Submitted by: Eve Wierzbicki
Featured photo courtesy of Howe Farms.
With the craft beer business booming and the trend for everything going local, it’s not just Farm to Fork anymore. According to Steve Howe, owner of Howe Farms in Crown Point, it’s Farm to Glass! Steve is one of just a few hop farmers in the region. He and his wife, Jennifer, got started because of their love for farming (both their grandfathers were in the business), and of course, their love for craft beer. Both are teachers by day, but in 2013, after taking lots of classes and workshops, they became hop farmers as well.
Growing hops is not an easy thing. Aside from having the land, you also need a pretty intricate infrastructure. Howe Farms has an 18 ft trellis which allows the hops to grow. They do all their growing in the spring and summer and then, because they are a certified processing facility, they can create dried vacuum sealed pellets to sell to breweries throughout the year.
Breweries can buy their hops through brokers, or can go directly to a farm. Four Fathers Brewery in Valparaiso is one of Howe Farms biggest clients. Steve enjoys the fact that the brewers can come right out to his farm, talk beer, talk hops, collaborate and work together. Then, when everything is ready, he can deliver the brewers just what they need — which sometimes includes not only hops, but fresh veggies or fruit that he is growing. It’s this personal approach that he thinks really gives it the Farm to Glass feel.
The craft beer industry is known for supporting each other and hop farmers are no different. Justin Arthur, owner of Cone Keepers Hop Yard in DeMotte, had nothing but good things to say about Steve and Howe Farms. “We have a great relationship.” said Justin, “We love to help each other out throughout the year and compare notes. We started about the same time and now we can give each other advice. It’s great to have someone close by that’s also in the business.”
Justin started Cone Keepers in 2014 with 1/2 acre of land and added another .75 last year. He does the farming, while his wife, Leah, does all the marketing and sales. Justin is an electrician by trade, but hopes to grow the farm each year and someday dedicate all his time to hops.
Between the two farms there are many different varieties of hops available. Howe Farms is excited about recently adding the more citrusy Cashmere and Tahoma to their list, while Cone Keepers has just added Glacier and Willamette, which are more of a spicy, floral and hearty hop. The variety of hop can make quite a difference in the flavor of craft beer and both Justin & Steve love to be a part of the process while working with the brewers.
If you are a brewer in the area or just a “hop head” that wants to chat about craft beer, Steve and Justin would love to talk to you. Both have websites and are are very active on social media. They pour their heart and soul into this craft and strive to be the best farmers they can be. As the craft beer industry continues to thrive, I look forward to watching these two hop farms grow.
Interested in reading more about the craft beer industry? take a look at our recent article, 65 breweries along I-65.