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Taking the value-added route

YOUNG FARM COUPLE DEVELOPS A SUCCESSFUL VINEYARD
BY SAMANTHA WARNER

Jason and Colleen with their growing family, daughter Adison and son Sawyer.
As Young Farmer and Rancher chairman, Jason is heavily involved in Farm Bureau. The young couple has taken advantage of what the YF&R program offers. In 2009, they competed in and won the state YF&R Achievement Award, earning $500 checks from the MFB Foundation for Agriculture and Dodge Truck Corporation, as well as one year or 350 hours free use of a Kubota “M” series diesel tractor from Kubota Corporation.
Taking the value-added route

Jason Gerke, Missouri Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer and Rancher (YF&R) Committee chairman this year, is in a unique position to communicate the story of agriculture to consumers. His agricultural communications experience in Kansas City has proved valuable in developing Jowler Creek Vineyard with his wife, Colleen.

The young farm couple lives in Platte City with their two small children Adison and Sawyer. Together, they own and operate a boutique vineyard and winery, turning Norton, Chambourcin, Vignoles, Traminette and Cabernet Franc grapes into Jowler Creek brand wines.

Many of the grapes are grown at the vineyard. The wine is sold in the Kansas City area and stores in St. Joseph, Warrensburg and Sedalia.

Jason was the fifth generation growing up on a row crop and beef cattle farm in central Missouri. Colleen didn’t grow up on a farm, but brought her knowledge of wine making to the table. She grew up in California’s Central Coast wine country, where she studied viticulture and enology in college. This led her to crafting her own wines.

In 2003, the couple moved from Kansas City to a small piece of land in rural Platte City.

“We knew we wanted to do something on our little piece of land,” Jason said. Together they took their wine-making hobby and turned it into a prosperous business venture.

“We were either going to sell the grapes to other producers, or make wine. Grapes are worth a lot more as a value added product,” he explained. Jowler Creek now has their own onsite tasting room. People are welcome to come out to the country, try some wine, and learn about one of the many agriculture practices that make up our state.

The Gerkes first planted 250 Norton vines in the spring of 2004. “Enough to break a sweat, but not enough to break the bank,” Jason says. Over the years they steadily increased the number of vines in production. Today, they have 3 grape varieties on seven acres. The couple is constantly trying to grow and evolve the business, in hopes that one day the vineyard and winery will be their sole occupation. They are half-way there.

Jason continues to work as a public relations account supervisor for Osborn & Barr in Kansas City. Colleen works full time at the winery.

The Gerkes take an interesting approach to grape harvest. “We use a Tom Sawyer approach to getting our grapes harvested,” Gerke said. They invite 60-to-70 of their closest family and friends to enjoy a fall day in the country. “They pick grapes, and we provide lunch and wine. It’s a great time for everyone,” Gerke said.

Jason and Colleen experiment with different animals to help maintain the vineyard. Babydoll sheep help control grass and weeds under the vines. Free range chickens are being tested to control insects near the vines, in turn reducing the amount of pesticides used. These practices give the vineyard a sustainable edge.

Jowler Creek Vineyard is an interesting business that gives the Gerkes a unique opportunity to directly relate to their customers. Something traditional farmers can’t do as easily.

The direct links gives them a chance to explain what farming is about. At Jowler Creek, the customers not only try different wines, they can see the vines and how the wine is made. The customer can connect the path from grape growing to enjoying a glass of wine.

Jason’s marketing skills have also been fruitful. Even if a customer is not on the farm, they get a personal taste of agriculture online from the Gerkes.

Online at jowlercreek.com they tell their story. A page about grape vines includes videos on pruning grapes that hold the viewer’s interest. Another page describes their wines and what foods to best pair them with. Online readers can join the Creek Club to keep abreast on events at Jowler Creek and even have wines delivered to them.

Joining the Farm Bureau organization became an important part of Jason and Colleen’s lives when the young couple got involved in the Platte County Farm Bureau.

Having moved into a new community, they didn’t know anyone, but were already familiar with the organization. “Farm Bureau was a way to reach out and meet our neighbors and get involved in our community,” Jason said.

Now as chairman of the YF&R Committee, Jason is involved in planning the annual YF&R Leadership Conference, one of the largest of its kind in the nation. The committee plans educational and social activities for the conference.

As chairman, he is also privileged to serve as advisory member on the MFB board of directors. Jason says it is one of the most interesting aspects of serving as committee chair.

“That’s been a unique experience to learn about how an organization like Farm Bureau works and functions,” he said.

Overall, Jason says one of the highlights on the YF&R committee is meeting other committee members from around the state. “You realize other people have similar challenges. Sometimes you get frustrated with some of the challenges you face, and you realize others have those same challenges; it really helps,” Jason said.

The next YF&R Leadership Conference is Feb. 10-12, 2012. Many county Farm Bureaus partially fund conference expenses. YF&R fundraisers also raise money for entry fees.

 





 
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