OKLAHOMA CITY – Many days the 10-year-old’s fingers gripped the handles of the two-mule plow.
With few pauses, the child’s legs kept pace with the plow from seven in the morning until sometimes six in the evening in the fields of central Missouri.
Virgil Jurgensmeyer, the second oldest of Joe and Clare’s nine children would ready the soil for the planting of traditional crops such as corn and wheat.
Through time, he stayed with agriculture and agriculture has stayed with Jurgensmeyer, who is a major producer of mushrooms.
The type of farming he does isn’t the same, but the determination and tireless work ethic are as alive in the 87-year-old owner of J-M Farms of Miami as they were in that 10 year-old child.
Last week, Jurgensmeyer, a leader in agriculture as well as his community and the state of Oklahoma, was recognized with Governor Mary Fallin’s Outstanding Achievement in Agriculture Award during Ag Day ceremonies at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
Although Jurgensmeyer was out of the country and unable to attend, he recorded an acceptance speech for the ceremony.
“Without the support of my family and friends, so much of what I’ve been able to accomplish would not have happened, it would still be just a dream," Jurgensmeyer said.
The company, now known J-M Farms, Inc., was founded in 1979 and the first mushrooms were picked on March 13, 1980 and the initial delivery was made the following day to Associated Wholesale Grocers of Springﬁeld, Missouri.
At the onset, there were 40 employees producing approximately 40,000 pounds of mushroom production per week.
Today, the company, employs hundreds of Oklahomans and produces more than 27 million pounds of white button, Crimini and Portabella mushrooms annually.
At Miami, they grow, harvest, pack and ship mushrooms daily. Their trucks deliver products to locations in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, New Mexico, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa.
J-M Farms also services the Department of Defense with fresh mushroom products, is an integrated part of Sysco and AWG food distribution systems and is a supplier to Wal-Mart stores.
More about Jurgensmeyer
Last month, while sitting at his Miami desk, Jurgensmeyer focused not on the handles of a plow, but on two objects straight across from him that so strongly represent his passion.
“The management team in that picture up there on the wall, well those people are key people in making this place run,” Jurgensmeyer said, and then focused his eyes to the right of the photo. “That door is open all the time. Anybody can come in to see me if they need something.
"That door is open and I want to see them, because that’s how we learn in this businesses. What they see out in the work area is what develops this company.”
Then and now
In 1966 Ralston Purina Corp. hired Jurgensmeyer, a U.S. Army veteran who was a former junior high school teacher and principal.
By 1972, he was plant manager in the mushroom division of that company. In the late 1970s he looked for a good location to grow a mushroom business of his own – it would need water, natural gas, access to wheat straw, labor and major highways for transportation.
The answer was the northeastern Oklahoma community of Miami.
In the fall of 1979, Virgil Jurgensmeyer, his brother Joe Jurgensmeyer and Darrell McLain founded J&M Farms, Inc., which changed to J-M Farms, Inc. when the Jurgensmeyers purchased McClain’s interest in the company on April 15, 1982.
Jurgensmeyer and his late wife of 62 years Marge have three sons, Curtis, Terry and Pat, who all play key roles in J-M Farms today. Marge died in 2014. Virgil and DeDe Dowling wed in February of this year.
Table to table
In the business, J-M Farms not only strives to stay ahead of increasing food safety standards, but also embraces heightened product traceability practices.
Within 20 minutes, the company’s system can identify who picked a box of mushrooms at what time, in what room, all the way back to the farm source of the wheat straw in their compost. This system not only improves food safety, it also identifies the source of problems that need to be corrected in the operation.
Jurgensmeyer embraces food safety. He considers every table that a J-M Farms mushroom is served on to be his table.
Box stacked upon box carry a logo with a mushroom design containing the words, “Food Safety First, HACCP (Hazard analysis and critical control points)”, and underneath it reads, “Packed under HACCP Guidelines.”
“You bet everyone’s table is my table,” he said. “Food safety has always been very important to me.”
Outside of safety issues, Jurgensmeyer said there's one other key factor in growing mushrooms - compost.
“You have got to build a good growing media," Jurgensmeyer said. "Really in farming it doesn’t make any difference whether it’s mushrooms, corn or wheat. Whatever that product has to grow in, it has to be good or otherwise you are not going to produce the best.”
Jurgensmeyer loves to shed light on his community, state and industry.
He has been called “a visionary leader and a natural mentor to Oklahoma's agricultural community, as well as the local and northeast region of the state.” He has been involved in agricultural organizations and city and state organizations for many years.
Jurgensmeyer served as a board member of the Miami Rotary Club from 1980 to 1996. During his service in 1988, the Miami Rotary Club awarded Jurgensmeyer the Paul Harris Fellow Award.
He has also served as a member and secretary of the Miami Chamber of Commerce from 1981 to 1987. From 1988 to 1996, Jurgensmeyer served as a board member for the Miami Area Economic Development Board.
The former educator was involved in several local and state educational boards and foundations. He was involved in the Miami Public School Enrichment Foundation as vice chairman from 1988 to 1991. He participated on the Northeastern Oklahoma State A&M College Advisory Board from 2000 to 2013 as a board member.
Jurgensmeyer served as the chairman and board member of the Miami Area Zoning & Planning Commission from 1988 to 2009.
He also served on the task force for the Tar Creek Superfund Site from 2003 to 2008.
He currently serves on the Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Trust Board, a role he has filled since since 2009.
In agriculture, Jurgensmeyer served on the State Board of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003.
He is currently an active member of several advisory boards and associations including the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association with service from 1985, Oklahoma State University Dean's Advisory Board with service beginning in 1998 and the Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center's Industry Advisory Committee with service beginning in 1996.
In 2012, Virgil was awarded the DASNR Champion Award from Oklahoma State University's Division of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources for his service to the university.
Nationally, Jurgensmeyer has been active in the Mushroom Growers Association – holding the positions of member, secretary-treasurer and president – and the Mushroom Council where he has been a member and board member.
He has received numerous awards through the years.
On November 18, 1999, he was presented with a Citation of Congratulations and a Virgil Jurgensmeyer Day Proclamation.
He was awarded an Outstanding Service Award from the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 1989 and an outstanding Service Award from the Oklahoma Senate Agriculture Committee in 1995. Those are just a few of the many forms of recognition Jurgensmeyer has received.
The lessons Jurgensmeyer learned on the family farm near St. Elizabeth, Missouri have literally mushroomed into the businessman and leader he is today.
“Oklahoma agriculture is not a job, it’s a way of life and I feel so honored to have chosen it as my way of life," Jurgensmeyer said in his acceptance video. "To say that I’m honored to be recognized by the Governor’s Outstanding Achievement in Agriculture is a tremendous understatement.
"To be honored to have my name alongside the other members of the Oklahoma Agriculture Hall of Fame is something that I could only dream about. Thank you again to everyone that made this special moment become reality.”