Ninkasi is one of several Eugene breweries that have joined the Willamette Valley Sustainable Foods Alliance. Pictured here are Ninkasi founders Jamie Floyd and Nikos Ridge. The brewery’s communication director said they’re proud to support WVSFA for “promoting natural food businesses and sustainable practices.” Photo courtesy of Ninkasi Brewing Company
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Headquartered in downtown Eugene, the Willamette Valley Sustainable Foods Alliance (WVSFA) at first glance might not seem like an association for the craft beer industry. The word “beer” isn’t mentioned in the organization’s name, goals or mission. Yet the WVSFA has five members from the Eugene-area’s craft beer industry: Agrarian Ales, Hop Valley Brewing Company, The Growler Guys, Ninkasi Brewing Company and Oakshire Brewing.
The appeal is simple, says Ali AAsum, communications director for Ninkasi. “We are proud to help support the great work of WVSFA in promoting natural food businesses and sustainable practices within these industries,” says AAsum. “Their commitment to growing our community of like-minded businesses is outstanding.”
While the mission of the regional trade association of companies “promotes natural food businesses through relationships, education and sustainable business practices,” this is something of great interest to the craft beer industry as well, particularly at the local level. While the food organizations and beer organizations offer different perspectives and can have different needs or face different challenges, they also find far more in common when it comes to the value of sustainability in supply chains, distribution networks, relationships and other issues.
“We’re all working to establish the Willamette Valley as a premier source of natural foods and delicious beverages,” explains Alyssa Lawless, director of sustainability at Mountain Rose Herbs and current board president at WVSFA.
WVSFA members include food and beverage retailers, manufacturers, restaurateurs, distributors, farmers and nonprofit organizations. With such a range of businesses and organizations, says Lawless, one way the WVSFA brings common purpose is to ask all members to annually commit to a Sustainability Pledge that outlines principles to guide sustainable business practices. By signing the pledge, members agree to uphold sustainability principles pertaining to land use, climate change, sourcing, water use, labor, education, waste reduction and more.
Members also work together on the WVSFA’s various goals not only for sustainability, but also for improved operations and profitability of the member businesses. Goals include working with the City of Eugene and Lane County on issues affecting the viability of natural foods businesses located in those areas, mentoring new businesses, and educating the public about the health benefits of natural and organic foods.
The education component is one that brings members together regularly. “As a member, we’ve partnered with WVSFA on events such as Fun with Fermentation,” says AAsum, describing an annual showcase of local fermented foods and beverages that recently drew more than 700 attendees.
The WVSFA was founded in 2009, with membership open to all relevant food and beverage businesses that were interested in pursuing sustainable business practices. “At that time, Hop Valley Brewing Company, Oakshire Brewing and Falling Sky Brewing were among the first members, and they are still members today,” says Lawless. “These businesses saw value in joining a local group and networking with other environmentally- and socially-conscious companies.”
Members also meet for Educational Forums to discuss challenges, identify issues and brainstorm solutions. “We tackle topics such as distribution, sourcing, marketing, employee benefits, the Food Safety Modernization Act and regional food branding,” says Lawless. “One recent issue that will impact the food and beverage industry is the Food Safety Modernization Act. Last year we held two Educational Forums on the topic. Congressman Peter DeFazio attended the second forum to hear our members’ concerns.”
One larger goal the WVSFA has in its sights is developing a regional brand around foods produced in Eugene and Lane County. It would be something akin to the Napa Valley branding for its wines. “Our brewery members have provided excellent feedback in the process of developing the regional food brand,” says Lawless. “Craft beer is also one of the many industries contributing to the development of this area as a source of quality natural foods.”
Backed by a five-year strategic plan, the WVSFA has “a main goal of growing the regional food brand: ‘Willamette Grown & Crafted,’” explains Lawless. “This year we are expanding our social media presence and developing a new website. These and other goals are directly impacted by member feedback and the issues they deal with in their businesses.”
Lawless sees opportunity for other Lane County and Willamette Valley craft beer organizations to join the Alliance. “Throughout the year, members are promoted on social media, the WVSFA website and in a quarterly e-newsletter where they are able to advertise job openings and share news. Networking with other members and suppliers at Educational Forums, our Annual Banquet and community events is another benefit for craft beer organizations.”
The Growler Guys chain of Oregon, Washington and Idaho became a WVSFA member a year ago, due, in part, to its participation in Fun with Fermentation. In addition to volunteering for many WVSFA-sponsored events during the past four years, Shannon Turner manages The Growler Guys flagship store in Eugene. “This was really good exposure for our company to have face time with lovers of craft beer, cider and kombucha,” explains Turner. “The WVSFA promotes many causes that help ensure that we have fresh, safe ingredients, and clean drinking water in the Willamette Valley, so that brewers can keep making great beer.”
Willamette Valley Sustainable Foods Alliance
[a] 1430 Willamette St., P.O. Box 101, Eugene
One of the founding partners of Plough Monday, Norm Vidoni, puts in the hard work to make sure his hops are grown organically, which means more labor — like weeding by hand. The Veneta-based brewery isn’t focused on making every batch the same, resulting in a unique experience for the consumer. Photo by Gail Oberst
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The vision began with locally sourced, organic ingredients for a true Willamette Valley beer. The reality has proven far more challenging. Veneta-based Plough Monday is adapting and plowing ahead with plans to bring as-local-as-possible beers to Oregon and Washington — despite making hard decisions to veer from their original plans.
Founding partners Norm Vidoni and Charlie Whedbee have been friends and homebrew partners for more than 20 years. From working a farm and trying to meet the challenge of raising organic hops, to learning not only how to brew, but how to build a market for their beers, the two friends keep adapting and learning. Through it all, the crew at Plough Monday has been producing 7 to 10 barrels a week, working toward a local tasting room and refining recipes for bottling and wider distribution of beers such as Fresh Hop Fuggle, American Brown Ale and Northwest Strong Ale. And, more recently, the brewery was certified organic by Oregon Tilth, a nonprofit that’s been advocating for organic agriculture since 1974. In this conversation, Norm Vidoni discusses farming, hops, the importance of local, the decline of organic beers, Plough Monday’s vision and how they are finding their way in a challenging agricultural environment and a crowded market.
What drives your passion for Willamette Valley-grown hops?
NV: Willamette Valley hops have a unique quality. They have less harshness to the bitterness, even at higher alpha acids. I think the aromas don’t have the same strong citrus qualities, but more of the lighter, floral aroma qualities. The climate here is much more similar to the climates in England and Germany, where they have those Noble varieties.
What are the challenges of growing hops organically?
NV: You have to be careful with organic inputs. Too much copper in the soil can make it so you can’t grow things. Weeding has to be done by hand, since you can’t use herbicides. Input is higher, but your output per acre is lower than it would be if using conventional fertilizers. These problems are causing people to start dropping out of organic hop production, and we likely will see drops in organic beer production.
How do mildew problems affect what you can grow?
NV: There’s one hop that’s totally downy mildew resistant, and that’s Magnum. That’s a great hop, and I’ve got lots of Magnums, but I think it’s only good as a bittering hop.
Fuggle, Golding, Perle and Orion all have some resistance, so they grow well here without getting decimated by downy mildew. No other hops can be grown organically here.
The hops industry hasn’t been focused on developing hops with these disease resistances. The Willamette Valley could be much more competitive in hop production if that had happened, but the focus has been growing hops that grow better in Yakima.
How are you adapting your own beer production?
NV: We’re recalibrating, long-term, for having sourcing as local as possible be more of a long-term goal than an immediate goal. It’s a quality decision. I really wish that there was more desire within the industry and the market for Willamette Valley-grown hops at this point.
What beers and styles will you be putting out?
NV: We’re moving more towards traditionally Northwest-style ales, but we are going to continue making the malt-forward, English-style beers, but with Northwest ingredients.
When we came into this, we had big hopes we could have a dogmatic, 100 percent local product. I see us moving more toward sourcing locally even if it’s out of our way, but if we can’t source it locally, we focus on where we get the quality or organic we seek. That’s disappointing to change from our original plan, but it helps us put out a product that the market wants.
How do you want people to view Plough Monday?
NV: We want to always be an artisanal brewery.
When we bottle, the bottles will have batch numbers. We aren’t focused on every batch being the same or every bottle being the same. We are always going to tweak our recipes and processes in between batches. We want there to be a variety, because we are always changing, learning, trying new things. That makes for an interesting product, and it allows you as a consumer to have some surprise in what you’re going to have. As time goes on, we hope to have three to five flagship, regular beers, then everything else work their way around those regular beers.
I’ve farmed organically for years, and I believe in it. I believe in trying to source locally. It’s great for the economy. It’s an important thing for the community at large to have these services, this agricultural production, within the community itself. But at the end of the day, people like to eat bananas, and those can’t be grown locally. We’re learning that we have to allow ourselves more flexibility than we’ve allowed ourselves to this point.
[a] 25327 Jeans Road, Veneta
OBG Blog Archives
Welcome to our archive pages! Read stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler from June 2012 to January 2018. For newer stories, please visit our new website at: