Hopping through the hops and the history — Hop Field Day 2014
What an amazing Friday I had, a merging of the documenter with the producers of past and present. Yes, I attended my first Hop Field Day! I had a chance to meet people I’d really wanted to meet and reconnect with others I’d met before. And, I got to ride around on a big bus and learn even more about hops. The main focus was on the breeding program and work on pathology, but we also heard about trellising, economics, and labor.
What struck me most was not an overwhelming acquisition of new knowledge about hops, but the variety of people who were on the tour. I sat next to someone on the bus from Salmon Safe, and there were people from jobs in mortgage or banking companies, growers, plant pathology at WSU in Prosser, and the Oregon Department of Agriculture. In addition to a variety of people I was also surprised at the variety in the fields themselves.
The tour bus left the S.S. Steiner Warehouse in Salem and traveled to 4B Farms in Mt. Angel, where there are experimental yards for the USDA, as well as a better-established commercial farm. We learned about the USDA Public Breeding Program, disease, and the process of growing new varieties from Dave Gent and John Henning talked about the. It was on that first stop that I started to feel the ironic overlap of history.
I also learned why I was seeing these V’s in the commercial yard, which seemed to be a way to increase yield and make harvesting by machine more efficient. Once again, mechanization is changing production.
The next place we went (F & B Farms in Woodburn) had hops in pots in pots, which allowed for testing in the ground and growing on the strings in a field, but then allowed the pots to be moved to either another location on another farm or back to the greenhouse. It also made it easy to remove the male plants because in the production of hops for brewing the boy plants aren’t what you’re looking for. This is the second year of using pots and the Oregon Hop Commission, Hop Research Council, growers, and scientists are happy with the progress. They aren’t brewing yet, but this research is certainly done in consultation with brewers, but both Fred Geschwill and John Henning said that they were really pleased about how the industry was working together to make science and growing more productive and efficient.
We were supposed to go to Fobert Farms in Hubbard to view the OHC/HRC experimental plot advanced hop selections from the WSU and USDA Public Hop Breeding Program, but aphids had knocked out too much for us to see growth in action… But the last yard we visited (which I didn’t write down) was planted with virus free Cascade hops, and they were quite incredible. Vigorous and already had maturing cones, whereas other fields that I’ve seen more recently have only small flowers and nothing that we would recognize as a hop cone. This last yard also felt more like wonderland, with tall and lush vines, providing a wonderful shade for us and offered an opportunity to wander a bit at the end of the day.
We finished back at Steiner for a barbecue and a chance for me to meet even more people. And while the day itself was wonderful, as I said at the beginning of this post, I was continually reminded of how similar hop field days today are to the hop field days of yesterday. I’m not sure what the interests or jobs of the people in the photos that I see from the 1940s were, but as we all stood around and had scientists from the USDA and OSU talk to us about the work that they do in hops and the hops that were seeing, I felt like I was in a colorized version of a 1940s picture.
Granted, there were more women on this trip that I normally saw in those 1940s pictures, and I wasn’t wearing a skirt and heels, but the same idea of scientists sharing their work with people who are interested or people who will use that work is still essential to the work that’s being done in Corvallis and Prosser. And in that sharing comes connections, growing community, and spreading of information about how courses of study and agricultural production impact the lives that we live.
At the same time, I had a niggling thought through the day, wondering what the function of the tour was. Sharing information for sure, but also offering the non-farmers and scientists a time to ask questions and wander through fields. Knowing that this was not a new phenomena, it brought to mind a history of “agrotourism.” I wondered how the growers and scientists really felt about us tramping about and asking questions that were pretty simplistic and fundamental. And then there were all the cameras and phones coming put to snap and tweet. As it was with the Oregon Brewers Guild meeting in December, more people showed up for the party after the educational portion. Again I wondered whether the field day BBQ always had this eclectic mix of people, or whether in the black and white days it was really a place for farmers to come together for a party in what seems like a “lull” in the season after getting everything strung and before cutting it all down. In hindsight, maybe I should have just asked someone!
The entire day was inspirational and obviously offered me chances to reflect (and tweet), but towards the end I met Bob Pokorny, who had been hop grower along time ago, getting out of the hop business in the 1980s after 50+ years of farming. His grandparents were from Czechoslovakia, with both his parents being born in Nebraska. He talked about the way that his maternal grandfather had made a success of a grain business in Nebraska after arriving in Ellis Island at the end of the 19th century, and shared both the personal impact of a family legacy of farming and the impact of his ancestry in the Czech Republic. He and his wife visited in 1997 and he saw his family name on the side of a big building. He said this was an opportunity to reflect on the work that he and his brother did to grow the original 15 acres his father had to the 350 acres he and his brother ended up with, and said he was proud of the similarities he had with his grandfather – but also how glad he was that he got out of the hops business when he did. The upgrade of the farm in the 1980s would have been upwards of $4.5, and that was in a time when people didn’t know this crazy craft boom was coming… I loved meeting Bob and beginning to hear his story, and I really look forward to the opportunity to hear more!
Quite honestly, it was a really terrific to end a long week (and one that will actually continue into today with a research trip to the Multnomah County Library to read all the books I can find on Fred Eckhardt), with a feeling that the job I do is both enjoyable and worthwhile.
Day three of the OHBA road trip? Action packed is an understatement.
After an early morning ride on an exercise bike in a stuffy hotel fitness center, where I distracted myself and inched ever closer to the end of the run of my most recent Netflix obsession Call the Midwife (who can watch just one?), I met my Roseburg guide for the day! Steve Bahr, former librarian and creator of the invaluable resource for southern Oregon brewing then and now Brewburg, had a great day planned for us.
We started on KQEN and had a great conversation with Kyle Bailey. I’ve concluded that being in the same studio with the person interviewing you is my preferred choice. Proximity was complimented by a host with good questions and a co-guest (Steve) with good answers. It’s disappointing to admit, but I forgot the studio selfie, so here’s a poor substitute.
Next we set off to do some brewery drive-bys (it was 8:45 am) and an iced coffee drive-thru (it was 8:45 am *and* it was already hot). First stop was Two Shy Brewing, closed up for the morning, but also only open Fridays and Saturdays. You can find them and much better pictures on Facebook.
The next stop was Old 99 Brewing Co., also closed for the morning and also on Facebook with better pictures than this. I sampled their single hop beer later in the day and it was refreshing and tasty.
Next we took a drive up to Umpqua Community College, which is perched on a hill above the Umpqua River. They’ve established the Southern Oregon Wine Institute, with a beautiful building, big windows to look at the Valley, and rows of grape vines on the side of a hill.
After interrupting a yoga class in one of the college quads with my chatter, we finished up our tour and headed back into town to meet Gardner Chappell, director of the Douglas County Museum. He was due to give us a tour of brewing spots downtown.
But first I met Captain America, a young gentleman I’d seen on the side of I-5 two days earlier - and he actually got a mention in my blog post that day as an “oddity of the trip.” I’d assumed he was hitchhiking and chilly despite the heat, but it turns out he’s on a walk through the country to bring awareness to homeless veterans.
A superhero in his own right, our guide Gardner gave us a terrific tour, despite the rising of the mercury in the thermometer. We started at the library, wound past O’Toole’s (former site of the Umpqua Brewing Company and future site of our lunch), and walked on the grass where the Roseburg Brewery once stood. I know, the picture below is truly inspiring — one of my best!
Across the street is the house of the brewery owner, Max Weis, which was certainly lovely in its heyday but in bad shape today. Nonetheless, there is potential there and talks about restoration as a historic house museum.
Next we journeyed to the local McMenamins, Roseburg Station Pub & Brewery, housed in the old train station. As you would expect it is full of whimsy and history! Excuse the chunk of images, I went crazy snapping.
And who can resist a shot of Aaron Rose, founder of Roseburg?
We briefly met brewer Tom Johnson, but he was knee deep in a broken hot water heater and we were more concerned with the supply of water for brewing than chatting with the brewer! Next time, but for now you can catch a glimpse of his feet in this one!
We headed back towards downtown, with photo ops on the way…
There was a short pitstop at a beautiful new wine shop in a renovated car dealer building.
We left the comfort of the a/c, and offer for a tasting, to head downtown to see Draper Draft House, which had a can of Duff in the window! I’d show you a picture, but my camera ate it…
Our roving band split at one point and I got to see the former IOOF lodge (now a design firm), but we reconvened at O’Toole’s Pub.
O’Toole’s is another great historic building, full of bits of both breweriana and local history.
You can spot our merry band (and my hands) in the one above.
O’Toole’s owners Casey and Jennifer we welcoming and made up a great salad! See how welcoming they are to customers? I mean tour guides? Jennifer poses with Gardner.
Don’t tell anyone, but I actually had a Two Towns cherry cider, so yummy and refreshing that I didn’t even feel bad not having a beer!
We headed back out after fortification (lunch as well, for those who are worried I only drank on this trip) and down to the Douglas County Museum. I had a great tour of the facility and I encourage you all to stop if you are driving past and make a trip if you aren’t. I enjoyed the Oregon Trail exhibit most of all… Having a recent 4th grade grad, I appreciated that the kids in Douglas County get to prep for their Oregon Trail unit by coming to buy food at the store!!
I also gathered a few reproductions of hops and brewing photos, just in case it appeared that I was there just for my own personal
bear beer enjoyment.
Alas, it was time to load up the motor pool car and head north. No Captain America this time, but we did find some history graffiti.
Coming soon? Brewery tour report from my trip to Ashland’s Caldera Brewing on Tuesday - full of pictures because I couldn’t stop snapping.