Valley family markets berries from Lampe homestead
A Gardnerville family is turning a piece of Carson Valley history into a berry farm.
Jack and Diana Jacobs, who purchased the original Lampe homestead in 2001, are slowly converting a century-old alfalfa field into neat rows of blackberries and raspberries.
“Everybody loves berries,” Jack Jacobs said. “There is high-yield, high-income potential in it if it works. Everything so far is a test, and it has been a real success. Now, we finally know we can have berries. Now, it’s time to knock on doors and find specific markets.”
To date, the Jacobs Family Berry Farm consists of a third of an acre of rich river silt furrowed and planted into five varieties of raspberries and two varieties of blackberries. Located directly behind St. Gall Catholic Church in Gardnerville, the Lampe homestead as a whole consists of five acres of the original ranch, a turn-of-the-century barn, brick creamery, blacksmith shop, smokehouse, bunkhouse, outhouse, and 1869 vintage farm home, all hidden by towering trees.
“I always wanted to live in an old house, and Jack would say, literally, ‘Over my dead body; it’s too much maintenance,'” Diana recalled.
“I’ve always pleased you,” Jack retorted. “I see all this stuff, and all I see is work, but it’s really turned into a joy. When you buy an old ranch, you don’t have a choice: there are just endless projects.”
Retired from a long career in civil engineering, Jack has more than enough experience with lengthy projects. He and Diana, herself a retired human resources executive, left the Bay Area in 2002 after falling in love with the Eastern Sierra. They already had family residing on this side of the divide.
The year before, they’d purchased the Lampe homestead. The property came with an acre of alfalfa, which the Jacobs let a local rancher harvest until recently deciding to try something different.
“We wanted to make it a more productive, interesting project,” Diana said.
“One of the goals was to find a way for the property to produce an income and maintain itself,” Jack added.
A niche berry farm seemed like the perfect solution. Testing varieties on a portion of the land, from Triple Crown and Chester blackberries to Polana and Nova raspberries, the Jacobs procured some promising fruit. They now plan to plant the entire acre into berries within the next year or so, and to eventually expand the operation to another plot on the edge of their property.
“There’s not a lot of formal berry growing around here, and so there’s an intriguing market opportunity,” Jack said. “The way society is moving, people want local produce, not imported produce. We have good land and good water here, and we can take care of ourselves – we don’t need California.”
The key to local berries, however, is finding the right varieties that can flourish in Nevada’s unpredictable weather patterns, thus the Jacobs’ involvement with the North American Raspberry & Blackberry Association, USDA Rural Development, Nevada Department of Agriculture, and Western Nevada College’s Specialty Crop Institute.
“We want a set of varieties that can spread out production and extend the season,” Jack said. “It’s important to have different tastes, shapes and textures because people have different preferences, just like with wine.”
One similarity between grapes and berries is the appeal of antioxidants and other health benefits. Although not formally certified, the Jacobs are growing their berries organically.
“One acre has the potential to produce 10,000 pounds,” Diana said.
“It costs a lot of money upfront to invest and produce, but with the right practices here, with the right varieties and markets, we’re hoping to leave an opportunity for our children to sustain something,” Jack said.
With their current crop, the Jacobs are targeting local restaurants and other hospitality establishments. In the future, they want to target grocery stores. They also envision a unique employment opportunity on the farm.
“Picking berries is careful and delicate work,” Diana explained. “They ripen in the summer months, so we would like to hire high school kids to harvest them.”
Providing small-scale, sustainable agriculture for future generations is a central part of the Jacobs’ mission. After all, the word “family” appears in the name of their business. Their son Jim Wheeler helps out with the entire operation, and their three other children already have visited to pitch in. The goal is to produce enough income to keep the berry farm going in perpetuity.
“We want the whole ranch and farm to be motivation for our kids and grandkids to visit,” Jack said. “They can come here and have fun doing this stuff.”
For more information on the Jacobs Family Berry Farm, call 782-3023 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.