THE JOUR­NEY HOME

COU­PLE RE­TURNS TO THE FARM TO BUILD A FU­TURE AG AT­TRAC­TION.

Successful Farming - - AGRITOURISM - By Dee Go­erge

Jeremiah James Korfe and his mu­sic have been on tele­vi­sion shows, in films, and in ads. He’s per­formed with Flor­ida Ge­or­gia Line and dined with the Prince of Monaco. His fi­ancée, Kalie Wright, has worn many pageant crowns and walked a New York fash­ion show run­way as well as the red car­pet of an NFL Su­per Bowl cer­e­mony.

In spite of the ex­cit­ing lives they lead, home is Ea­gle Bend, Min­nesota. It’s where Korfe farms 2,000 acres, raises 40 beef cows (plus calves), and part­ners with his par­ents. It’s also where Wright wel­comes new baby calves and helps Korfe how­ever she can by keep­ing records, run­ning for parts, or pitch­ing hay and ma­nure out of the old dairy barn.

Lo­cally, they are known as the cou­ple who bought the youth pas­tor’s farm and are trans­form­ing the big­gest barn in the area into a wed­ding des­ti­na­tion.

re­turn­ing to his roots

The youngest boy of 10, Korfe never planned to re­turn to Min­nesota where his par­ents milked cows and raised pigs. Vi­o­lin lessons, drums, and choir at school, gui­tar at Bi­ble camp, and two CDs with a lo­cal band – all be­fore the age of 18 – nur­tured his pas­sion for mu­sic. At 21, he moved to Los An­ge­les to be­come a rock mu­si­cian. It wasn’t easy, but his ru­ral up­bring­ing helped him find his way. At his first off-farm job stock­ing gro­cery store shelves, he stepped up in an emer­gency to op­er­ate a fork­lift and was in­stantly pro­moted.

The pro­mo­tion put him in con­tact with an MTV em­ployee, which led to a po­si­tion with the com­pany. While do­ing odd jobs, he stud­ied how to be a cam­era op­er­a­tor, be­came an as­sis- tant, and fi­nally a cam­era­man. All the while, he honed his skills with other mu­si­cians at a megachurch, on tours, and on tele­vi­sion.

Korfe was on his way when he signed a deal with a record la­bel. Then the la­bel folded in 2008. Shortly af­ter, the farm called him home.

“Swine flu hit, and it was all hands on deck,” he re­calls.

The Tran­si­tion

Af­ter get­ting through the farm cri­sis, Korfe spent a cou­ple more win­ters in Los An­ge­les and farmed the rest of the year be­fore he had an epiphany. In ad­di­tion to writ­ing rock songs, he had writ­ten coun­try rock mu­sic for oth­ers. He re­al­ized coun­try was more nat­u­ral for him. By 2011, he split his time be­tween the farm, Nash­ville, and Los An­ge­les.

As much as he loved his mu­sic ca­reer, Korfe was com­mit­ted to farm­ing. “Once the farm isn’t in the fam­ily, it’s not com­ing back,” he says.

Korfe ap­pre­ci­ates his par­ents’ hard work start­ing from scratch in 1971 with 180 acres and 30 cows. “I read a statis­tic about the small per­cent­age of young fam­ily farm­ers, which I find more of a chal­lenge. It’s like the odds are stacked against you,” he says.

In 2012, he part­nered with his par­ents, Jerry and Linda Korfe, to tran­si­tion the farm, but Korfe set a cou­ple of re­stric­tions.

“I told Dad I didn’t want any­thing to do with the pigs, and if he asked me to milk cows, I would sell them while he was sleep­ing,” he laughs. His fa­ther sold the cows and raises the pigs, while Korfe takes care of crop pro­duc­tion.

He pur­chased his for­mer youth pas­tor’s 60-acre farm and rented ad­di­tional land.

Then a per­for­mance at a 2014 Twin Falls, Idaho, pageant changed his pri­or­i­ties again. Wright won the com­pe­ti­tion – and Korfe’s at­ten­tion. Mu­sic, faith, and ru­ral up­bring­ings con­nected them. Af­ter fin­ish­ing her du­ties as Miss Na­tional Sweet­heart and Miss Idaho, the cou­ple started their life to­gether in the farm­house he had re­mod­eled with re­cy­cled and auc­tion trea­sures.

Box el­der beam steps lead into the at­tached garage

Korfe trans­formed into a liv­ing room with walls cov­ered in old barn wood. Cop­per door kick­plates top a fire­place made of stone he cut and mortared in place from rocks the cou­ple col­lected from the farm and Idaho. Korfe built the din­ing room cup­board out of old silo doors – the ones he hated climb­ing as a kid.

The Wed­ding Barn

The house ren­o­va­tion was a warm-up com­pared with remodeling the 10,000-square-foot barn. Korfe straight­ened the sag­ging roof and added 420 16-foot 2×4s be­fore putting on steel roof­ing. Man­ag­ing a wed­ding venue has been a goal for Wright, a mar­ket­ing and busi­ness ma­jor, who paid for col­lege with pageant schol­ar­ships. She and Korfe plan to get mar­ried in the barn, and other cou­ples have con­tacted them about their wed­dings. That ac­cel­er­ated the plan to fin­ish an out­side deck and a por­tion of the hayloft to ac­com­mo­date six wed­dings later in 2018.

“We pow­er­washed the barn last sum­mer and found this in­cred­i­ble wood: wal­nut, oak, hick­ory,” Wright says. Af­ter Korfe in­stalled new win­dows where the hay door had been, Wright cut and nailed old wood to panel a wall. She and other fam­ily mem­bers pitched in to help Korfe pour forms and piers to hold up the ex­te­rior deck.

“We’re go­ing off draw­ings, and Jeremiah has brought a lot of my ideas to life,” she says. “The goal is to have peo­ple come from the Twin Cities, like a des­ti­na­tion wed­ding. We hope to bring peo­ple to this area be­cause it is a spe­cial place that gets over­looked.”

Their off-farm ca­reer con­tacts will also draw at­ten­tion to the Stone Hill Farm wed­ding ser­vices they plan to of­fer.

Farm­ing First

Along with cre­at­ing a busi­ness and com­mut­ing with ca­reers, Korfe grows soy­beans and corn. While their equip­ment is older, he ap­pre­ci­ates tech­nol­ogy and pre­ci­sion farm­ing. He and his dad had some of the heavy clay, rocky soil acres tiled and put low-yield acreage in hay. They bud­get for low com­mod­ity prices by re­duc­ing in­put costs.

“I started soil-sam­pling two years ago, and it’s pay­ing back ten­fold,” Korfe says. “We’re not spread­ing as much fer­til­izer, and we’re putting it where the ground can hold it bet­ter.”

He re­ally started sav­ing when he pur­chased a liq­uid fer­til­izer sprayer at an Iowa auc­tion and mod­i­fied it from 22-inch rows to 30-inch rows. He and Wright seek out deals and buy items at auc­tions, es­pe­cially in the Dako­tas, when­ever they can.

They also at­tend area sem­i­nars for farm­ing and talk to suc­cess­ful farm­ers. The cou­ple re­cently be­came dis­trict sales man­agers for Stine Seed Com­pany.

Dou­ble Life

While there is al­ways plenty to do on the farm, they bal­ance off-farm time with their ca­reers. Korfe vis­its Los An­ge­les and Nash­ville to fi­nal­ize song record­ings. Wright, who won Miss Min­nesota USA 2018, has a busy event cal­en­dar. They trav­eled to New York for fash­ion week, and some­times sing to­gether as part of Wright’s Miss Min­nesota USA du­ties.

Help from Korfe’s dad, a part-time hired hand, and tech­nol­ogy make it pos­si­ble to do it all.

“I can do all my seed, fer­til­izer, and chem­i­cal pric­ing while I’m away,” Korfe says. “When I’m in the trac­tor, I’m able to lis­ten to songs to do ed­its on my phone. I can Face­time with the guys in the stu­dio to put changes on songs while I’m in the trac­tor (with auto steer). It blows their minds be­cause most of the mu­si­cians have never been on a farm.”

Hav­ing lived in both worlds, Korfe and Wright agree that rais­ing a fam­ily in the coun­try is a pri­or­ity af­ter Wright com­pletes her pageant du­ties.

“We were raised on hard work and sin­cer­ity. That plays into our core val­ues,” Wright says. “It’s a life­style I’m ex­cited about. We both have en­tre­pre­neur­ial spir­its. This is our world here.”

For child­hood friends who won­der why he came back home, Korfe says he has cho­sen the bet­ter of the two worlds.

“The grass isn’t nec­es­sar­ily greener on the other side,” he says. “Just fer­til­ize the grass you’ve got.”

Jeremiah James Korfe and Kalie Wright pose in front of the barn they are restor­ing for a wed­ding venue. The win­dows in the hayloft had been spe­cial or­dered for a church but were the wrong size, so Korfe got a great deal on them.

Jeremiah James Korfe farms 2,000 acres, raises 40 beef cat­tle, and part­ners with his par­ents in Ea­gle Bend, Min­nesota.

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