Hoppy Days: Volunteers help plant Pownal farm's first crop
POWNAL -- Hops were happening during Saturday's planting party at Hoppy Valley Organics, a new hop farm located along Route 7.
About 50 friends, family, and community members volunteered during the day to bury hop root cuttings in circular plantings around 20-foot poles on the acre-plus plot. Using a pre-industrial farming method, the perennials will soon climb up staked twine to resemble teepees. The hops' flowers will be used as a flavoring and stability agent, imparting a bitter, tangy flavor, to local brewers' beer.
The new venture is a joint effort between Peter Hopkins, John Armstrong III, and John Neville. While most hops today are grown out west, the Northeast used to be one of the largest hop-producing regions in the country in the 1800s -- and with Vermont's growing concentration of craft breweries, it's only fitting to grow the basic ingredients locally once more.
Vermont now ranks number one per capita for craft breweries.
"We have a 1,000 roots to go in," Hopkins said in a telephone interview Friday. Expecting a mix of friends, family, and brewers, Hopkins said the hops would grow up to 30 feet in a season. "I like them because they're wild."
In addition to brewing beer, hops and its extracts can also be used in teas and food. After previously growing the vines in his backyard, Hopkins said the commercial venture began with talk among friends.
"I met with John Armstrong, one of those back-of-the-pickup conversations," Hopkins said. "He's a home-brewer."
"Twenty minutes later we were in business."
The plot of land was previously leased and farmed organic for the past seven years, so the very first hops will come already certifiably organic. Small, local, and organic serving as the model, the hop farm will supply both craft and home brewers.
Hoppy Valley will begin by growing four common varieties -- cascade, nugget, centennial, and chinook -- which will produce only about a 10 to 20 percent yield when harvested at the end of the first season (late August to early September). "Think about it like an orchard," Hopkins said.
The second year's yield will be 50 to 60 percent, while the farm will be at full production by year three. Northwest growers can produce 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of hops per acre, according to Hopkins. "Will we get that? Who knows."
Be sure to check for progress whenever driving by along Route 7 -- the teepees will be unmistakable. Visit online at www.facebook.com/HoppyValleyOrganics for more information.
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