Within 30 to 45 days, drivers on I-17 will see the earth being turned in preparation for 20-25 acres of grapevines to be planted near the McGuireville exit. According to Kelly Cathcart of SMC Operations LLC, the hillside vineyards will be planted by the end of June. Cathcart and partner Bernadette Selna are managing an agritourism business that they hope will attract visitors to Northern Arizona, create jobs in McGuireville and lead to self-sustaining agricultural communities in the Verde Valley.
“This will be the first vineyard on the I-17 corridor. It will really help getting people onto the Verde Valley Wine Trail. A lot of people drive by now and don’t even know there is wine country here,” said Lana Tolleson of the Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce.
The business plan for Olde’s Farm and Vineyard includes vineyards, orchards, olive groves, a permanent structure for a farmers’ market and a farm supply store. This will all come to pass, if they receive funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“As soon as funding goes through, you’ll see the excavating for vines and row crops,” said Cathcart, who awaits word of acceptance of a Natural Resource Conservation Service (NCRS) grant. Cathcart and Selna have a long history in farming and business in the Verde Valley. In the 1960s, Selna’s family owned the grocery store in Clarkdale and became business partners with the Mongini family that owned the local dairy farm. “They got together and went into the farming business,” explained Selna. Her son, Joseph Guthrie, is involved with Olde’s Farm and carries on in the real estate side of both family businesses.
“This is an outreach project to bring full community involvement,” said Guthrie about the plan designed to provide agricultural services and provide education on sustainability, land use and quality food production. Nearby farmers will have a sales outlet for their fresh produce at the farmers’ market. The farm supply store will allow them to come together with other farmers to order bulk supplies or rent farming equipment.
“There are many one- to five-acre farms in the area,” said Selna, a retired educator. “You need more than a hand tiller. Larger farmers have tractors. We’ll connect them so they can share equipment. We really want to service the small farmer. We are here to enhance and build onto McGuireville; we have no intention to displace or move business.
“Our first goal is to get the row crops in,” she said. “Then we’ll have a cash crop and can start adding farm buildings.” The 20-25 acres of traditional summer row crops include tomatoes, peppers, squash and melons that can be sold this season. The grapes and olive trees will take years of maturation before producing profitable crops.
The team will consult with Emerson Jones of Verde Valley Growers in Cottonwood as to what species of olive tree will thrive in the Verde Valley climate. Once planted, the groves will take four to five years to produce marketable olives. The 20-25 acres of vineyard will take three to five years to produce wine grapes.
“Once everything is done, it will employ between 20 and 25 full-time people, which is huge for that area because there’s not a lot of employment opportunities,” said Cathcart, who leads a real estate agency in Cottonwood. “We specialize in insuring artisan farmers and ranchers … so we know that there are about 20-22 in the area.”
“This will be a great addition to the Verde Valley,” said Tolleson.
Cathcart, a third-generation Verde farmer, described the alliance: “We’re both natives of the Verde Valley. We started working together with VVAC (Verde Valley Agricultural Coalition) which is part of VVREO (Verde Valley Regional Economic Organization.) We talked about how we could be part of the renaissance of Verde Valley. They owned land and didn’t have the expertise; I had the expertise. Our theory was you have to start somewhere, so we started with the LLC.”
“Much of the recent development – the fast food restaurants – has grown up around the Camp Verde interchange. But this is a more peaceful, quieter place to visit,” Selna said of the sustainable destination.
“We’ve got a hidden wine industry that not many know is here. This will be like a billboard for the Verde Valley Wine Trail,” Selna added.
NRCS, as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, works with landowners like the Selna and Mongini families through conservation planning and assistance. Designed to benefit soil, water, air, plants, and animals, NRCS programs result in productive lands and healthy ecosystems. FBN
American National Insurance Kelly Cathcart
142 S Main St, Cottonwood
Olde’s Farm and Vineyard
Verde Valley Wine Trail