Hops farm, a local landmark, is transplanted

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POWNAL — Hoppy Valley Organics has moved to farmland on nearby Burrington Road, with the sale of its well-known location along Route 7 in Pownal.

The farm produces hops, which function as the bittering ingredient in beers. It's a joint effort between Peter Hopkins, John Armstrong III and John Neville. Along with brewing beer, hops and its extracts can also be used in teas and food items.

The farm, which opened in 2013, began by growing four common varieties — cascade, nugget, centennial and chinook — to produce about a 10 to 20 percent yield when harvested at the end of the first season, which runs from late August to early September.

The owners are leasing the property from a local family, the Burringtons.

"It's always better to have farmland working," Armstrong said.

This new location is more out of the way from the farm's former location on Route 7, he said.

"People love to drive [by] that property on Route 7," he said of the farm's former site. But he likes the view at the new location, which looks out over mountains.

The farm had been operating at the former site for about five years. Armstrong's mother, who owned the land, sold it.

Armstrong directed questions about the new ownership to his brother, Howard Armstrong, who declined to comment.

Last Saturday, Armstrong worked to move the hops over to the new location at 1203 Burrington Road.

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"We dug it all up in the pouring rain and sleet," he said as he planted more hops Wednesday afternoon. "If I counted my hours, I'm probably making three cents an hour. [It's] a labor of love."

The new location is smaller than the old, but there will actually be more than double the number of plants, Armstrong said. That's because they've increased the number of plants around each pole, he said. They'll have about 1,000 plants total.

"This is the old-fashioned way of growing hops, on poles like this," he said.

Wooden poles stand in the middle of the planted circles of hops — large, vine-like plants — at the new location.

The new way to grow hops is by using aircraft cables, strung up on large poles in grid patterns. But that's expensive, he said.

Apart from the move, no other changes are planned for the farm. The hops are produced in a sustainable way, without using pesticides or herbicides, he said.

Over the years, Hoppy Valley Organics hasn't had much business in Vermont — but they sell to a lot of Massachusetts brewers, Armstrong said.

Most Vermont brewers don't like to brew using whole cone hops, which the farm produces, he said. Those hops are dried in their natural state, unlike hops that are processed into looking like pellets. Using those hops in brewing results in less excess organic matter at the end of the brewing process — but in the farm's opinion, Armstrong said, processing harms the integrity of the hops.

His wife calls his hops-growing his "expensive little hobby," he said. That fits, he said — it's not a money-making proposition, but does it because he loves it.

"I'm a gardener," he said. "This is just another segment of that hobby, believe it or not."

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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