As much as we didn't want to jump on the ‘pandemic - resiliency - pivot - hardship - community’ bandwagon, as the dust slowly started to settle, we did find ourselves asking What can we do to be more resilient? And what the heck does ‘resiliency’ really even mean? Apparently, according to the Internet, resilience is the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
We thought back to when we decided to start a hop farm. Life was easier and simpler then. We liked drinking good beer and hanging out with the brewing community; we enjoyed working and playing outside; and had a romantic view of keeping the earth a little greener. As the trellis got built and the harvests passed, life got real. It’s easy to say ‘support local’, but until I became an actual small business owner, I didn’t truly understand the importance of it. Without people, without community, it’s all for nothing. Then when March of 2020 came around bringing in literally zero orders and breweries asking to decrease or delay contracts, life got to an all time high of real. It’s time to put your money where your mouth is and be on the team, or don’t. We decided to take hops off brewer’s contracts and extend timelines. We sold hops for less than it costs us to grow and process them. We didn’t make our loan payment that year either. That hurt, but we wanted to be a part of the community and the solution.
As we emerged with our hair frazzled but heads held high, we got to wondering, over a beer of course, what can we do to help not only our farm business, but also the surrounding breweries and communities? And the obvious answer emerged: more hops!
One difficult aspect of being a small hop farm is deciding on what hop varieties to grow. We only have (and want) so much acreage; we don’t have the ability to rip out and change varieties with every turn in the market; and we’re only allowed to grow public varieties. In a world with hundreds of varieties and big branded hops like Citra®, Mosaic®, and Amarillo®, it can feel overwhelming. However, by working together with other small businesses we can overcome these challenges and create a win-win-win.
While we can’t easily grow more, we can purchase different varieties of whole cone hops from other quality growers, then pelletize and package them ourselves, and offer more selection to local breweries. This solution not only increases our processing and total amount of available product, but also creates a new sales market for other hop farmers. Independently owned farm to farm transactions will always be more beneficial for all versus farm to global brokers. Taking the corporate middleman out, farmers can sell their crop at a living wage.
Additionally, this expansion program provides breweries with a wider selection from a local source, increasing reliability and reducing overall freight. Closer shipping distances create quicker and more dependable delivery. Sustainable practices have always been a priority for us, and shipping from a closer location is an excellent way to help lower global carbon emissions.
We now offer El Dorado®, Idaho 7®, Vista, a new experimental hop - EXP 158, Centennial, Glacier, and additional volumes of Magnum and Michigan Copper. We still have availability on all of these varieties except the Glacier, plus our Billy Goat grown varieties. Future varieties offered will be based on the brewer's purchases and response.
We cannot, nor desire to, compete with the large brokers of the world offering every hop variety along with malt, cleaning supplies, and cans. But we do hope to create more opportunity and security in our local breweries, hop farms, and in our own business—making resilience just a little easier for everyone.