Path Home Shows 2017 Show Archive April 2017 Show 1714 Virgil Jurgensmeyer - Ag Outstanding Achievement

Virgil Jurgensmeyer - Ag Outstanding Achievement

Virgil Jurgensmeyer, owner of J-M Farms Inc., became interested in food safety as a young boy while helping his mother can vegetables.
Virgil Jurgensmeyer - Ag Outstanding Achievement

Virgil Jurgensmeyer - Ag Outstanding Achievement

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J-M Farms, Inc.

Show Details

Show 1714: Virgil Jurgensmeyer - Ag Outstanding Achievement
Air Date: April 2, 2017



Rob McClendon: Well, growing up in a large family on a Missouri farm, a young Virgil Jurgensmeyer often found himself helping his mother can vegetables in the kitchen. And it was when the green beans kept going bad, but the corn did not, that Jurgensmeyer’s interest in food safety was first sparked. Jurgensmeyer moved to Oklahoma in 1979, in the middle of wheat and cattle country, to start a farm that was decidedly outside the mainstream. Yet today, with annual sales revenue surpassing forty million, it is arguably now one of the state's largest. Our Austin Moore introduces us to the founder of J-M Farms.

Austin Moore: Virgil Jurgensmeyer has a theory as to why he is the recipient of the Governor’s 2017 Outstanding Achievement in Agriculture Award.

Virgil Jurgensmeyer: They made a mistake. I, I’ve fooled them. I’m just a farm boy. Country boy.

Austin: A humble farm boy who created one of Oklahoma’s most unique agricultural enterprises. Based in Miami, Oklahoma, J-M Farms today employs more than 500 employees, producing more than 27 million pounds of white button, cremini and portobello mushrooms yearly and generating annual sales in excess of $40 million, all with a breakneck production schedule.

Jurgensmeyer: So every day I plant a new crop. Every day I take an old one out. Mushrooms grow 24 hours a day. And they’ve got to be harvested or watered or something has to be done every day.

Austin: Today, J-M is a well-oiled machine with seasoned employees in charge of every step. But in 1979 when Virgil, his brother, Joe, and Darrell McLain founded then J-M Farms, they were truly starting from scratch.

Jurgensmeyer: You came here with no experienced people at all here. And that made it kind of tough.

Austin: Jurgensmeyer also says there was an underdeveloped appreciation for mushrooms in this market.

Jurgensmeyer: Every store opening my wife and I would go. If Albertson’s had a new store to open, we were there for the first couple of days, sauteing mushrooms and frying mushrooms. And that mother would come through and she would taste them, and I’d hand one to the little kid. And she’d tell the little kid, oh, you won’t like that. And 20 minutes later, here comes that little kid sneaking up the aisle again. He wants another one. But it took that. It took all of that to develop in a new market. Cause mushrooms, people didn’t know about mushrooms. It’s just like that lady telling that little kid, “You won’t like that.” And they did like it. They hadn’t had a chance to experience it before.

Austin: That experience of growing a market stuck with Jurgensmeyer years later when Gov. Henry Bellmon appointed him to the State Board of Agriculture.

Jurgensmeyer: I felt that the farmers in Oklahoma were, did not have the opportunity to develop their own products, because that’s a challenge. It takes a lot of equipment sometimes to do it and to come on with a food product.

Austin: This passion led the board to create the Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center at Oklahoma State University, though it wasn’t always destined to be there.

Jurgensmeyer: We were going to build it first at the Department of Ag Building there in Oklahoma City. And we got to tossing that around and I said, you know, we are going to need the expertise from a lot of people to have that available if that farmer or person comes in with a product. At OSU, I said, we got a department there that has got in all areas we’ve got experts, doctors in those different areas. And we need to be able to draw on all of those. So I feel partial to the Food and Agricultural Products Center because it’s been a baby that I’ve worked with from the beginning.

Austin: Back in Miami, it is clear that Jurgensmeyer is a great cultivator of mushrooms, but more importantly, he is a cultivator of great people.

Jurgensmeyer: We are all human. We are all going to make mistakes. All I’ll ask of you is, we learn from those mistakes. And nobody gets criticized because they made a mistake and because it cost us. We learn from it. And once you got that through, people don’t hide them that away and it comes to the surface. You’ve got them. It works like a family. And there is too much of that missing today in our society. We are not acting like friends. We are not acting like family.

Austin: With three sons involved in the business, and a management team Jurgensmeyer talks about with the pride of a father, there may be no better example of this familial attitude than the annual Steve Wright Memorial Golf Tournament, held in honor of the plant manager who passed away in 2013.

Jurgensmeyer: We lost him to a tumor. And the money from those, what we earn from that, goes to a school. To our school here in Miami, Oklahoma. To a certain class or to who he -- his wife was a teacher. Nobody here has forgotten him. Everybody, I mean, he was a family member. We lost him. That is J-M Farms.