Interest is high in potential of hops

By Caroline Klapper | Feb 15, 2013
Photo by: Caroline Klapper Heidi Dunkelberg talks about hops to a packed house at a Tuesday night workshop.

More than 60 people showed up to hear what Heidi Dunkelberg had to say about growing hops during an informational workshop Tuesday night at Haywood Community College.

Dunkelberg was surprised by the large turnout but pleased to see so many people interested in her idea — creating a viable hops industry in Haywood County.

Hops are the flowers of a plant that make up one of four ingredients used to make beer in addition to water, barley and yeast. Hops provide the aroma and bitterness in beer, and these days, growing hops is big business, especially in the western U.S. But Dunkelberg is trying to bring the hops industry, and the opportunities that could come with it, to the mountains of North Carolina.

“I know some day Haywood County is going to be known for growing hops, but it’s just got a long way to go,” said Dunkelberg, who has been growing her own hops in her back yard for five years.

With the large number of local microbreweries already operating in Asheville, and a growing number recently established in Haywood County, Dunkelberg has a vision of the region becoming a primary source of local hops to supply these businesses. Even better, she said she’d like to see beer “brands” being developed using only locally grown hops.

“Folks who are really seriously considering growing the hops, the breweries will take whatever we can grow,” she said to those attending the meeting.

The meeting covered everything from the types of hops available (there are more than 200), growing conditions (some varieties can grow in the mountains), what they look like, how to harvest them, common pests and the cost of rhizomes (the root stalks from which the hops vines grow), soil samples and much more.

All of the meeting information was to give people a chance to learn about growing hops and see if anyone in the area is interested in taking part in the development of a local hops industry. Dozens of people signed up for Dunkelberg’s “hops club,” which she plans to establish to create an information and product development exchange in the community.

“We’ve all got to be on the same page because we’ll have to focus on quality rather than quantity,” she said, pointing out that the mountainous terrain and colder weather make it difficult to grow huge amounts of hops crops as they do out west.

Still, she explained, breweries love buying local hops, and if a dedicated group of local growers can get past the learning phase and “growing pains” of establishing the best growing hops for this area, she can see the industry becoming something great for Haywood County.

“There’s a lot to think about,” she said. “I think we have a good start.”

For Lewis Penland, the workshop definitely piqued his interest about the possibilities of hops.

“We grew up with a farm raising cattle. We’ve still got the cattle, but we’re always looking for something else. I’m just interested in doing something,” he said, adding he supports any idea that could potentially help bring jobs to Haywood County. “I’m getting tired of my kids growing up and having to leave here to find work.”

He liked Dunkelberg’s ideas and said he plans to continue finding out more about growing hops and try growing a small crop this year.

“I like what she (Dunkelberg) said about growing quality instead of quantity,” he said. “There’s so many good farmers around here that are craftsmen. I think it’s a good fit. We’ve got to do something to get people coming out to our part of the country.”

Destin Seals said he’s taken note of the growth of microbreweries and the arrival of several larger beer companies, including Sierra Nevada, in Asheville and the surrounding area, so starting a hops-growing industry here makes sense.

“I’m here because I see the opportunity in growing hops here,” he said, adding he’s already starting growing hops a little on his own. “We can expand and create a network of growing and selling. We can start providing them and making money for the local economy.”

While the idea of growing hops in the mountains is in its beginning stages, the excellent turnout at the meeting indicates it’s an idea people are interested in, Dunkelberg said.

“They’re still interested. I think from this point on, we’re going a step further,” she said.

Those who were unable to attend the workshop but would like to contact Dunkelberg can email her at heididunk@yahoo.com, or check out her Facebook page at H & K Farms Hop Yard. Dunkelberg also has a blog about growing hops at www.hkfarmshopyard.blogspot.com.

 

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