Business budding in Addison

ADDISON — Here’s some good news for Addison County localvores: The local foods movement is extending from your plate to your pint glass.
Across the state, encouraged by the UVM Extension Crops and Soil team’s Vermont Hops Project, more local hops growers are cropping up each year.
Kris Anderson, the owner of the Addison Hop Farm, is one of them. Anderson, a longtime homebrewer, began growing hops because he was looking for an “interesting crop” to play around with.
“It started as an experiment,” said Anderson, who grew up in Ohio and moved to Addison when he took a job as a physician in Middlebury. He had acres of unused farmland. “There was all this good land just lying fallow.”
He currently grows six varieties of hops on three-fourths of an acre; next year, he will expand to a full acre.
“It’s a lot more work than I ever thought it would be,” Anderson said with a laugh during an interview late last week. But he loves his crop.
“It’s better than broccoli!” he joked.
Now in its second year, the Addison Hop Farm sold the entirety of its 50-pound crop this year. Harpoon, a Massachusetts-based craft brewery, bought some of Anderson’s hops to use as an experiment. A big portion of the crop was sold to the Bobcat Café in Bristol, where brewmaster Mark Margiera recently finished a batch of the restaurant’s signature IPA with Anderson’s hops in it.
Anderson estimates that there is a community of around a dozen hops growers with similarly sized operations. UVM’s Vermont Hops Project has been developing agronomic practices and providing small growers with expertise. The project also is doing research, and Anderson and other growers supply them with data each year.
The data is important, because the art of brewing a delicious beer comes down to getting every step of the process — the temperatures, the timing, the characteristics of the ingredients — down to an exact science.
Commercial breweries can be hesitant to try hops from unfamiliar farms, because the consistency of flavor in their beers makes a big difference to consumers.
“Budweiser produces the same beer year after year with different hops and different barley,” Anderson noted. He said most brewers prefer at least five years of data showing that a hops grower will produce a similar crop each year. Anderson and UVM have just two years of data.
“This is a scientific crop,” he said.
A small number of large, 500-to-600-acre hops farms in the Pacific Northwest, which has a much longer growing season, currently dominate the American hops market.
Anderson also noted that hops is such a specialty crop that there simply aren’t the machines on the market for small-scale operations like his; the hops giants in Washington and Oregon have custom equipment that helps them harvest efficiently.
“We would need to mechanize to expand,” Anderson explained.
But for those who have a passion for local foods and craft beer, production numbers aren’t always the point.
UVM’s program was informed by a 2002 study by the Northeast Hops Alliance and Cornell University, which concluded that many breweries would be willing to pay 5 to 10 percent extra for locally sourced hops.
It will take time, and industry-wide adjustments, to make a profit, Anderson acknowledged. He does advise people to have other jobs if they want to start a hops farm at the moment, as small hops operations are still finding their footing in a market long-dominated by massive operations out west.
In the meantime, the future looks bright for these new additions to the localvore movement.
“It has a future,” Anderson said. “Local sourcing is the new vogue in brewing, and in everything.”
“I’m finding markets,” he added. “People want to buy this stuff. I didn’t have to call anybody this year — people call me!”

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