very active member of the Horticulture Club, the Dairy Club and the Block & Bridle Club. Some of the highlights were the Horticulture Shows every fall on Parents’ Weekend where students would transform the Ratcliffe Hicks Arena into a fully planted and landscaped display. Also, every spring when both the Dairy Show and Little I would take place.

Please describe your current job. 

My current job is owner and grower here at Syme Family Farm in Broad Brook. My husband Bill (we met at UConn where we were both plant science majors) and I, along with our daughters, have a diverse farm that grows and sells greenhouse crops, specialty cut flowers, mums, pumpkins, Christmas trees and eggs. I farm full time and my duties include crop planning, field work, planting, harvesting, retail sales, and social media and marketing, just to name a few.

Are you doing what you imagined you would be doing at this point in your life? 

I am doing what I had hoped to be doing at this point in my life, but it certainly has been a journey, detoured by living out of state for a while and child raising. It has taken us years to get to this point, but we always had a vision and we are finally where we wanted to be.

Do you have any advice for current students that will help them in the future? 

My advice to current students would be, take a wide variety of agriculture classes while at UConn and be sure to add some agricultural economics classes in there to get some business background. It can only help, especially during these difficult current economic times. Also, don’t be afraid to venture out of your comfort zone academically, socially and with extra-curricular activities.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business?

The pandemic has greatly affected our business. It hit in March when we had a greenhouse full of young plants as well as everything already purchased (seeds, bulbs, pots, plugs, etc.) as planned for a normal growing year. In April and May, we learned that both farmers’ markets that we have attended for years as well as plant sales that we participate in were cancelled. We were very reliant on our markets, so we quickly came up with a plan B, which included greatly expanding our cut flower CSA (community-supported agriculture). We were hopeful that our market customers would be willing to come to the farm to purchase our products. We ended up tripling our CSA signups from previous years. We also started thinking outside of the box and added multiple farm tours and workshops as well as a dried flower component to our retail sales. All of our new ideas have been a huge success and we are so grateful to our customers for their support!

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

Agricultural education is very important to us here at Syme Family Farm. We welcome local elementary and high school kids to the farm to show them what we do and why we do it. We like to talk about the science involved in agriculture. Probably the most popular point on our field trips/farm tours is when visitors get to meet our chickens and beef and dairy cattle that live here. So many people are many generations removed from the farm, and we enjoy answering their questions. During Christmas tree season, we also have dairy and beef calves for customers to meet and greet as well as an agricultural fact display. We also try to incorporate ag education in our social media posts that reach thousands of followers.

One other thing: My older daughter, Emily, is currently a sophomore plant science major at UConn, following in her parents’ footsteps.

I feel like CAHNR helped shape me into who I am today. I am both honored and thrilled to be included in the alumni spotlight. Thank you!

By Kim Colavito Markesich