CURTIS, Neb. - When it comes to preparing young people to enter an ever competitive and uncertain economy, the University of Nebraska-Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) enlists entrepreneurship to give students the skills they need to be innovators and leaders, not just employees, in their chosen field.
Dr. Ricky Sue Barnes Wach, Veterinary Technology professor, and her husband Gary Wach, Ag Production instructor, are two of the NCTA instructors who have made entrepreneurship the foundation for the college's entire curriculum. The two faculty members are the owners and operators of Three Brothers Vineyard and Winery in Farnam, Neb. In July, the professors-plus-winemakers, received one gold and one bronze medal for their Frontenac wines in the Fourth Annual Mid-American Wine Competition at Ankeny, Iowa.
The Wach's began their operation eight years ago when Gary started looking for possible ways to use a pasture adjacent to the owners' home. As with all professors at NCTA, the Wachs were required to enroll in the Nebraska EDGE program, which helps participants develop their own business plan, create marketing strategies and plan for success.
At first the Wachs intended to start an orchard, but when they heard that grapes provided a faster crop, Gary began researching in a new direction. He spoke with Dr. Paul Read, Professor of Horticulture and Viticulture at the University of Nebraska, about starting a new vineyard in Nebraska.
They decided to name their vineyard after Gary's German ancestors who migrated to Nebraska from Russia in the late-19th century.
The Wachs planted 300 plants the first year, 2002, and already the business is taking off. The vineyard is now home to 10 varieties of red and white wines.
"It's hard to believe the tasting room has been open for just over one year. In that time we have seen visitors from all over the United States as well as many international visitors. We flatter ourselves that the winery has made Farnam a "destination worth the journey," said Ricky. "When they visit us they often enjoy our local cafe, buy gas and visit other small businesses in town. Many have commented about our beautiful scenery and how different the area is from I-80. We have enjoyed promoting our small town."
Many skills taught in the classroom also prove handy in the Wach's vineyard. Ricky uses her veterinary surgery skills in grafting when the couple wants to cut off unwanted plants and replace them with new varieties of grapes using the same roots. Gary, who teaches the college's mechanics classes, invented his own tractor net roller and also modified a sprayer to fit rows of grapes. Gary says he learned much of what he knows from former University of Nebraska School of Technical Agriculture (UNSTA) mentors, especially his instructor, the late Jim Cerny, and Jerry Huntwork. Gary graduated from UNSTA in Agriculture Machinery Mechanics in 1968. The college was later renamed NCTA in 1989.
From the Wachs point of view, bringing entrepreneurship into the classroom also means teaching the next generation of thinkers and trailblazers.
"Gary and Ricky's business experience allows them to bring real-life experience to our courses and help our students become partner-employees," said NCTA Dean Dr. Weldon Sleight. "NCTA is dedicated to helping our students develop the technical and business skills necessary to own an agriculture or business enterprise and become community leaders."
NCTA continues to earn national attention for its entrepreneurial emphasis because of its 100 Beef Cow Ownership Advantage and similar unique programs that seek to help young men and women create their own business plans and partnerships upon graduation.