The home-brewing community loves its self-sufficiency. Message boards are full of beer-loving tinkerers sharing pictures of their homemade brew systems or kegerators. And the latest trend to hit the DIY home-brewing crowd is self-grown hops. While caring for those wonderful beer-bittering plants is a rewarding challenge, many city dwellers just don’t have the space (hop plants can grow 20 feet high) or the soil. With that in mind, self-proclaimed beer activist Andrew Schmitt started Community Hops in Minneapolis—America’s first community garden devoted exclusively to hops. We talked with Schmitt about how he got the project off the ground and what he thinks the future holds for home-grown hops.
Where did the idea for the garden come from?
Naturally, it happened over a couple of beers. I was with Andrew Johnson [Minneapolis’s youngest city councilman], and the question just popped into my head: Why can’t we bring hops into the city?
How does it compare to community gardens people utilize right now?
Obviously, we’re different because we are focused on one specific corner of agriculture. But we also want anyone who chooses to take part in the project to work on everything. Sometimes in a community garden you just get a small square and worry about your own plants, and if your neighbors plants die, they die. That’s not the case with us. This is truly a communal effort.
What makes the location particularly good for the first community hop garden?
It’s southern facing, which is great for growing hops. But our neighbors are as important as the land. We actually capture rainwater from the surrounding structures, and the garden would be impossible without their help.
Hops are a pretty specific crop; who is the garden designed for?
It’s designed for home brewers and gardeners within the community. But you could just be into urban beautification and take part in the process, too. It’s about the location and the community more than brewing.
How much are you able to grow, and what’s doing well?
We’ve got nine varieties, and right now we have over 50 plants in total—some far more successful than others. The Chinook and Cascade [the most popular hops in American craft beer] in particular were very good. But we had a wild variety that didn’t perform. The first year was kind of a crapshoot—we were pulling off a lot of [hop] cones after the season finished.
What has been the biggest challenge with starting Community Hops?
Finances. It takes money to get the poles, wires, fertilizer and rain buckets. Unless you have a benefactor [which Community Hops still lacks], it’s tough to get all those resources.
Where do you see Community Hops in five years?
The intent for Community Hops is to grow. There are a few community gardens with hops in them, but to my knowledge, this is the first garden growing hops for and by the community. Once the hops are off the ground and sustainable, we’ll look to add [brewing grains like] two-row barley, heritage corn or Minnesota 13 corn.
Would you have done anything differently?
Hindsight is always 20/20, and I think there are always things to learn. I would’ve looked for that benefactor of financing first. Hopefully, it will become self-sustaining. But ultimately, I don’t look at this as a financial investment. It’s something I care about.