At the age of 20, Lucy Kimball started her own vineyard in her hometown of Callaway, Nebraska. She wasn’t legally allowed to drink yet, but that didn’t stop her entrepreneurial journey.
Kimball’s 3-acre vineyard is on the corner of her family’s alfalfa field a mile from town. She planted multiple varieties of vines two years ago and hopes she can start to see grape production in the next year or two.
Kimball, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln senior studying hospitality, restaurant and tourism management, said it was important to her to locate the vineyard near Callaway, a central Nebraska town with about 600 residents.
“My hometown has always meant so much to me,” she said. “I think you look around now and see rural communities dying and that never sat well with me. I didn’t want my community to be one of those ones, and so I think bringing in agritourism aspect would help make our community more sustainable in the future.”
Kimball said she became interested in wine as a 16-year-old as she followed her mom and aunt through the Nebraska wine passport program, visiting many of the state’s vineyards and wineries. She found beauty in the vineyards and a fascination with the wine. In 2019, she started working for Mac’s Creek Winery and Vineyards in Lexington, where she began thinking about her own vineyard.
“If they can trust me out in the vineyard, why can’t I do my own thing?” she asked.
Kimball’s family helped her plant the vines and place the trellis system. After the first hard Nebraska winter, she added more varieties of grapes, hoping some would better withstand the harsh winters and hot summers.
When she’s home for the summers, she tries to attend to the vineyard two to three times a week. As she experiments with herbicides and weed management, she weeds the three acres by hand and also removes some of the shoots from young grapevines.
She has an Instagram account (@31_16vineyards), where people can follow along as she tends to her grapes.
It takes the vines three to five years to produce grapes so Kimball estimates she will start to see grapes in the fall of 2023. As her crop grows and she gains experience, she plans to sell the grapes to Mac’s Creek because she does not have wine-processing equipment. She said her long-term goal is to process her own grapes into wine and build an event center. For now, she said she will most likely work for Mac’s Creek after graduation and continue to gain vineyard and wine production knowledge.
Kimball credits a lot of her knowledge to her mentor, Seth McFarland, co-owner of Mac’s Creek.
McFarland, who describes Kimball as down to earth and hardworking, said he’s impressed with her efforts.
“It’s exciting to see young folks wanting to move back home in rural parts of the state and take on, not only an entrepreneurial journey, but it’s not in your normal sector of agriculture,” he said. “We think that’s pretty cool.”
Kimball, who is seeking minors in agronomy and Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship, said the Engler program also had a big influence on her. Engler helps students in their entrepreneurial goals, and Kimball credits it for helping her “de-risk” her dreams.
“Engler has given me the confidence to start,” she said.
She described her entrepreneurial journey as a lot of blind faith and hope in her vision.
She has named her vineyard 31:16 Vineyards, a reference to Proverbs 31:16 in the Bible: “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.”