Tour de Oregon

by | Aug 2, 2019

Yakima Chief Hops Corporate Social Responsibility Coordinator, Levi Wyatt, recently took a tour of the Oregon hop and brewing communities, visiting family hop farms and regional breweries throughout the state. Read more about some of the Oregon hops farms that supply your hops, and how YCH stays in touch with our growing and brewing partners throughout the Pacific Northwest to discuss important topics such as sustainability.

As with any tour, proper planning & training are required to successfully complete such an endeavor. Although we did not embark on the crown jewel of the WorldTour bicycle circuit, we did successfully manage to cover nearly 750 miles in 2.5-day timeframe…in a car. A few of us visited farms, checked on the upcoming crop, and even managed to swing in to a couple breweries, enjoying philanthropic pours and discussions revolving around sustainability, marketing & outreach.

The trip began in the fertile Willamette Valley at Charlie Davidson’s family farm BC/3D Hop Farm in St Louis, Oregon. Charlie, or Chaz, as we later heard people refer to him, was in the shop welding a new hitch to one of his trucks in the farm fleet. After presenting the farm with a new “Proud to Grow” sign, we all piled into his rig and headed out to check out fields of Mosaic®, Citra® and Mt. Hood. During the drive out to the fields, Chaz brought us up to speed on this year’s crop report. Recalling the flooding which occurred back in the spring, he showed us photos of neighbor’s fields where hop poles were submerged with only a few inches of exposed wood popping up above water.

We were escorted out into the fields where Charlie walked us around to various bines, plucking cones of Mt. Hood to evaluate the growth process. During our walks he discussed the use of compost which is utilized in all of his fields to bolster the organic material into soil providing additional nutrients as well as ridding his parking spaces of decaying plant matter. Sustainability has been part of the BC/3D Hop Farm way of life for eons; through the re-use of farm equipment to provide second and third lives to other equipment and the advent of drip irrigation delivering water in the precision location without wasting any water vital for a healthy crop. Sustainability is not always a move toward becoming environmentally conscientious but is also a way of being cognizant of sustainable growth and making the most of the equipment on hand. Although Oregon is traditionally known to encounter far more rain by comparison to the Yakima Valley, BC/3D Hop Farm is equipped with nearly 3,000 square feet of solar panels which supplies power to their farm operations.  

Rather than take the same path back to the shop, Charlie surprised us with a visit some new crops…industrial hemp. Nearly 50-acres are planted on his farm and they looked fantastic. The plants were very well manicured, and the rows seemed to stretch for miles. For many of us, this was our first encounter to hemp; but it was fascinating to watch Charlie walk down the rows and show us the similarities and differences between growing hemp and hops.

All in all, our first stop was a success both from an educational and historic perspective. Charlie has a plethora of knowledge and was delighted to let us pick his brain for a fraction in time. Needless to say, he was stoked to see YCH presence down in St. Louis and encouraged us to visit again.

We continued our adventure down the winding country roads to Coleman Agriculture’s facility in Gervais, Oregon where we arrived to a newly constructed “dog-friendly” office. Following introductions in the lobby we were escorted into a conference room where we had the privilege of viewing a presentation by the Brand Marketing Project Manager which touched on Coleman Ag’s history, mission, vision and values.

We then took to the fields by caravanning into fields of lush Mosaic® and Citra®. It was a hot day, so we were all seeking reprieve from the sun by walking deep inside the rows for a much needed cool down. During the walk inward, the cones began to increase in size and the leaves cast larger shadows on the cover cropped rows.

As part of our Christmas in July themed trip, we distributed two of our signs to John Coleman who was over the moon at the look and design.

During our stroll through the rows, the Coleman Ag team discussed their applications of compost and water to ensure a bountiful crop. They also informed us of their Terroir study of their fields to better understand the story of their soils which contributes significantly to a healthy crop. The intention of the study is to help hop growers in the pursuit of unique, high-quality hops that in turn further enriches and benefits brewers creating their best beers. As part of the study, Coleman Ag will be teaming up with OSU to actually brew some beer from some of their different fields in an attempt to determine how soil can influence the aroma and flavor profiles of the final product. Having a science background, I thought this was pretty awesome!

Not only was I looking for content revolving around sustainability during this trip, but I was also looking to discuss community engagement activities happening on and off the farm. As a commitment to the future of farming, Coleman Ag is currently engaged in their fifth year of hiring summer interns from Oregon State University where they teach young agriculture stewards the farming practices ongoing on their farm. Like YCR’s program, this allows young agriculture grads opportunities to get their boots dirty and allows new ideas to infiltrate the farm directly from college campus.

Coleman Agriculture is also an advocate of the environment in which their farm is placed – growing a diverse mixture of crops, the team is a proponent of advocating for the wildlife that inhabit the area as well. Being a Salmon Safe certified farm and working towards organic and B Certified accreditations Coleman Ag is striving to farm with an innovative lens resulting in a healthier ecosystem while still holding true to their heritage and traditional farming practices.

It is really refreshing to visit some of these farms knowing that they share the same beliefs and values that YCH holds dearly and I am so happy that we get to work with such like-minded individuals dedicated to selling the worlds best and most important beer ingredient. We took a group selfie, shook some hands, and shared a final laugh before the YCH team carried onward to the next stop down the road.

Growers often rely on neighbors for help for last minute items and when in a crunch, waiting for extra parts can really hinder progress on the farm. That’s where Kerr Supply steps up to the plate and is really providing the Oregon growers top tier service in the industry. With the slogan “we have the muscle for the hussle” – Kerr Supply is dedicated towards finding solutions.

We had the privilege of sitting down with Alexa, Tony and Rosie (Hop Dog) Weathers at Kerr Supply to discuss the recycling initiatives in the hop industry. Material waste accumulates throughout the industry and if not addressed, often times is discarded directly into the landfill rather than appropriate outlets. Kerr Supply offers services of bale material pick up and exchange to ensure the poly cloth material is properly recycled and inventory is always stocked for their clients. As exporting plastic waste to China has become increasingly difficult, Kerr Supply is looking for innovative ways to combat the challenges ahead and address issues locally.

As hop growers, the Weathers can relate to the growers because they are experiencing the same pest pressure, adverse weather changes, and water issues because they still have their own family farm that is active.

We discussed the advantages of using poly cloth over burlap and the differences in biodegradability in the twine material. It was a very educational talk and I think we all left the conversation more educated than when we first walked in.

As we were sitting around the table, Rosie kept wandering off behind the chairs to smell something dangling from the wall…Turns out it was the remanence of degraded cotton underwear, as Alexa just “harvested” her pair of underwear from the Soil Your Undies Challenge. I recall Alexa sharing this during one of the early Green Chief meetings and I thought this was such a fun challenge for growers to get a quick and dirty idea of how healthy their soil is. Alexa shared with us that she would be visiting with other women growers in the Willamette Valley who also participated in the challenge. The idea to bring women in agriculture together and promote women empowerment in a male dominated industry was something we all found exciting. 

Community is also something that is extremely important to Kerr Supply/Willamette Mission with “dine in the vine” events which unites growers from the region to discuss current farm practices and challenges faced within their communities. We found this to be a great opportunity to get engaged with their neighbors and provide support, and something that YCH could also participate in. 

It is always fun to leave a place with more knowledge, and that is exactly what we did.

Our next stop was down the road to visit some family members of Alexa and Tony, with a visit to Sodbuster Farms, run by non-other than Doug Weathers. Although we were unable to meet with Doug we had the opportunity to meet with Peter.

In the midst of a Global Gap audit, Peter took us around the farm and showed us some of the upgrades on the equipment in their operations. Similar to YCH buying all the red paint in the Yakima Valley during our rebranding, Sodbuster has wiped out the Willamette Valley of their lupulin yellow paint, can’t miss it!

During our discussion, Peter expressed his interest in getting involved in our Cool Farm Tool assessment to better understand the impact on the farm. Being involved in the pilot program last year, he identified value in the data and was encouraged to continue exploring more ways to track data. Our plan as a company is to get data rolling in from growers following harvest; therefore, I was excited to hear about the excitement.

As mentioned before the Global Gap audit was also ongoing concurrent to our site visit. Peter mentioned how influential the YCH Green Chief Program was to allow them to advance toward the Global Gap accreditation. It was nice to hear that growers appreciate the program and the tools embedded within the Green Chief Program to advance their farm with globally accredited certification in Global Gap.

Community is a large portion of Sodbuster Farms as well, and they are currently exploring options of hosting a fun run within the grounds as a way to introduce those in the community to the hop industry. Encouraging engagement within the area they live and serve is a common theme we heard throughout the day and we again were excited about the events to come.

Wrapping up day one of our farm tour, we made one more stop at Doug’s new cold storage warehouse. Surprise to us, the building is not yellow – rather it is solid blue. Regardless of the aesthetics on the outside, the place looks immaculate and will be a fantastic addition to keeping hops as fresh as possible.

Day one was in the books, the sunburn was real, and the hops were looking great. It was an educational day for all of us and it was a real treat to surprise and delight some of the growers with our signs of appreciation and conversations touching on sustainability and community.

We started day two off with a morning visit to 4B Farms in Mt. Angel where we met with Jeff Bustch who took us through his Cascade and Mt Hood fields. He has a passion for growing and it shows through his intense gaze and methodical questions. We especially enjoyed his passion for soil experimentation as it pertains to plant yields. Literally no hop waste during harvest is thrown out as all material is turned into a compostable brew that is applied to his soil. To see the fruits of his labor, we hurtled over rows of hops to try and catch up with Jeff as he showed us his experimental soil plots within the Mt. Hood variety.

We talked of water scarcity issues and the effects of wildfires to hops and other crops he is growing. Natural resources are often overused and underappreciated, and it was during our visit to the farms that all growers highlighted the importance of preserving the land that they are farming. It was a great opportunity to get out and see how operations in Oregon compare to what is going on in the Yakima Valley. Being very different in climate conditions, I am amazed to see how well the hops grow down in the Willamette Valley. However, regardless of the geographic position on this earth, all growers partnering with Yakima Chief Hops are dedicated towards growing top-tier hops.

To continue our journey, we ventured over to Bend where we shifted gears to talk with the downstream consumers of our product in the brewery industry. We were able to chat with team members from GoodLife Brewing, Sun River Brewing, 10 Barrel Brewing, Crux Fermentation and Bend Brewing Company.

 This was my first experience talking with the brewery side of the industry and it was extremely fun and engaging to hear the downstream aspect toward sustainability. Similar to growers, brewers utilize a lot of energy, water, and natural resources – with an overall aim to lessen their dependence on the grid and minimize overall production costs, breweries are taking it upon themselves to make changes that will benefit their operations in the long run. Such as the re-use of water for cooling and heating elements, reducing energy through the use of smart metering and installation of solar panels, finding ways of removing excess by-products such as spent grain, and utilizing environmentally friendly merchandise.

I understand that was a wall of CSR related text, but to break it down; the breweries we spoke to are all interested in identifying ways to reduce their overall environmental impact, while providing an excellent product, engaging in their communities, and supporting those that they work with.

For example, GoodLife explained to us that they send all their spent grains to Barley Beef cattle ranch outside of town and in turn they receive discounts on some of the beef that is served in their brewery. It is fascinating to see communities work together like this. Being that Bend is now ranked top five breweries per capita in the United Sates, there is a lot of collaboration among the brewers in Bend.

During the course of the day, we were able to touch on a variety of topics and learn more about the integration of sustainability in the brewing process. One of our big goals for this upcoming year is to establish a network of brewers dedicated toward CSR/Sustainability minded initiatives. This is something that everyone we spoke to is excited about getting involved in and we are thrilled to initiate.  One of my teammates, Alex, and I even floated the idea of a brewery-focused sustainability program that would allow for more collaboration in communities and allow a more transparent look into the downstream issues within the industry.

We departed Bend with our vehicle full of knowledge and full of beer and set off toward the Yakima Valley.

Rather than end the trip early, we decided to make a pit stop in Wapato at Loza Farms and helped them plant a new variety called tighty-whities.  We will have to check on what the crop yields in 60 days. We participated in the Soil Your Undies Challenge with Junior Loza and it was an absolute riot! It is really tough to keep a straight face while holding up a pair of 4XL cotton underwear on Live Instagram, while simultaneously discussing soil health – but I’ll be darned we did it!

All in all, it was an extremely fun, productive and educational trip. We learned, we laughed, we enjoyed some hop-forward beers and we solidified the importance of CSR, Sustainability and Outreach at all levels of our value chain which I think made the trip invaluable.