Open for Business with Kara Sousek (Dec. 14, 2021)
Kara Sousek is a fifth generation farmer from Prague, NE. She studied Horticulture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and minored in the Engler Entrepreneurship Program. While she grew up surrounded by corn, beans, cows, and pigs on the family farm, she felt drawn to diversified agriculture. She started working for Oak Creek Vineyard early in her college career, and became manager soon after graduating. The same year after graduating, she planted her own first acre of grape vines on the family farm by Prague. For the past few years, she has leased Oak Creek Vineyard from her former boss after he retired, and is in the process of purchasing the vineyard. Through those years, she has held several day jobs related to her horticulture degree, and currently is the Production Manager at Great Plains Nursery in Weston. She plans on transitioning to running the vineyard full time in the near future, but currently manages the vineyards with her brother-in-law in addition to their day jobs.
Kara is passionate about the Nebraska Wine industry. Her mission is to provide the quality and quantity of grapes that Nebraska wineries need to produce exceptional wines and to grow their businesses.
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[00:00:12.450]Brittany Fulton: Good evening everyone i'm Brittany fulton extension assistant brasco women agriculture program and thanks for joining us tonight, this is open for business.
[00:00:22.350]Brittany Fulton: A webinar series that focuses on female agribusiness entrepreneurs, on the second Tuesday of the month we feature in nebraska woman in agriculture to show their grit and determination as they share their stories about how they've overcome those shots.
[00:00:36.330]Brittany Fulton: During our time together, please use the chat box located on the bottom of your screen or the Q amp a box to ask questions and we'll address those as time allows.
[00:00:46.170]Brittany Fulton: So today we have Kara Suchet with us and she's a fifth generation farmer she studied in horticulture at the University of nebraska and minor in the English entrepreneurship program while she grew up around by corn beans cows and pigs live on a farm.
[00:01:01.740]Brittany Fulton: She felt drawn to diversified agriculture.
[00:01:04.350]Brittany Fulton: She started working for over 3000 years earning a college career and became manager soon after graduating the same year after graduation she planted her own first paper grape vines on the family farm.
[00:01:15.930]Brittany Fulton: The past few years she has least oak creek vineyard from her former boss after he retired and in the process of purchasing purchasing the vineyard.
[00:01:25.170]Brittany Fulton: Through those years she has held several day jobs related horticulture and currently is the production manager at the grateful nursery lesson.
[00:01:33.750]Brittany Fulton: She plans on transitioning to rein them in your full time of the near future, but currently managing within here with her brother in law, in addition to their day jobs.
[00:01:42.990]Brittany Fulton: Thanks for joining us tonight Tara.
[00:01:46.170]Kara Sousek: Good to be here.
[00:01:48.150]Brittany Fulton: So we'll just go ahead and jump right in here and I let's start with you telling us about yourself and your background.
[00:01:56.310]Kara Sousek: yeah so i'm like like you said I grew up on the family farm by Craig.
[00:02:05.370]Kara Sousek: My dad and his brother farm together they do you know corn and soybeans.
[00:02:11.580]Kara Sousek: Cattle they did pigs.
[00:02:15.360]Kara Sousek: Back in the 90s kind of my uncle still does pigs fear pigs.
[00:02:21.630]Kara Sousek: And kind of got my will, I also have so I have a i'm the youngest of three I have an older brother Nick and sister jess and they're both married um.
[00:02:35.310]Kara Sousek: And I think I got my Green thumb and my love of plants from both of my parents and from both my grandpa all my grandparents just growing up on the farm.
[00:02:48.840]Kara Sousek: They were all kind of avid gardeners I used to garden a lot with my mom.
[00:02:54.510]Kara Sousek: She would do farmers markets, you would bake things for farmers, markets and also sell produce from the garden and I always enjoyed helping out with that, so I think that's where my passion for plants kind of came from, and just you know spending time outside.
[00:03:10.590]Kara Sousek: um yeah so it was a little bit of a no brainer going to you and all that I was I kind.
[00:03:19.290]Kara Sousek: Of.
[00:03:20.820]Kara Sousek: That I could do, but i'm horrible shirley's kind of seemed like winter what I wanted to do.
[00:03:28.560]Kara Sousek: So yeah.
[00:03:31.350]Brittany Fulton: Perfect so tell us more about the vineyard give us give us the details of I started working there and and kind of what you guys do there now.
[00:03:41.040]Kara Sousek: yeah so I started working there after my sophomore year of college I got an email through.
[00:03:48.420]Kara Sousek: The horticulture department at ul with a.
[00:03:53.550]Kara Sousek: I guess.
[00:03:55.980]Kara Sousek: oak creek vineyard was looking for an assistant manager in the summers and ideally someone that would stay after college after graduating.
[00:04:05.400]Kara Sousek: So I applied and I got it and I fell in love with the vineyard with viticulture and learned so much in those couple years working through throughout college and mostly in the summers full time but then also.
[00:04:21.030]Kara Sousek: I would, I would pick up a few hours during during each semester as well during the week.
[00:04:27.120]Kara Sousek: My boss Eric who owned the vineyard also ran a landscaping company, so he would pull me into town to help with that on occasion and so after.
[00:04:37.590]Kara Sousek: After college after graduating.
[00:04:41.340]Kara Sousek: I worked for him for.
[00:04:46.200]Kara Sousek: Years I believe yeah two years I was under his employment managing the vineyard I became manager.
[00:04:54.750]Kara Sousek: And that same year after graduating I also planted the first acre of grapes.
[00:05:01.290]Kara Sousek: At the at renting some ground from my parents and prayed.
[00:05:06.540]Kara Sousek: And all that so all of the grapes at the Raymond vineyard.
[00:05:10.680]Kara Sousek: The Near Raymond.
[00:05:14.730]Kara Sousek: Those go to James Arthur winery and then the the acres that I planted by pray get my parents place those go to seller for 26 and we've put in more acres at home, over the years, those are also going to sell or 426 and have a few other wineries interested, as we plant more in future.
[00:05:41.610]Kara Sousek: In 2019 Eric my boss decided he wanted to retire go to retirement so.
[00:05:50.070]Kara Sousek: We kind of came up with a lease agreement that I would continue farming, the vineyard in Raymond.
[00:05:58.050]Kara Sousek: And so we we started doing that.
[00:06:03.150]Kara Sousek: yeah and least the equipment and the the vineyard from him, but then.
[00:06:11.640]Kara Sousek: I I just outright bought the equipment from him can continue to lease the vineyard.
[00:06:20.130]Kara Sousek: And then now we're working next year I I plan on we've kind of come to agreement that i'm going to purchase the Raymond vineyard next year, and so, as I started leasing and renting that vineyard.
[00:06:34.320]Kara Sousek: I kind of it kind of it used to be called oak creek vineyard because it's a kind of part of oak creek runs runs through.
[00:06:42.930]Kara Sousek: The windbreak behind the vineyard but it it kind of became part of hundred hills, which is the name I chose for my vineyard and Craig for the family vineyard duck their.
[00:06:58.710]Kara Sousek: story behind that name my dad's dad my grandpa once we were driving through.
[00:07:06.030]Kara Sousek: kind of what they call the Bohemian Alps of nebraska kind of around the Craig area it's very hilly country, and he said something about there being 100 hills out there and so that's where the name hundred hills came from.
[00:07:20.340]Kara Sousek: and
[00:07:22.140]Kara Sousek: yeah so that so they they all kind of.
[00:07:26.850]Kara Sousek: The Raymond vineyard came under the hundred hills enterprise.
[00:07:32.070]Kara Sousek: And yeah it's been growing ever since.
[00:07:35.790]Brittany Fulton: that's awesome I like the meaning behind the hundred bills name that's that's very cool Kara your camera is getting a little fuzzy So if you would, if you want to turn off your camera that's fine just keep hearing your audio good.
[00:07:51.840]Kara Sousek: yep that'll help.
[00:07:53.880]Brittany Fulton: So you did mention where your grapes go they go to those two wineries that you mentioned, but where can we find that wine ads is it just nebraska based or can can anyone find it or how do we, how do we taste, some of it.
[00:08:10.200]Kara Sousek: yeah, so it is, I believe, only sold in nebraska i'm sure I know that they do.
[00:08:17.640]Kara Sousek: look a little bit out of state James Arthur I know does I couldn't tell you where i'm.
[00:08:25.380]Kara Sousek: But the vast majority of nebraska wine is sold in state, many of them sell direct from their wineries you have to actually go physically to the winery but several the handful of wineries State do sell in in local stores and then high V and super saver you can find James arthur's wine.
[00:08:47.850]Kara Sousek: cellar for 26 sales, I believe, a little bit in omaha and hobbies.
[00:08:53.070]Kara Sousek: And then there's other smaller smaller stores and i've seen other nebraska wines in.
[00:08:59.850]Kara Sousek: So yeah you can find them in stores kind of a I guess a more smaller collection of their most popular ones, but if you actually go to the winery they have most of them have quite an array of.
[00:09:14.940]Kara Sousek: A whole gamut of selection.
[00:09:19.980]Brittany Fulton: check that out on my next trip down East and see what I can I can find for sure.
[00:09:27.960]Brittany Fulton: So you kind of mentioned leasing the equipment and and in buying that out from somewhere, the first owner talk about that, and how how how you went about leasing the equipment and making sure that you had a secure plan a financial plan to make that happen.
[00:09:50.160]Kara Sousek: yeah so i'm.
[00:09:53.490]Kara Sousek: running the vineyards, we do a lot of it by hand a lot of actual like you know pruning.
[00:10:00.090]Kara Sousek: and training up the vines, but also quite a bit we've we've been aiming on.
[00:10:07.020]Kara Sousek: As we expand and put in more acres, we have to rely a lot on mechanization.
[00:10:13.410]Kara Sousek: Investing in different equipment to get the job done and there's you know things like spraying the binds.
[00:10:23.310]Kara Sousek: And and harvesting okay harvesting in a minute, but a lot of things that just need to be done mechanically at the scale that we're doing i've heard it said that it takes one person for one person to work full time at a vineyard to manage it well.
[00:10:38.820]Kara Sousek: I think they can i've heard it said that you can, if you can do five acres with just one person i've heard it said, you can do eight but we're up to 12 and a half now and expanding every year, so we definitely have had to mechanized to keep up to be able to manage them well.
[00:10:57.780]Kara Sousek: and also to harvest.
[00:11:00.690]Kara Sousek: Knowing that we had to.
[00:11:03.270]Kara Sousek: Mecca I guess you could say mechanized or die.
[00:11:08.340]Kara Sousek: We I wanted to be able to do it.
[00:11:11.640]Kara Sousek: You know purchase that equipment, because that was a necessity to be able to to make this work and to run this business so purchasing that I knew.
[00:11:25.500]Kara Sousek: You know, financially, I had to be smart about how we went about purchasing it so i've kept a day job on the side, ever since i've kind of gone gone out on my own, to be able to cash flow that that purchase as best as I can.
[00:11:43.410]Kara Sousek: Just to kind of help out financially and it's it's been a challenge.
[00:11:48.180]Kara Sousek: With.
[00:11:49.680]Kara Sousek: Some of the different jobs i've held you know tight schedule time wise and scheduling it was a bit of a challenge, but now.
[00:11:56.790]Kara Sousek: working at great plains nursery it's it's kind of situated between the Reagan the Raymond vineyards it's by Western and they've been tremendous and very flexible with letting the off whenever I need to to work on the vineyard and to harvest and with harvesting, we have a mechanical.
[00:12:17.610]Kara Sousek: grape harvester a new Holland broad.
[00:12:21.360]Kara Sousek: That came with the equipment purchase my.
[00:12:26.010]Kara Sousek: landlord had bought that a couple years.
[00:12:30.060]Kara Sousek: Prior to me buying it from him so he kind of helped he kind of figured out all the kinks of you know how to run it and, but then, so my brother in law, Sam he and I run that together we kind of have a side business going of custom harvesting, where we harvest our own vines.
[00:12:52.410]Kara Sousek: And then we also harvest for a lot of other wineries across the state.
[00:12:58.320]Kara Sousek: Because.
[00:13:00.360]Kara Sousek: harvesting grapes by hand.
[00:13:03.210]Kara Sousek: sounds very romantic and it is the first time, for the first few hours, but then once it starts getting hot, and you know it gets stuffy underneath the thick canopy of the vines it it gets a little daunting after a while.
[00:13:18.660]Kara Sousek: And then you know when I first started the vineyard we did we harvest it all by hand and we would get a crew of 30 people.
[00:13:25.800]Kara Sousek: or so and it would take us six hours to harvest an acre whereas now what takes us, we could do it with two people but typically we have for for a full crew demand, you know to run the trailer and and the harvester and everything.
[00:13:42.600]Kara Sousek: It takes for people about two hours if we're taking our time to harvest an acre and this way also we we can harvest at night.
[00:13:53.340]Kara Sousek: When the when the temperatures are cooler it's less stressful on the grapes.
[00:13:59.850]Kara Sousek: Whereas if you're picking in the heat of the day, and then they're sitting in the sun that kind of affects the chemistry of the grapes.
[00:14:06.150]Kara Sousek: And you need to be careful about getting them to the winery as soon as possible to be crushed, whereas when you harvest at night, it gives you a little more wiggle room to.
[00:14:16.710]Kara Sousek: That the temperatures are going to.
[00:14:20.130]Kara Sousek: affect the chemistry of the grapes as quickly and then also nice for the wineries because we can deliver.
[00:14:28.860]Kara Sousek: To the winery you know seven or eight in the morning run they're ready to get started with a full day of pressing the grapes and not everyone wants to do it that way, some some wineries would prefer to harvest in the daylight and that's up to them, but we ourselves harvest at night.
[00:14:48.360]Brittany Fulton: Now i'm sure, like the technology is so much better than picking by hand, I can only imagine and also like what's the lack of finding Labor I bet it was just almost impossible to find 30 people to come and help pick so.
[00:15:06.780]Brittany Fulton: that's yeah that's great that you have access to all of that equipment and that you're able to to get all that and we have a couple questions that came in here.
[00:15:18.300]Brittany Fulton: They kind of they kind of same topic, I guess, so do you have your own winery or have plans to open one and then she said i'm referring to a tasting place do you even do you make your own wine or just saw the grapes.
[00:15:32.970]Kara Sousek: So we just sell the grapes currently I have not made one, yet I know the chemistry behind it, I took.
[00:15:40.290]Kara Sousek: A class at ul called vines wines and you under Dr read it was a wonderful class, you know I learned the chemistry behind winemaking, but I haven't actually done it hands on yet which I i'd like to.
[00:15:52.920]Kara Sousek: In the near future, just to kind of start practicing and maybe you know shadow some of the different wineries across the state when they're making wine just kind of hang out with them.
[00:16:03.960]Kara Sousek: So I know I want to make wine, even at the small scale for myself, but in terms of opening a winery i'm still on the fence about um.
[00:16:15.180]Kara Sousek: I know it would be nice and there's a lot of people kind of rooting I know rooting for us and you know that would support us and really want it to happen.
[00:16:24.420]Kara Sousek: And I guess i'm still on the fence, as to whether that's my calling per se is to you know, to make the wine and.
[00:16:36.510]Kara Sousek: I know that my mom and one of my aunt's would be on board for kind of as a retirement project, you know.
[00:16:43.140]Kara Sousek: Maybe getting into the winery.
[00:16:46.620]Kara Sousek: And they would be great at that they they have all of the expertise and the.
[00:16:52.620]Kara Sousek: I think they'd be wonderful at you know running a tasting room and and doing that.
[00:17:00.030]Kara Sousek: um so yeah i'm still kind of on the fence, whether we'll do it or not right and honestly i'd be okay if we if I just farm the rest of my life just grow the wineries and let them making keep making wines and just enjoy the fruits of their stay tuned for that it's.
[00:17:21.720]Kara Sousek: not going to happen in the near future, but it could go down the road.
[00:17:26.730]Brittany Fulton: Well that's very cool I think wineries are so needs they're if they're just so many things you can do with a winery too, but understand your hesitation and and you know just.
[00:17:39.630]Brittany Fulton: Having the grades, I think, is cool too so very cool but will stay tuned for future news, just in case you change your mind yeah I also think it's very awesome that you work with your brother in law.
[00:17:51.870]Brittany Fulton: So talk to us about the dynamics there is it hard to get along as or conflict, you know how do you how do you work with family and make it all work.
[00:18:01.230]Kara Sousek: yeah um so so Sam Sam was the same he studied at Milford diesel mechanics and he's very mechanically minded very gifted.
[00:18:15.660]Kara Sousek: With just Knowing his way around machinery and very intuitive in that regard, which is has been.
[00:18:24.690]Kara Sousek: so valuable in in farming he he farms with my dad.
[00:18:31.380]Kara Sousek: Back at the family farm helps with the corn and soybeans and cows and also.
[00:18:37.230]Kara Sousek: Does the mechanic stuff of his own kind of freelance on the side and then helps me with the vineyards i've kind of put him in charge of all things, mechanical with that you know kind of running some of the more.
[00:18:53.370]Kara Sousek: More technical more.
[00:18:57.090]Kara Sousek: I guess complex machinery like we have mechanical pruner and he knows the grape harvester inside it out.
[00:19:05.520]Kara Sousek: very, very good at repairing anything we need to kind of on the spot.
[00:19:13.110]Kara Sousek: yeah it's I mean with, and I think with any farm family farming operation.
[00:19:21.780]Kara Sousek: it's so it's tremendous because you, you know each other so well.
[00:19:26.580]Kara Sousek: But that means you also you know being around them so much you, you know each other's flaws and.
[00:19:34.020]Kara Sousek: But.
[00:19:37.410]Kara Sousek: yeah it's it's really so far it's been a tremendous experience being able to farm with family and keep keep it a family business because we have that trust with each other, you know.
[00:19:51.180]Kara Sousek: um and or not to say stuck with each other, but.
[00:19:56.850]Kara Sousek: You know, being family, you know you're you gotta get a lot you just you know you have to get along and you have to work through things it's not like just taking on a random business partner, where you can just part ways.
[00:20:09.270]Kara Sousek: with no strings attached there is yeah there's a lot more.
[00:20:14.250]Kara Sousek: Of that family dynamic to it that I think is like a glue that kind of binds us together.
[00:20:20.790]Kara Sousek: Through through the good times and bad.
[00:20:25.800]Kara Sousek: Bad be and my dad also helps out quite a bit in the video a my mom really she's learned quite a bit helping out training the young vines and my dad helps out.
[00:20:38.340]Kara Sousek: With he's built a couple of different contraptions to help speed up processes in the vineyard with spraying and putting on bird netting because birds can be a problem too.
[00:20:51.090]Kara Sousek: And then also.
[00:20:52.860]Kara Sousek: hauling the the harvester around for two different wineries you know help out with that as well.
[00:21:01.080]Kara Sousek: See ya i've been extremely blessed to have supportive family that is on board.
[00:21:09.360]Kara Sousek: And is passionate about my passion of the vineyard you know viticulture and want to see it succeed and yeah it's really become a family operation that i'm just very.
[00:21:24.300]Kara Sousek: blessed and grateful that they got on board when I brought this crazy idea home.
[00:21:31.440]Brittany Fulton: I I think I say this every every month, and we have these webinars that.
[00:21:37.290]Brittany Fulton: I think that's the best part about being mag industry that but Georgia, the time we do get to work with family.
[00:21:42.960]Brittany Fulton: And it really is a blessing, even though sometimes in the heat of things there might be disagreements or arguments, but at the end of the day, like they're there to help you, and they want you to 16 I think that's just it's just great and it's a blessing for all of us for sure.
[00:22:02.010]Brittany Fulton: I want to ask you about your predators of the birds and thing bird netting up.
[00:22:06.540]Brittany Fulton: um so what what does that entail, how do you go about that give us some details.
[00:22:14.640]Kara Sousek: um.
[00:22:16.230]Kara Sousek: yeah that's kind of birds are kind of the.
[00:22:20.430]Kara Sousek: One of the biggest concerns in this with anyone that grows grapes kind of a thing that you can only do so much about.
[00:22:30.600]Kara Sousek: they're pretty.
[00:22:33.150]Kara Sousek: Pretty nasty they you know, once you get grapes that are ripening and they smell really nice when once you're Nice and ripe birds can come in, and if you have no net and you're doing nothing about it they'll wipe out a crowd a crop within a day.
[00:22:47.430]Kara Sousek: Completely you know completely wipe it out.
[00:22:50.340]Kara Sousek: um so we, the, the best way that i've heard across the board is to put on bird netting which is kind of a fine kind of mesh netting that drapes over the vines, some people have to like clip it underneath if it's not wide enough, but our net goes, all the way to the ground.
[00:23:09.690]Kara Sousek: birds can still get in you know if there's tears or any holes in the netting.
[00:23:15.870]Kara Sousek: And we do have to end sometimes you know the vines will grow through if the net stain stays on for too long, so you have to go and shift it so it's not growing through this holes.
[00:23:26.310]Kara Sousek: So really and that's kind of it's kind of an issue of time and it's not a fun process of putting on the Net, but like I said, my dad has helped build a contraption that I think.
[00:23:39.420]Kara Sousek: saves us a little bit of time and a little bit of effort to put it on quicker when we need to.
[00:23:46.380]Kara Sousek: we've tried other tactics like there's streamers and ribbons you can buy that supposed to scare the birds.
[00:23:53.850]Kara Sousek: I know a few other growers that have used a spray that apparently is like a the birds don't like the smell of it and i've heard mixed reviews about that.
[00:24:04.770]Kara Sousek: we've attempted to use a bird laser.
[00:24:10.500]Kara Sousek: At the Raymond vineyard.
[00:24:14.850]Kara Sousek: And then the the jury is still out on it, I have noticed that it works, so the way it works is it's kind of a low power laser.
[00:24:24.060]Kara Sousek: That kind of like you know, a laser pointer that you play with what getting a cat to chase it, except it's it's a bigger.
[00:24:32.520]Kara Sousek: Bigger laser where it's you know, maybe about the size of an orange or something in diameter.
[00:24:39.510]Kara Sousek: traces a pattern throughout the vineyard and it makes the birds think that that there's a predator, stalking them in the vineyard, and so it will trace trace.
[00:24:50.220]Kara Sousek: A pattern throughout there.
[00:24:53.310]Kara Sousek: And you can set it to do, different sides of the vineyard or whatnot and it worked for.
[00:24:59.010]Kara Sousek: Most of the season, I believe there, I noticed a lot less bird nests and a lot less swarms of birds coming through, and you know diving through the vineyard I definitely noticed a difference, but then.
[00:25:14.070]Kara Sousek: About two weeks before our our third white variety, that was going to be hard to stay very fragrant and you know the other two white varieties had already been harvested so.
[00:25:25.530]Kara Sousek: The Birds swept in and we had input on that because we were hoping the laser was was doing its job still but the birds just got so voracious and swept in so we did have to we ended up netting anyway.
[00:25:38.820]Kara Sousek: So it wasn't completely foolproof, but I think that will be able to kind of.
[00:25:45.300]Kara Sousek: play around with the settings on the laser to maybe concentrated more there, and maybe we still have to net, but I think it does save us some time where we only have to net two weeks before harvest instead of a month.
[00:25:57.240]Kara Sousek: Before harvest on that particular variety so it's been it's been a learning experience.
[00:26:03.660]Kara Sousek: playing with different methods and technology.
[00:26:07.500]Kara Sousek: And it's.
[00:26:09.390]Kara Sousek: it's kind of the the big big question is how to control birds that if someone could come up with some foolproof foolproof easy way they could make a lot of money.
[00:26:21.270]Kara Sousek: Using that idea, I think.
[00:26:24.690]Brittany Fulton: that's interesting I had never heard of a laser that's that's kind of needs so i'd be interested to know.
[00:26:32.550]Brittany Fulton: If that if that helps again i'm just for everyone that's on if you have questions you can go ahead and put it in the chat box or you can go ahead and type it into the Q amp a section as well and we'll get those answered right away.
[00:26:48.660]Brittany Fulton: But let's kind of talk about business shocks, this is kind of always a bit interesting topic, and some people have had them some people haven't but what has been your biggest business shock so far.
[00:27:08.760]Kara Sousek: biggest I think the biggest, one that has been.
[00:27:14.190]Kara Sousek: Maybe the most stressful but I don't want to necessarily I don't want to say it's been all bad because it's definitely also a blessing in disguise, is have trying to keep a day job on the side of running this vineyard kind of you know, having to kind of full time jobs.
[00:27:34.620]Kara Sousek: i've had but before I was at great plains, I worked somewhere else that required 50 hours a week, and another horticultural.
[00:27:44.760]Kara Sousek: industry, which I really enjoyed it I learned a lot of the things necessary for that job in at ul.
[00:27:54.150]Kara Sousek: It was very rewarding and I loved it, I was doing but location wise it wasn't ideal it wasn't exactly where I wanted to be and and time wise, the requirement of working 50 hours a week and certain times of the year and then trying to go to the vineyard after that was extremely stressful.
[00:28:15.660]Kara Sousek: So that was a bit of a shock of learning, you know.
[00:28:19.650]Kara Sousek: being divided, you have to work more efficiently, but also.
[00:28:25.080]Kara Sousek: kind of understanding that you're not going to get things done, like you want that you're going to have to sacrifice certain things that I would have to sacrifice certain things in the vineyard.
[00:28:38.310]Kara Sousek: relinquishing control, I guess, and kind of letting them do their thing and not being able to manage them like I would ideally want to, for the sake of being able to.
[00:28:51.840]Kara Sousek: pay off investments quickly.
[00:28:55.530]Kara Sousek: And to kind of.
[00:28:58.920]Kara Sousek: Trying to I guess hit hit the financial side hard that was a bit of a shock.
[00:29:06.630]Kara Sousek: Trying to juggle two things and it's definitely gotten better now being a great plains.
[00:29:12.120]Kara Sousek: they're very flexible and and also just working there i've learned so much from them and how they run their business.
[00:29:21.960]Kara Sousek: As a tree nursery you know it's another perennial crop.
[00:29:25.530]Kara Sousek: But i've learned so much from them and how they treat their employees and.
[00:29:32.790]Kara Sousek: kind of how they structure their lives and have a good work and personal life balance it's been so great to see everything that they are doing right and doing well, and you know learning from that of how I can apply that to 200 hills and how I want to design how that's going to look.
[00:29:53.940]Kara Sousek: So it has been.
[00:29:56.760]Kara Sousek: has had you know, been a blessing in disguise, I guess i'm I guess another shock.
[00:30:06.090]Kara Sousek: which I could see it coming, you know as we were getting into the custom harvesting is that harvest is pretty intense and I think many farmers know that the do corn and soybeans you know tight timing is kind of crucial of getting the crop out at a good time.
[00:30:23.040]Kara Sousek: So you know things get stressful and you have to be sure that you're communicating very well i'd say that was the biggest shock is realizing Oh, not everyone can read my mind I need to communicate better.
[00:30:37.980]Kara Sousek: With you know with my brother, along with my my family that was involved in just planning everything or planning harvest around life in life around harvest um it's been a big learning curve.
[00:30:52.770]Kara Sousek: But we were definitely getting better every year that we do it.
[00:31:00.630]Brittany Fulton: So what would you say is your busiest time of year is harvest and like.
[00:31:06.840]Brittany Fulton: I like I didn't know this before we've talked before we got on here but kind of walk us through the timeline of what's going on the vineyard.
[00:31:14.850]Kara Sousek: yeah so so right now i'm doing winter pruning where the vines are all dormant.
[00:31:21.060]Kara Sousek: they've kind of shut down for the season, and this is.
[00:31:25.890]Kara Sousek: Are you a lot of people argue that this is one of the most crucial times of the year, as as your pruning you're basically setting up next year's growing season you're taking off.
[00:31:34.950]Kara Sousek: So much of this year's growth and leaving behind a certain amount and that's going to determine how your canopy looks the next year, what your your yield is going to look like.
[00:31:46.230]Kara Sousek: So that's what happens, this time of year and, ideally, you would really only prune from between February and April.
[00:31:54.900]Kara Sousek: With the amount that we have and i'll have to go back to my day job in late February, so I really need to start in December that's not ideal, but I know other vineyards that just with the volume that they have or the amount that they have that's what you have to do.
[00:32:11.970]Kara Sousek: And then so then in April kind of later April, you get Bud break where the vine start waking up and they.
[00:32:23.760]Kara Sousek: what's the word D acclimate to the cold were in the in the fall there acclimating to the cold where they're kind of shutting down and getting ready for colder temperatures and in the spring.
[00:32:32.670]Kara Sousek: That cold tolerance is going up, so you have to worry about late spring frost's where you know the the vines are a little more sensitive, and they have they start to have green tissue showing where, if you get a.
[00:32:45.660]Kara Sousek: early morning freeze event coming through that can kind of wipe out your whole crop in the morning and just a matter of a few hours.
[00:32:54.360]Kara Sousek: So we do watch out for that we have a few things that we can do to either delay trying to Labor Bud break or to prepare the vines to bounce back after a cold snap like that.
[00:33:06.780]Kara Sousek: And so, once the vines are actively growing, we do have to treat them with fungicides in nebraska early Sunday on the eastern side of nebraska because we typically get a little more rainfall than the Western side.
[00:33:20.970]Kara Sousek: So I do have to spray for those.
[00:33:24.690]Kara Sousek: every once in a while to protect against fungus you kind of have to get it before a lot of what I use is a protective kind of powder that prevents fungus from even.
[00:33:39.510]Kara Sousek: Attacking the vines.
[00:33:42.150]Kara Sousek: And so they grow throughout the season, the they'll bloom in kind of the second week of June.
[00:33:49.860]Kara Sousek: If I remember right maybe early June the the grape clusters will bloom and fertilize and set their berries and kind of have your fruit set.
[00:34:00.570]Kara Sousek: And they'll keep growing and we do a we do leave samples then right after bloom to kind of see where the nutrient levels are in the vines and how we need to adjust fertilizing.
[00:34:11.430]Kara Sousek: And then mid July starts vibration, which is the term for when the berries start accumulating the color like they all start green but though the reds will start turning purple and red.
[00:34:27.750]Kara Sousek: The the white or the green grapes will get more of their their characteristic yellow color or the or the green.
[00:34:38.580]Kara Sousek: And they start accumulating sugars and they start softening and they in the berries will expand and you know get juicy.
[00:34:45.480]Kara Sousek: And so they'll they'll ripen and then mid August, usually the second week of August is our first first harvest of the first variety, to go as edelweiss, which is a white grape.
[00:34:58.560]Kara Sousek: And then typically about every week, we have another variety that goes we'll so we only grow five varieties ourselves, we have edelweiss brianna lacrosse Those are our White varieties and we have front neck and petite Pearl but between the two look been your locations.
[00:35:19.350]Kara Sousek: And so, a lot of variety, a lot of red varieties kind of go into end of August in the mid September, and then we have a we have one.
[00:35:28.860]Kara Sousek: winery that has this harvest on October 3 with their latest variety shame person, but typically harvest slows down kind of mid September and then.
[00:35:40.050]Kara Sousek: After harvest the vines kind of start shutting down for the winter they'll they'll leave sometimes the leaves will change color.
[00:35:49.170]Kara Sousek: And they'll start dropping their leaves as temperatures get colder and they start acclimating to the cold getting a sort of antifreeze in the in their plant cells that helps them.
[00:36:00.780]Kara Sousek: You know withstand the cold temperatures that we get in nebraska a lot of the vines that we grow are good, too, I think, negative 30 degrees or so.
[00:36:11.190]Kara Sousek: edelweiss is rated the negative 15 so we did lose some of this polar vortex this last year, but surprisingly quite a few of them were still okay.
[00:36:23.220]Kara Sousek: Even though we got those negative 32 degree temperatures.
[00:36:27.630]Kara Sousek: yeah so that's the season in the nutshell.
[00:36:30.720]Brittany Fulton: Aaron cool um so when you do like you said you lost them in the poor freeze.
[00:36:37.050]Brittany Fulton: How do you go about replacing those plans.
[00:36:41.010]Brittany Fulton: You know, like do you plan for that and your cost analysis like, how do you plan for that, and this this type of business.
[00:36:51.300]Kara Sousek: yeah you could financially plant luckily a.
[00:36:56.220]Kara Sousek: Luckily, so far i've only had to retrain the vines from the ground so that everything above ground will in a really bad freeze event they'll it'll die or it'll be damaged, to the point where you know it's probably only going to hold on for one more season, if it is trying to hang on.
[00:37:14.070]Kara Sousek: But then you get shoots are suckers they sometimes call them coming up from the ground, and you can reach training new from from that so sometimes you only lose about a year of production.
[00:37:27.570]Kara Sousek: So yeah I do kind of plan for that i'll take a Count of how many vines are producing on each acre and I keep a spreadsheet of how much you know how many plants are producing what the three year average.
[00:37:43.980]Kara Sousek: yield was or cluster weights based on cluster accounts and cluster wait, so I do, I am able to plan a little bit for what the yields are going to look like.
[00:37:56.430]Kara Sousek: yeah we typically do yield estimates in June, or I should say late June early July.
[00:38:03.150]Kara Sousek: So yeah luckily so far i've only had to retrain them from the ground up in a very bad freeze, you might have to kind of dig them out and replant a new vine but that hasn't been the case for me so far.
[00:38:17.850]Brittany Fulton: that's good that's that's a positive thing for sure um So what have you faced as a female entrepreneur.
[00:38:30.240]Kara Sousek: um.
[00:38:31.830]Kara Sousek: Honestly, I feel like.
[00:38:34.680]Kara Sousek: Not a lot of things I can really.
[00:38:38.160]Kara Sousek: do much about just kind of some.
[00:38:41.820]Kara Sousek: Some this might be kind of a lame answer, but you know i'm not a strong I can't lift as much.
[00:38:47.910]Kara Sousek: So there are some things I have to you know get my dad to help me with.
[00:38:53.640]Kara Sousek: Before we had a skid loader at or we didn't have a skid loader at the vineyard and Raymond last year and.
[00:39:00.810]Kara Sousek: Some things you know typically I would write rely on a skid loader to pick up to to put on a trailer but I had to get creative with how I loaded some things that I couldn't necessarily just pick up so just you know something kind of.
[00:39:17.370]Kara Sousek: Something like that I just can't lift as much as I would like to.
[00:39:23.850]Kara Sousek: Otherwise I haven't really faced any major problems, I would say, I know it's it'll be.
[00:39:33.090]Kara Sousek: A bit of a juggling act once I start a family of farming, while raising a family, I would I would love to be a stay at home mom and I don't know how exactly that will look but.
[00:39:45.990]Kara Sousek: I am confident that it would work in some way.
[00:39:52.320]Kara Sousek: yeah.
[00:39:54.690]Brittany Fulton: Those are great answers not lame at all I.
[00:39:56.550]Brittany Fulton: think all of us on here tonight with a green and that is a big challenge you know we we are as strong as you'd like to be sometimes we think that we can do everything and we just can't so I don't think that's a lame answer at all um.
[00:40:13.440]Brittany Fulton: So we had talked about your future for you a little bit um do you ever see yourself opening up to having interns or a mentorship program or anything like that.
[00:40:25.980]Kara Sousek: Yes, I would love to.
[00:40:29.310]Kara Sousek: To someday kind of do what my boss.
[00:40:33.060]Kara Sousek: offered me and we had experiences having you know, a summer summer intern.
[00:40:38.730]Kara Sousek: To come learn how to manage the vineyard and, ideally, you know once we're big enough i'd like to hire.
[00:40:45.450]Kara Sousek: assistant managers, or you know, whatever we would need.
[00:40:50.070]Kara Sousek: But I would love to be a resource to ul's viticulture Program.
[00:40:56.160]Kara Sousek: Both and research, and then you know, providing opportunities for people to get a hands on experience on, you know how to run a vineyard and not just on that, but I mean I I can't necessarily offer this right now, since I don't have a winery but I know other wineries are.
[00:41:13.320]Kara Sousek: ul's hospitality and tourism management department has a lot of interns that will go work for a winery over the summer.
[00:41:23.700]Kara Sousek: Because you know wineries are.
[00:41:26.520]Kara Sousek: are a great part of nebraska tourism and providing you know, a value added.
[00:41:32.880]Kara Sousek: crop.
[00:41:36.810]Kara Sousek: In their in their local community and kind of providing that tourist destination.
[00:41:44.910]Kara Sousek: So I know that there's a many wineries that are kind of already utilizing ul's the hospitality department, but I think we're going in the future we're going to be partnering even more with them.
[00:42:00.090]Kara Sousek: I actually just recently became the nebraska winery and grape growers association President.
[00:42:07.980]Kara Sousek: And we had, and we had our annual conference recently we had the head of the tour the hospitality and tourism man and yeah hospitality department came and spoke to us, and it was yeah it was great to see kind of.
[00:42:24.810]Kara Sousek: How we can.
[00:42:26.940]Kara Sousek: partner with with you and L moving forward, not just on the viticulture side, but also on the winery side.
[00:42:35.280]Brittany Fulton: Congratulations on your new leadership role that's that's very exciting for you um what advice would you give to someone who was wanting to start their own business or or do something like you're doing.
[00:42:48.210]Kara Sousek: I would say.
[00:42:51.240]Kara Sousek: um.
[00:42:55.830]Kara Sousek: And we least in my experience, the the biggest.
[00:42:59.940]Kara Sousek: The biggest tool that I had was just putting things down on paper researching what what it's going to take financially.
[00:43:10.530]Kara Sousek: create a you know kind of a predicted expense report and.
[00:43:16.050]Kara Sousek: And and figure out those financials because you can kind of.
[00:43:21.000]Kara Sousek: muddle around in your mind like what if, for how am I going to do this, but until you get a concrete until you find those numbers and those answers and put them down concretely.
[00:43:30.570]Kara Sousek: On a financial plan and a business plan of also you know other details of how this is going to work, how we're going to cash flow it.
[00:43:39.060]Kara Sousek: Especially starting a vineyard from scratch, it takes three years, usually before you get a crop off of vines and five years, five to six years before you get full production.
[00:43:50.190]Kara Sousek: So you probably like typically you probably won't get a return on your investment until you're five so that's something to consider getting into viticulture or in a winery you know there's other things that go with that of actually making the line.
[00:44:07.230]Kara Sousek: But at least on the video culture side yeah I would say, a good financial plan is is key to.
[00:44:16.860]Kara Sousek: kind of making a roadmap of what you would want it to look like and also understanding that it's not gonna it's not going to look exactly how you plan like I do a.
[00:44:26.790]Kara Sousek: That I have my expense report from every year, you know kind of a report card of how it went.
[00:44:33.210]Kara Sousek: And then I predict what next year is going to look like you know what you know expense new expenses will be coming down the line, or you know, a goal for maybe reducing a different expense, but it's not always going to look.
[00:44:44.730]Kara Sousek: Exactly how you're planning how you plan, things are going to come up that are unforeseen you're going to have crop losses some years.
[00:44:54.090]Kara Sousek: Where you you're not going to have the income that you're really hoping for so.
[00:44:59.010]Kara Sousek: So, to also take that with a grain of salt that you.
[00:45:02.910]Kara Sousek: You should have a plan, but you should also be ready to roll with the punches.
[00:45:07.950]Kara Sousek: And not just on that side, but I would say, also kind of understanding what your passion is and why you want to get into it.
[00:45:16.650]Kara Sousek: I know personally my passion is is with growing plants, so I know that.
[00:45:23.340]Kara Sousek: Growing grapes and being a farmer fills my bucket, as they say right now and that's what i'm passionate about.
[00:45:30.630]Kara Sousek: I know I also have a bit of a passion for chemistry, so I think winemaking could also come into play at some point, but I also know that my passion is not for necessarily for.
[00:45:43.800]Kara Sousek: pouring the line I definitely can and I enjoy it.
[00:45:47.460]Kara Sousek: every once in a while helping out at festivals or whatnot but I don't think that's what i'm called to do every day, so I guess understanding what your passion is and what aspect of it.
[00:45:58.920]Kara Sousek: is going to bring you the most joy and the most fulfillment.
[00:46:03.240]Kara Sousek: In any venture to not just.
[00:46:06.570]Kara Sousek: Farming it's good to understand your passion.
[00:46:11.100]Kara Sousek: And why you're doing what you're doing.
[00:46:15.360]Brittany Fulton: I think that's great advice for everyone that's on and and with us, if you have questions go ahead and drop them in the in the chat box and we'll get to those.
[00:46:27.270]Brittany Fulton: So when you were putting together your your business plan and walking through you know penciling out your financial stuff did you work with someone did you work with an accountant and an attorney and or any of that or how did you even go about to get started on that business plan.
[00:46:43.740]Kara Sousek: um well, I actually first did a business plan, when I was in the angler program and you and i'll angler entrepreneurship.
[00:46:52.260]Kara Sousek: I think junior year of college, I did the the first level of business plan, and I did it for a vineyard kind of like what i'm doing now, but I.
[00:47:01.170]Kara Sousek: kind of you know didn't really didn't have as much experience, back then, as I do now, so it wasn't as good but definitely practicing before I actually did it was was.
[00:47:12.090]Kara Sousek: very smart and I would recommend that to anyone to you know before you set out and just do it, you should you know practice, making a plan.
[00:47:22.830]Kara Sousek: And I did talk to a lot of industry, a lot of other people in the in the industry that we're doing what I wanted to do so.
[00:47:31.980]Kara Sousek: Getting advice from them and also my boss, you know at the time, my now landlord he provided me with a lot of inside of you know what things are going to look like what you're going to need to spend money on to run this business and.
[00:47:49.260]Kara Sousek: So some of the hard numbers like that.
[00:47:56.460]Kara Sousek: yeah and then.
[00:47:59.550]Kara Sousek: I guess also just collecting data as because because I guess, I was.
[00:48:04.770]Kara Sousek: I guess my situation was a bit unique, where I was still working for my boss when for the Raymond vineyard when it was oak creek vineyard just as a manager not actually owning it and then also run planting an acre of grapes and prego on my renting ground for my parents.
[00:48:24.690]Kara Sousek: So I was able to start it fairly small and to kind of share share some some things between the two vineyards, so I got to start fairly small and was able to scale it.
[00:48:37.590]Kara Sousek: Pretty effectively I think i'm kind of had a good understanding of what my expenses were going to be as I scaled it From that starting small you know.
[00:48:50.970]Brittany Fulton: So care where can we find more information about you about the vineyard, can you tell us where we can see pictures and all that stuff.
[00:49:01.170]Kara Sousek: yeah so the vineyard does have a the vineyards, I should say, do have a Facebook page it's hundred hills hops and vines on Facebook.
[00:49:10.140]Kara Sousek: And we do post a little bit on hops my brother in law, Sam grows the hops and we were hoping we could do a little more equipment sharing between the two, but that wasn't.
[00:49:20.700]Kara Sousek: Quite the case like we hoped and we still grow on the side, but we definitely do more, we have more grape vines and hops.
[00:49:32.430]Kara Sousek: But you but yeah we we still post a little bit on the hops on the side.
[00:49:38.370]Kara Sousek: yeah mostly on Facebook, if you want to.
[00:49:42.870]Kara Sousek: Support the product, I guess, it would be to say go to.
[00:49:48.540]Kara Sousek: Things are there are selling for 26 or you know any stores that carry nebraska wines high V or super saver usually have a good selection and really any nebraska wineries to support any of them, because you know, sometimes I sell little bits here and there, if I have a surplus in yield.
[00:50:08.640]Kara Sousek: i'll sell to different places throughout the years of.
[00:50:12.840]Kara Sousek: You know if they need some and really.
[00:50:16.290]Kara Sousek: I want to see each nebraska winery succeed.
[00:50:21.600]Kara Sousek: I think if.
[00:50:23.730]Kara Sousek: If one person's making great wine, you know we can all learn from them and and really they.
[00:50:32.730]Kara Sousek: yeah they kind of it seems like a lot of nebraska wineries want each other to succeed because nebraska as a whole kind of.
[00:50:45.600]Kara Sousek: The wine industry seems to kind of bolster together and find an identity with each other as nebraska wines as a whole, even though they have their own individual businesses individual wineries they have an understanding that.
[00:51:01.320]Kara Sousek: If one succeeds, we all succeed so really i'm good with people drinking any nebraska wine in general.
[00:51:11.700]Brittany Fulton: All right, well, I think we can handle drinking nebraska wine, I think i'm on board but anyways.
[00:51:17.280]Brittany Fulton: Their.
[00:51:20.100]Brittany Fulton: But with no other questions Thank you so much care for joining us tonight and Thank you everyone else, I hopped on, and that was we're close to the holidays and it's a busy time for everyone, but we appreciate you being here.
[00:51:31.320]Brittany Fulton: And you'll be receiving a short survey in your email take some time and fill that out it's not long, let us know how we're doing and give us some feedback.
[00:51:41.880]Brittany Fulton: sad news for this is this is our last webinar for the open for business series you'll always be able to go back and watch the old ones we've done, but we are going to end the series I think at the first year, so thank you for everyone who's tuned in with us it's been a lot of fun.
[00:51:59.370]Brittany Fulton: But you can find more information about other women in ag events that are coming up for the new year on our website, which is why you and i'll.
[00:52:07.560]Brittany Fulton: do so head over there and take a look, we have our annual conference in February February 24 and 25th in carney and we would love, if you guys would join us.
[00:52:19.140]Brittany Fulton: But that's that's all for not for tonight, and thanks for joining us and Merry Christmas to everyone and Happy New Year, and thanks so much yeah.
[00:52:28.710]Kara Sousek: Thank you for having me on, I guess, I should say, also on on the Facebook page with the hundred hills, if anyone wants to contact me, you can just message that page and i'll respond.
[00:52:40.710]Brittany Fulton: Perfect Thank you Kara.
[00:52:43.140]Kara Sousek: Thank you.
[00:52:43.650]Brittany Fulton: Nice night everyone.
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