Everyone knows how important it is for students to get out in the field and get some experience outside the classroom, but chemistry students this year are getting out in, well, the vineyard.
It all began about nine years ago, when Kevin Carver, who lives near Faucett, Missouri, planted 140 Chambourcin vines one year and 200 Norton vines a year later, and he and his wife enjoyed caring for the vineyard and making wine. About three years ago, they got too busy for the winemaking, so they started selling the grapes to Tipple Hill Winery near Osborn, Missouri. But then, about two years ago, even caring for the vineyard took up too much of their time.
Carver thought about pulling the vines out. But last fall, he began talking to Annette Weeks ’87, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, and asked her if anyone at Missouri Western would be interested in taking care of the vineyard. Weeks introduced him to Dr. Gary Clapp, associate professor of chemistry.
Dr. Clapp said he had worked in a vineyard before and had really enjoyed it, and he thought it
would be a great opportunity for chemistry students. A partnership was born.
“The aspects of business, chemistry and biology all play important roles in the production of grapes,” Dr. Clapp said. “Our students actually had the opportunity to experience these aspects in the field in an applied learning environment. And those experiences are expected to carry over as part of their University learning and experience.”
Students began by pruning vines, keeping bugs off and pulling weeds. This fall,they visited the vineyard as part of their General Chemistry course to test the sugar content of the grapes, the postassium, nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the soil, and the health and calcium content of the leaves. Some of the testing was done in the vineyard, but some samples were taken back to the chemistry lab for testing.
“It’s interesting going out in the ‘real world’ for lab,” Megan Baker said. “I didn’t know you could test for sugar in the field.”
Then, when it was time, students harvested 850 pounds of grapes and sold them to Jowler Creek Winery in Platte City, Missouri.
“I love seeing the students come out,” Carver said. “It’s pretty exciting to see how they transformed it, and it’s great seeing students learning something that they can actually apply.”