by Joey Crandall, email@example.com
Much of Carson Valley’s quickly-developing Valley Visioning plan is focused on re-establishing a link between the community and the land.
Along with that comes a focus on branding the area’s agriculture and bringing a sort of “Ag Tourism” to the forefront.
As those plans develop, they’ll likely point to the model of Jacobs Family Berry Farm, hidden in plain site off Centerville Lane in Gardnerville behind St. Gall Catholic Church and the First Baptist Church Minden/Gardnerville.
Jack Jacobs and his wife Diana purchased the remaining five acres of the ranch in 2002 and have fastidiously restored the property over the past 11 years.
Today, the site is home to a thriving berry farm that surrounds a dairy/creamery, bunkhouse, barn and restored ranch house.
Aside from the berry crop, the Jacobs family has branched out into event hosting, welcoming weddings, family reunions and parties on the grounds.
“Ag Tourism is a whole new thing,” Jacobs said. “For people contemplating getting into this, it’s a different kind of commitment than just farming.
“This is something we are passionate about. We feel a responsibility to share the history of this place – to help bring people back in time a step. I’d hope there are other properties in the Valley that can do something like what we are attempting here.
“The thing that is hard to translate until you are in it is that renting out your property like this is like selling your house every day. The property has to look perfect every day, because you just never know who is going to call. It’s 365 days of maintenance.”
But, as Jacobs shows the property, pointing out the various details and antiques that have come to flavor the property while recounting the many stories he’s learned about the place, the passion becomes almost tangible.
He’s pored over the books he can find – not to mention the many leftover tools and artifacts he’s found in the property’s many outbuildings. He’s hosted members of the Lampe family and attentively learned the stories they have about the property.
“It’s an emerging area to sustain a piece of property like this,” he said. “Probably the best way to do it is to share it. People love it. Everybody that comes here just really enjoys it.
“The key is just being willing to share it, to allow it to happen. At the same time, you don’t want it to turn into Disneyland. The visitors authority people talk about an authentic experience. You want to create something authentic, to share it and still live here. It’s a balance you have to figure out.”
The Jacobs family originally bought the property as a home for their parents, who frequently had to travel from Big Pine to Reno for doctor’s appointments or shopping.
“They were into their 80s and we lived in Danville (Calif.) in the Bay area,” Jacobs said. “We’d come through here a lot to visit them and just fell in love with the area.
“We started to think about retiring here some day and ended up buying the place. We put a lot of work into it, came out on weekends.”
They restored the ranch house, which was actually three structures or four structures they were able to wrap into one. They had clapboard siding milled for the exterior to make it one continuous structure and hand cut over 5,000 wooden pickets for the white fencing around the house.
“It wasn’t as much of a remodel as it was a refurbishment,” Jacobs said. “A lot of what you see around here has been re-purposed. We like to re-use things in as many different ways as possible. It saves a little money and preserves some of the heritage.”
Over time, the Jacobs started to add more projects to the overall refurbishment of the property.
“We started thinking this is sort of an expensive place to just take care of, so we started thinking of ways we could generate some income.”
Jacobs, a retired civil engineer who’d overseen large water systems such as the East Bay Municipal Utility District in Oakland, keyed in on berries.
“We had this alfalfa field I knew we could do something with,” he said. “I looked into it and there was no good information out there about growing berries in Carson Valley. Other parts of the country could get a large yield out of it though, so I set about figuring out how to do it here.”
He and his family worked the field for all of 2009, just working the soil. They continued into 2010 and planted their first raspberry bushes that year.
“Just given my background, I love that sort of thinking process,” Jacobs said. “I love detail, and the focus on infrastructure.”
They started with seven rows of berries, just to see what would happen. In 2011, they planted the rest of the field. In 2012 they received a grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. They used the grant to plant additional berries and construct a hoop house.
That same year, they hauled in their first commercial harvest – 1,000 baskets of raspberries and blackberries.
“The plants are getting more mature, we are harvesting more this year and will finish with more than last year,” Jacobs said.
As the berry farm developed, the Jacobs began thinking about renting the property out for events. In that, the immaculate barn has become the hallmark piece of the property.
“We hosted a wedding in 2011 and just thought it was a fun event,” Jacobs said. “It was a nice family and they loved it. It’s something that’s hard to explain. You drive down that driveway in here and it’s just a different feeling than when you were out on the highway.
“We really try to connect with people and we enjoy people enjoying themselves here.”
They navigated the permitting process through the county and began booking weddings this year.
“We’re limiting it to seven weddings per year,” Jacobs said. “It gives us some time to recover and prepare, and also still run the farm.”
This summer, the family has been refurbishing the property’s creamery building in order to use it to sell the berries and jams out of.
“We like the idea of people actually coming on the farm to buy the food,” Jacobs said. “Hopefully we create an idea here that others may also be able to try. Maybe we re-establish some old ideas of going out to the farm to shop, and just getting out to see this old place.
“A ton of people have no idea we are here. Part of their enjoyment in coming back here is just returning week after week to buy berries. They like showing off their hidden treasure, bringing their kids.”
For more information on Jacobs Berry Farm, or for more of the property’s history, visit http://www.jacobsberries.com. Jack Jacobs said they were in the middle of a large harvest. Berries and jams are available for purchase from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day.