Sassafras Valley Farm is located in Gasconade County, MO near the juncture of the Missouri and Gasconade Rivers in the heart of the Ozark Mountain AVA (American Viticultural Area).
This area of Missouri has a long history predating the Louisiana Purchase. Gasconade County was originally settled by French traders and trappers. Hence, many of the remaining French names, “Gasconade” being derived from the original French settlers from Gascony.
Hermann MO, the Gasconade County Seat, was founded in 1842 as a German immigrant utopian society and rapidly became one of the largest wine producing areas in the pre-Prohibition United States due to the quality of the local soil and temperate microclimate.
At some time in the late 1800’s, one of these German immigrants found 80 acres of potential vineyards on the Western slopes of the Gasconade River, with two year-round sweet water springs and a gentle north-easterly slope. This property would become Sassafras Valley Farm.
By the turn of the century, Gasconade County and Hermann were the heart of the United States wine industry. This happy era ended with Prohibition and the entire area went into an extended decline with the closure of the wineries.
Vinyards were converted over to mixed agricultural uses, and 60 years later our property became the hobby farm of a contractor who built a substantial modern barn and outbuilding complex for raising cattle complete with concrete paddocks and a paved entrance road.
In the late 1970’s there was a renaissance in viticulture in the Hermann and Gasconade County area with the reopening of several of the original wineries and vineyards as well as new operations.
In recognition of the high quality of locally produced wines, in 1983 the Hermann AVA (American Viticultural Area) was recognized as a section of the Ozark Mountain AVA. Seven wineries in Hermann AVA produce 1/3 of the wine produced in Missouri.
In 1983 Patty Cunningham, our Mother and a well known regional artist and sculptor, purchased the property and converted the barn into a combination studio and guest quarters. She operated her business, producing murals, sculptures, and wall treatments for hotels, restaurants, and residences until she retired in 1998.
During this period, the terraces and fields were used primarily to crop hay to help pay for taxes and general upkeep.
In 2006, at the age of 82, Patty finally had to give up the weekly process of hitching the “brush hog” to the John Deere tractor and mowing 10 acres of yard. This happily coincided with her youngest daughter, Connie, deciding to relocate her landscape architecture and design business from Chicago to Missouri.
That first Thanksgiving in 2006, as we were sitting around the table having a “free range, organic turkey” that we had purchased in St. Louis, conversation turned to what would be the best use for the property and elaborate farm building infrastructure. We all felt that the land deserved to be put back into production, but in an environmentally sensitive fashion.
Cooking a “Christmas Goose,” both wild and domesticated, had been a family tradition. However, finding a goose even in high end specialty markets was frequently difficult. Geese do not thrive in confinement, they need “personal space” and are always actively looking for things to do and getting into mischief. Due to their nature, they are not a popular commercial crop.
At Sassafras Valley Farm we had 80 acres of unspoiled property with substantial barns and outbuildings. The 40 acres of pasture had been virtually untouched for cultivation and had no herbicide or chemical treatments. In addition there was ample fresh water from two springs, a 3-acre spring fed lake, and an artesian well.
Since domesticated geese are graising animals that require substantial amounts of fresh pasture, water, and “personal space” these conditions seemed optimized for raising free range geese in an environmentally sensitive fashion.
This was the genesis of the Sassafras Valley Farm concept.