A hoppy venture
Melanie Doerksen and Tim Wilson of the Carolinian Hop Yard south of Pinegrove sip on a sample of the Blue Elephant's Sweet Leaf Brown Ale, the award winning brew which uses their hops. (SARAH DOKTOR Delhi News-Record)
Many children who grow up on farms often move away to the big city when they reach adulthood.
Melanie Doerksen, a Simcoe native, and Tim Wilson, of Pinegrove, were two such people.
Wilson is an anatomy professor at the University of Western Ontario while his wife is a culinary arts professor at Fanshawe College.
They may live in London, but the couple has been spending most of the spare time over the past four years on their small farm south of Pinegrove where they grow hops under the name Carolinian Hop Yard. Their hops were recently featured in the award winning Sweet Leaf Brown Ale made at Simcoe's Blue Elephant Brew House.
“We (children from rural areas) all moved away and fathers and mothers said 'Don't do this. Don't be a farmer.' My father was one of them,” said Wilson. “This is our chance to come back and try to farm in a different mentality.”
Originally the couple had wanted to open a winery but that idea was vetoed by their family.
“We were always interested in agriculture and getting back to where we came from,” said Wilson. “We had always liked beer and we were starting to like craft beer. We traveled around the west coast and discovered what hops tasted like. We found out they could grow in the area and had grown in the area.”
The crop used in beer was popular in southern Ontario in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It fell out of fashion during prohibition. Wilson and Doerksen were among the first group of farmers to reintroduce the crop to the area.
They have one acre of hops growing on their farm and will add another this year. It may seem like a relatively small operation however hop vines grow vertically and therefore a higher yield can be harvested from a smaller area.
Hops can be a tricky crop to grow. The pair spent the first three years mastering the production process.
“They've likened it to raising children. Your first year your just babying them to make it through. In their second and third year they are like teenagers, they require a lot of input to get a quality output. Then by the fifth year they hit their stride. They hit a plateau and you can expect to see the same thing for 20 years,” explained Wilson.
The two both consider themselves environmentalist that very much believe in the local food and drink movement.
Doerksen spoke of a lecture they once heard which discussed putting the culture back into agriculture.
“The idea of being proud of working in an agricultural capacity and making a decent living and enjoying what you do,” she said. “I think that's really what we are going after, one of the facets anyway.”
In the near future they hope to expand their acreage while continuing to grow hops without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, as well as barley and rye. Ultimately they want to open a craft brewery (the Charlotteville Brewing Company) on site that will also have a local food component, have local employees that use the crops on the farm to produce the product. They hope their ultra local approach will become a model of “envirogribusiness.”
For more information, visit www.carolinianhopyard.com.
519-426-3528 ext. 112