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November 12, 2018
If you hatch a dream to farm in two weeks, can it really become reality?
"Yes!" say Ryan and Michelle Heine, of 6th Meridian Hop Farm, Yankton, N.D.
In 2014 the Heines were determined to leave Omaha, Neb., and farm. While they owned 80 acres near Yankton, S.D., their challenge was to find a way to build their "forever farm" there and find a sustainable means for using it.
"At the time, I worked remotely as an engineer for a St. Louis company and Michelle had a catering service in Omaha," Ryan says. "When we decided to come back here, we first thought of developing a bed-and-breakfast, because Michelle has such great culinary skills."
As they dug deeper into their options Ryan realized his backyard hops-growing expertise and knowledge of the microbrewing industry could be a foundation for launching of their own hops farm.
"We spent about two weeks dreaming, reading about hops production and the industry and sketching out plans for living quarters and a hops storage facility," Ryan says. "Since our farm [near Yankton] sits in the heart of the Lewis & Clark Recreation Area, we believed we could draw tourists and visitors to a beer garden and serve food with a food truck."
Once they finalized initial plans, the Heine's sold their Omaha home in record time, set up a camper on their property and started construction of the initial building that would serve as living quarters and storage for hops.
They were challenged to survive the first months of their venture living in the camper over winter and working on building construction whenever possible. Faith in their vision brought them through and spring saw them planting their first hops.
"We started with two acres of hops and now grow five acres," Ryan says. "We expect it will take 20 acres of hops to generate a sustainable income."
The first year Heines relied on offering beers from regional microbreweries to start their business. Now they work with local brewers who use their hops to create "diverse, flavorful craft beer," he says.
Michelle also sells food through their food truck, Counterfeit Curbside. She offers unique and tasty cuisine designed to pair with offered beers. A variety of musicians and music groups round out their summer evening venues.
"As with any farming enterprise today, diversity is key to sustainability," Ryan says. "We've approached our business in the same way as many wineries in the region. We intend to continue featuring our own beers and those of other microbreweries. People enjoy seeing the hops when they come to the farm and being able to sample our beer and food in a beautiful, relaxing environment. All those elements make for an enjoyable experience."
The Heines also market some of their hops, which include the varieties Dakota Challenger, Chinook and Centennial. Different varieties contribute different flavors to beer — bitter, piney, grassy, floral and even grape-fruity influences.
"The hops market can be even more volatile than traditional crops like corn and soybeans," Heine says. "Major hops growers will have brokers come to their farm and purchase baled hops. We go out and find buyers, mostly one-time sales. We pelletize our hops to make it easier to store and transport them. As the microbrewery business expands, we expect the market for our hops will grow, too."
To stay on top of the microbrewery and hops industry, Ryan reads and studies related publications — commercial and academic. He also searches for information on the latest hops varieties and growth details, especially those related to the latest trends in microbrewery production.
"Beer trends are a lot like food trends," Ryan says. "What's in demand one year might not be the next year."
Learn more about 6th Meridian Hop Farm at its Facebook page..
Sorensen writes from Yankton, S.D.
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