When Matthew and I were on our journey in college at the University of Virginia, we never imagined that we would be farmers. We were set to be college professors, enlightening young minds to the diversity of our human planet via the tools of anthropology. However, a few events occurred that changed our course.
First, was our fieldwork in the Upper Amazon of Brazil (2006-2007). We learned how to eat as whole as possible, by devouring fresh jungle fruits, Amazonian fish, and make beans and rice the proper way. We ate fresh cut, grassfed beef from the butcher around the corner, and hot fresh bread every morning from the bakery, right next to the butcher shop. We were raising our two young daughters by providing them the most nutritious foods we could, really felt good and right. We learned to stop in the middle of the day, and take long breaks and naps, vital for young families to do together.
Second, when we moved back to the states, the girls were 2 & 4 by this time, we read a book together, Omnivore's Dilemma, written by Michael Pollen. Pollen writes about Polyface Farm in Swope, VA and its owner Joel Salatin. Pollen writes, Salatin is a "libertarian farmer who runs Polyface Farms in Virginia, ...Calling his farm “beyond organic,” he has created a self-sustaining system with practically zero negative ecological consequences. Preaching a fiery anti-government stance and a strong skepticism of all industrial, large-scale farms—even organic ones—Salatin is dedicated to his animals, his farm, his methods, and his community, refusing to compromise on his principles". Salatin talks about the value of working with the natural world instead of against it. When we read that Salatin's farm was about 40 minutes from our kitchen, we loaded up the kids and went our for a visit. The girls were beyond tickled to be able to meander in the chicken house, or pet the pigs. We spoke with Joel on a number of occasions, and his sincerity, simplicity, and knowledge of the land, blew our minds. We left there with our first farm to table meal in the trunk.
Third, while Matthew was writing up his dissertation, we were offered a chance to move back to Northern California, where we met and fell in love and were married. We jumped at the chance to come home. We were offered a Quonset hut to fix up and squat in while Matthew finished up writing. Our girls were still small enough, 4 & 6, that a huge move like this wouldn't be too much of a struggle, so we packed up the mini-van and headed back west. We were offered a plot of land to garden AND boy did we ever. It was addictive, learning a whole new discipline, the discipline of plants, and food, and organic methods.
Fourth, with a PhD in hand, Matthew faced the daunting task of getting a job. We had been watching his cohort moving around the country from post-doc to post-doc positions, and frankly, I was dreading having to move our girls in and out of schools, homes, towns... plus, the soil! How could I ever leave the soil or the city? Since, I had a telecommuted job that provided insurance, we didn't have to jump at any job. The pull of the land was strong, so we decided to keep farming, keep taking mid-day naps together, keep reading about nature together, and keep thriving in a small rural community.
Which brings us to our current farm, and the struggles of farming life! We had saved enough money by Matthew picking up side editing/writing jobs, that we purchased our 30-acre property. We are not afraid of experimenting, in fact our hop yard is in-itself an experiment! We have used burnt heartwood of cedar to stretch our trellis, and have the hops grow as hedges, instead of high up on poles. Sometimes our experiments work, and sometimes it doesn't. This year we tried a couple new things, thick mulching during the winter, and cutting back the first hop bine later than normal. Usually, we cut back until April, waiting for the stronger bines to come up, but this year we cut back on May 1st... We started to notice that our hops were not as vigorous, nor were they climbing like years previous. Then we noticed that some weren't coming up at all.... while investigating, we noticed that gophers had gone to town on our rhizomes. Its heartbreaking, but without taking chances in organic farming, you never find the right methods for your specific soil, climate, and crops. Makes me wish for the ease of city living, where my struggle was getting to the grocery store with toddlers. But then, I reflect on the joy of picking and tasting strawberries, or the perfect artichoke, or watching the joy the girls, now 13 & 14.5, pulling potatoes out of the soil. Maybe Salatin was right when he said there "ought to be our stewardship mandate, to create Edens wherever we go. That’s why humans are here. Our responsibility is to extend forgiveness into the landscape.” Today, I'm extending forgiveness to all farmers to take a leap to experiment and fail, because it truly is through our experimenting, our wins, and our failures that we really learn...
We are actively planning our 3rd Annual Hop Fest party! Our little town was blessed with the arrival of Paradise chef, Hannah Brown. Hannah moved to our town of Manton after she and her parents were burned out of their home. Ever since Hannah has arrived, she has thrown herself into helping with non-profits. She has donated hundreds of delicious and top notched culinary goods. She has overwhelmed our town with amazing foods, and I believe, inspired many of us to think outside our culinary box and create truly beautiful and delicious meals.
This year, Meyerhof Farm invited Hannah to be the guest chef at our annual farm party. We wanted to come up with something super fun to highlight all the amazing farms in our town. She decided to take our challenge of making a menu that is 99% source from Manton Farms (all but the coffee and salt). Hannah took the challenge one step further by asking community members what foods Manton is known for historically. Community members filled her comments with a list of amazing crops from peanuts, tomatoes, walnuts, stone fruits, to grapes, Bayo beans, and of course, the famous Manton Apples!
Hannah has skillfully incorporated these historic crops into our dinner menu this year. The menu is listed below, and we are all very excited!! All food is organic, and locally source, a lot from our own farm garden.
On a side note, as we prepare the farm to welcome you, our youngest daughter Maddy, wrote down on summer ‘to-do list’, ‘build things.’ So we have decided to take on the task of building farm picnic tables for our Farm to Fork Meal! Wish us luck! We hope to see you’ll here in August.
PS: Items on the menu are subject to change based on whats ripe in the garden.
Matt and I are always curious to find out about hops. Since we produce whole cone hops, and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company are known for brewing with whole cone hops, we put the questions to SNBC lead brewer, Dean Baxman. Dean has been making delicious beers, including Sierra Nevada's flagship brew, the Pale Ale for the past 24 years! He is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to making craft beers.
Below is our exchange with Dean, we hope this inspires you to experiment with whole cone hops!
Meyerhof Farm: What hops are you excited about right now?
Dean Baxman: Citra, El Dorado and Mosaic hops are hot right now.
MF: What are the challenges you found and the rewards with brewing with whole cones?
DB: Some challenges brewing with whole cone hops can be their breaking up and weighing out the hops for use, is a dirty and physical job. Also, maintaining the equipment used to add, steep and remove the full cone hops can be challenging.
However, the rewards are the flavor and aroma are greatly improved using full cone hops over pellets. This is just my opinion.
MF: How can home brewers who are used to pellets, get their feet wet using whole cones, without investing in equipment?
DB: The use of dry hop bags (socks) towards the end of boil and in the fermenter (primary fermentation) can be useful.
Using these socks can make the hops easy to add and clean up.
MF: What are your thoughts on Cyro hops?
DB: Cryo hops are becoming more and more popular. Hotside utilization(boil) can contribute to bitterness and aroma characteristics. Coldside utilization can improve taste and aroma characteristics. Very expensive.
We want to thank Dean and SNBC for allowing us to ask these questions and learn from his expertise. At this year's Wet Hop Harvest Fest (August 17th-18th), we will have hop socks available and a demonstration of making hop hash (cryo hops). We hope to see you there!
The hops are waking up and shooting out their long tendrils, reaching for the trellis. The nuggets were the first out of the gate, with the three C's close behind. Our intern James and Matt did some weeding, wheel-hoeing and admneding. They mixed up feather meal (nitrogen source), rock phosphate (phosphorus), gypsum (helps to open soil and provides calcium) , goat compost, and some native soil and spread it on all the rows. The Nuggets were the first to get the mix, and of course the first to have their leaves darken in rich green color, which indicates the nitrogen is available.
Our intern James McCrigler, from CSU Chico Agriculture Department has been a tremendous help! There is nothing like having a 22 year old stoked on working with hops! We accomplished a great deal during his 4 month internship. He was our first of a long line of many to come (we hope). He helped us clear land for expansion, prep the rows for the new year, applied organic methods to our hop yard, learned to take rhizome cuttings, wild-crafted Waganupa hops, and researched application rates for conventional fertilizers (the point here is to see how much per acre of hops cultivated organically will diminish the use of the harsh chemical fertilizers that is rampant in the hop industry). Most people aren't aware that the hop industry uses roundup on their plants...but this deserves a blog post of it own.
We are very thankful to have James work with us, as our very first intern. He was always a bright spot in our work week, and always brought tasty beers to try during lunch. We congratulate James on being awarded an internship with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in the 18/19 year, and look forward to following his success in the industry.
Turning back to hops, we are really excited for this year. The books say that in the third year of growth is where you see the bumper crop! In order to make space for the new season, we are blowing out the rest of our 2017 crop. We are marking all hops down by 30% and we will start selling at the Chico Thursday Night Market by mid-May. We will have dried hops, lupulin powder, lupulin tincture, and ornamental hop plants for sale. Come see us!
On August 11th, we will be holding our 2nd annual Meyerhof Wet Hop Harvest event. This year we hope to expand the event by welcoming four homebrewers to set up and brew here on the farm! We hope new and innovative recipes will be designed. We will have a follow-up tasting and People Choice award Mid-September. We are still hashing out the details, but hope to bring out some guest speakers to the farm for the event. We will keep you posted!
Matt & Mar
On August 26th, 2017 we had our first open farm event. We invited home brewers from the northstate to come to the farm and pick wet hops and enjoy a farm meal. We had a great turn out, with brewers coming from Chico & Redding. We opened up at 8AM with fresh roasted coffee and scones made by daughter #2, Maddy.
Brewmaster John Dotter arrived at 730AM to set up his portable home brew kit in the screen room. His recipe included Cascade, Galena, and Chinook. It was awesome to have him say, "I need 12 ounces of Cascade, and 24 of Galena." Matt and I would take off with our baskets and come back with amazing smelling cones. The excitement was palpable as other brewers arrived over the next hour and began comparing recipes and watching as the malt simmered.
Django Rhinhart's mandolin playing filled the air, as we discussed our organic growing methods, and our method of making hop hash (a cleaner version of cryohops). Our daughter put on a hop & lavender salt scrub demonstration at 10AM, and lunch of local organic pulled pork & fixin's was served at noon. A special surprise was the impromptu beer tasting that erupted over lunch. All the brewers had brought their own beers to give samples of. I remarked when cleaning up, it was the first party we threw where there wasn't a single beer bottle or can to recycle!
We were humbled by all the support that local brewers showed toward our fledgling farm. We truly love to grow hops, and are so amazed at all we have learned and have yet to learn.
We will be putting the growing season to bed for 2017 shortly and we are already looking forward to 2018
Year Two: SUMMER: Its always difficult when faced with learning new tasks, the uncertainty, the lack of knowledge, and the fear of failure. However, its always been my intention to view these temporal periods as times of excitement, or times of innovation, or times of adventure. I tell myself, "this feeling of being lost is fleeting, soon it will be wrote, routine and usual. But for now, its pretty uncomfortable.
Yesterday, we went into a home brew shop, with such apprehension. We both felt it, heavy with thoughts of who to speak to, should we ask for the owner, should we play it cool, and casual. like, "no big deal, we are hop farmers...whatev." We entered the cool building still undecided on our approach. We milled around trying to act casual. The saleswoman with rainbow sherbet hair, whom I categorize as hipster, with an east coast flair, asked if she could help us. We spoke about how we were new hop farmers and wanted to introduce ourselves. Our greeting was met with deadpan. Ouch! Moving on, we gave her our business card, and she in turn, asked for our website. "Its on the card", I pointed out, and quickly learned that it was NOT on the card! DOH! How could we submit a business card for printing without our website? I rationalized, because its so easy to just Google Meyerhof Farm, and there it would be, the first result! I mean who actually types out web addresses anymore? But still, ouch again.
By the time I walked over to Matt, he was deep in conversation about hop sales with the helpful, beer nerd dude (I mean 'beer nerd' as a good thing). He prided himself on knowing the history of beer making, and trying to brew old English recipes that craft brewers would make for long sea journeys hundreds of years ago. Beers that had a long shelf life and were meant to be watered down once arriving at port, but never were. The conversation was helpful, and enlightening especially when he showed us a poster of hop genetics.
After a few minutes of conversation, which was more like hop intellectual sparing, rainbow sherbet hipster politely interrupted and asked if she could start an order for us. "No, we are not brewing, we are focusing on growing", I replied, but quickly realized that was her way of saying, "time to go, you novice scum, we've got work to do".
So we thanked them for their time and left...feeling uncomfortable about the interaction.
My manta came bubbling up, "this time is fleeting, enjoy feeling uncomfortable", blah! Instead I'll just think on how great our hop yard looks, and our next stop, Home Brew Shop in Chico...
Year Two: SPRING: The hop yard is bustling with action. Glowing green leaves start to show their faces to the sun, along side tender grasses. No one prepared me for weeding the hop yard. Not surprising, when you have righteous soil, (high potassium, but everything else is well balanced) with a little added compost, that you also have righteous grasses.
After the holidays, our hop yard was glowing green with early spring vegetation. On our daily walks, we thought, "soon we will have get out here and weed"... Easy to put off when its 40 degrees outside. We should have weeded then.
Now its April, and the monstrous grasses and clover have taken over. They are now 5 to 6 inches high, and our little precious hop plants are burried, and shaded by their menacing presence.
Time to start operation, 'Free the Hops'. Did you know it takes approximately 5-6 hours per row to free the hops?
I didn't realize how long it would take, nor did I realize how old I was. Not until that first row was complete and I stood up, walking like a cave-woman, hobbling into the house to wash my mud caked hands, did i feel all of my 49 years. I needed to soak in a bath, and have someone massage my fingers that were stiff from blisters, and cuts. Now I know I could use gloves, but is that really getting down and dirty with the plants. I bitched and complained about weeding, but it has to be done, and there is no better way to really learn about the plants then to get down and dirty with them. Or so my husband told me while we worked side-by-side on the rows.
Hour after hour, pulling up grasses, and squishing grubs, freeing hop plants, my complaints simmered down. My body aches are still prevalent, but the thought of having hours to be quite with the land, to learn how the hops generate new shoots underground, that emerge long beautiful tendrils. I've started to appreciate weeding season. Don't get me wrong, I'd still prefer to do anything else other than weed, but I don't hate it. I kinda like it. I think Wendell Berry nailed it when he wrote,
"We have the world to live in on the condition that we will take good care of it. And to take good care of it, we have to know it. And to know it and to be willing to take care of it, we have to love it."
The Hop Yard
We are trying an experimental way to growing hops, the side trellis design. We retrieved old heart wood pine trunks that had been burned out by a fire in 2005, from a friends property, and drove those into the ground at an incline. We planted our plants closer than traditional hop yards, due to the short trellising feature of creating hedges of hops. We will see how this works out. All of the studies that we have read, which aren't many, seem to tell a story of moderate success growing hops in this fashion. We will keep you posted here on how well this works.