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Exploring a Michigan
By Andrew McLean
was an unseasonably warm January 12 morning in Hastings as over a hundred hop I farmers, processors, propagators, and craft brewers from across the state and beyond filed into the third-floor ballroom of Walldorff Brewpub & Bistro for the 2013 Ml Hop Growers and Microbrewers Symposium. This was the second meeting to investigate the possible formation of a state-wide cooperative, and, while some important initial discussions took place in the first such meeting back in March 2012, there was much to accomplish to take the next steps in the process. Organizational efforts were led by Valerie Byrnes of the Barry County Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development Alliance and Rick Chapla of The Right Place, a non-profit committed to growing the West Michigan economy. As Valerie explains, strong centralized communications are paramount in bringing together a diverse group such as this. "Experience working with any industry peers has shown me that people grow comfortable working together when common goals are clear. That was a part of the process at the event — to define the commonalities to ensure the trust begins on the front end. " To that effort, Tom Kalchik of the Michigan State University Product Center, an organization with extensive experience in Michigan agricultural cooperatives, was brought in as the headline presenter. Tom began his presentation by laying out the different options available for a coordinated industry organization such as this, among them a PA232 group built around the Agricultural Commodities Marketing Act of 1965, an Association, an LLC, and finally, a cooperative (co-op). Based upon conversations during the first symposium, as well as follow-up communications, it had been determined a co-op structure was likely the closest to what this wide and varied group was envisioning. Accordingly, co-ops were the focus of much of Tom's presentation. While the meeting may be starting to sound more like a college-level business course, it was anything but, as there was great participation among the audience, asking questions as
Growers and brewers from all over Michigan gathered in January at the Walldorff
Brewpub in Hastings to consider the formation of a statewide hop cooperative.
they came up and providing their own past experiences with co-ops. The majority of attendees were hop farmers, both big and small, but groups such as processors, propagators and even microbrewers were well-represented as well. Greg Haner, owner of Gonzo's BiggDogg Brewing opening in downtown Kalamazoo in the fall, has been a regular attendee of these events. "We as brewers need to express our needs to the growers on what hops we need. I like to know what the hop farms are thinking and what plans they have for future growth. Michigan hops are very important to me for supporting the state and our local hop farms. I prefer to use local products in my beers." The diversity of attendees led to wellrounded perspectives on the many topics discussed, and conversation really came alive following the opening of the ballroom's bar. Appropriate to the topic at hand, the most popular pick seemed to be Walldorff s Hopnoxxxious IPA, a delicious 80 IBU, 7.5% brew. As Tom Kalchik finished his presentation, Valerie and Rick coordinated a brainstorming discussion of the potential strengths, threats, opportunities and next steps of a statewide cooperative effort. Credit must be given to Valerie and Rick, who kept the conversation moving in a positive direction, and Hopnoxxxious certainly must be given its fair due, as conversation was lively and group interaction was aplenty. The "opportunities" poster was quickly filled up, as attendees expressed a wide variety of advantages a co-op would bring, including shared knowledge, group purchasing power, centralized communications and marketing, increased legislative power, and the setting of strong state-wide quality standards. This energy surrounding a collaborative model was promising to Lynn Kemme of Great Lakes Hops, one of the most vocal attendees. "Hop growers need to realize they are competing with far more than their nearby fellow growers. This is no time for them to bury their heads in the sand. Michigan is quickly becoming a very competitive market, with growers from other regions of the USA, as well as other countries, fighting for the Michigan craft brewing market share." Although the topic of the day was Michigan hops, Cherie Swift and Richard Elder, owners of Dornoch Farms in Ontario, Canada, made a special trip to hear the talks. "We were surprised by the number of people that attended the meeting, as well as the industries that they represented — universities, labs, the Brewers Guild, Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development, and other hop grower groups. The growers in Canada need information from the Michigan growers, as well as all the industries associated with the hop industry." While the general tone was positive, there were many who still required some conSee Hops on page 44
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MICHIGAN BEER GUIDE
NUBCO concludes from page 9 has its own break room. "All breweries are concerned about the wild yeast that is in the air everywhere," said Ron. "Here at Jolly Pumpkin it is higher than other places: the air is super saturated." To assist minimizing air transfer from the wild side, it is less pressurized than the traditional side, so air flow should move, however slightly, from the traditional to the wild and not the other way around. The two back rooms, which I was calling hangers, are about 48,000 square feet equally divided. The walk in cooler, which Ron said, "is bigger than my house," spans both sides and Hops concludes from page 14 vincing, including Bryan Tennis of the Michigan Hop Alliance. "Overall it was worthwhile. It was nice to network with a lot of the smaller hop farmers in Michigan, as well as potential growers. To be perfectly honest, I don't think a true co-op model is the ultimate goal for the individuals who were driving this meeting. I think what the smaller farmers want and what the more established farms, especially the ones with million-dollar backers, are two different things. To be honest, I think some of the bigger growers in Michigan will probably is also divided in half. After Ron took me through both sides, we explored the front section of the huge 70,000 square foot building. With 48,000 dedicated to production, that leaves 22,000 for offices, tap room and storage. Right now much of it is storage, with build out for public space earmarked for "Phase Two." At the front entrance, the very opposite side that I entered from, is a lobby reception area with a grand staircase leading up to a large suite of office space. Most are empty; the few that are assigned have a variety of furnishings in them ranging from sparse to less sparse. While he did not mention dibs on any specific not go for it. I think it would be beneficial to the small and beginning farmer more than anything." The symposium closed with the important step of attendees filling out surveys to express their level of interest in being part of the next stages of the process, including finding some motivated individuals to provide some leadership. As Valerie describes, "Our goal was to come away with commitment to form a steering committee for a statewide hop growers collaborative to include hop growers and microbrewers both. We received a far greater number of volunteers for the steering space, Ron will no doubt occupy one of these offices. Not the little Martian room where we began the tour. Outside a brand new sign has just been installed. Over the company name of Northern United Brewing Company are the logos of Jolly Pumpkin, North Peak, Grizzly Peak, Civilized, and Bonafide. Bastone and Blue Tractor are not present because they are not in the distribution chain. It is a complicated relationship. Jon Carlson credits Ron and Laurie Jeffries for the inspiration and added, "It's going to be fantastic because of Ron." MBG committee than we had anticipated and the overwhelming response of the 100-plus growers was in support of a statewide cooperative or collaborative model." Lynn sees big things ahead if everyone works together: "If Michigan hop growers can follow the meteoric path that our Michigan grape growers have set before us over the past 10 years, the future is very bright. We have the perfect example. All we have to do is follow it." Subsequent to the meeting above, a follow up meeting was called to form a steering committee. We asked for a summary of that meeting. Lynn Kemme responded: "The meeting was attended by approximately 15 people. Brewers, growers, and grower/processors were represented. We individually signed onto a steering committee and will devote 5 hours per week for a one year period to the formation of a growers organization (type yet to be determined). There is room for more growers to join the steering committee if they wish to get involved. Also, we are looking for additional brewers and marketing folks to be consultants to aid the steering committee." For more info or to join this group contact Valerie Byrnes at email@example.com . MBG CLASSIFIEDS Brewer Wanted. Assistant brewer position available at an award winning brewery. Full time on a semi-rotating schedule. Perfect learning environment or a place to hone your skills. Salary dependent on skill level and experience. Expect participation at all brewer's events. All responses kept in strictest confidence. Contact Larry at 586776-9428.
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