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
At Agrarian Ales in the countryside south of Eugene, business manager Todd Perlmeter, left, and master brewer Toby Schock look over the gallons of fresh-picked raspberries brought in by Maia Kazaks, field worker, and assistant brewer Matt Leef. The berries will be used for a spontaneously fermented beer. Photo by Patty Mamula
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
A visit to Agrarian Ales in the lush, bountiful countryside of the Willamette Valley, just 13 miles south of Eugene, is an escape from the demands of everyday life. The farmhouse brewery sits on 25 acres of family land brimming with 15 different varieties of hops, herbs, spices, orchards, beehives, wheat fields, natural grasses, and an abundance of fresh vegetables.
Brothers Nate and Ben Tilley grew up here on their parents’ organic vegetable farm. When they graduated from Oregon State University, they returned to plant hops and grow a brewery. Toby Schock joined from the start as the master brewer.
In November of 2012, they opened the brewery in a converted dairy barn on 17 acres leased from Crossroad Farms, their parents’ operation. Their vision was to use only homegrown hops and they have stayed true to that vision. In fact, they are the only Oregon brewery exclusively using estate-grown, hand-picked hops.
General manager Todd Perlmeter said, “Agrarian has never purchased hops. This year we pulled our entire crop of Cascade hops, 500 plants, because of downy mildew. We added a third hop field, focusing on varieties like Mount Hood, Centennial and Nugget.”
They also planted an experimental stand, trellised in a tepee configuration, of heritage Mount Pisgah hops, transplanted from the native plant nursery at Mount Pisgah Park. When harvested, these hops will be used for a Mount Pisgah porter to benefit the park.
Agrarian also sells hop starts in early spring at their farmers’ market booth, a five-tap beer trailer. “We feel very fortunate to be the only brewery allowed in the market,” said Perlmeter, “because we grow our own products.”
The casual, rustic brewery and taproom have drawn record crowds this summer. It appeals to young and old, pets, kids and parents. With 4 acres of outdoor space, there’s plenty of room to play or simply sit at one of the many picnic tables and take in the surrounding view of growing fields.
The red barn is brewing central Monday through Friday until 3 p.m. when it transforms to the taproom and gathering place to sample brews and local food. The taproom is open Friday and Saturday from 3 p.m. until 8 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. with live music in the summer. The pizza oven is the cornerstone of the outdoor kitchen, but the focus for everything at Agrarian is fresh from the surrounding fields to the table.
Perlmeter said, “The original idea was to use all local products. We’re willing to pay a premium to buy products to support local farmers.”
While their website lists many of these farmers, some of the more unique connections include Eugene’s Noisette Pastry Kitchen that takes the spent grain and bakes custom bread for them. All the raw grains are local. Agrarian gets most of their wheat, barley and flours for pizza dough from Camas Country Mill. In fact, the pizza flour is custom-milled for them. Nearby Burnheimer Meat Company makes their pepperoni using Agrarian’s beer and chili spices.
“Everything we serve here tastes so fresh and real; there are no chemicals, no glycol in our beer,” said Perlmeter. “All our beers are seasonals.”
Brewer Shock creatively uses the ripest ingredients at hand. He makes farm-fresh beers, often using peppers, such as Chipotle Porter and Hot Banana Hef. They usually have 12-15 beers on tap
Generally, Shock brews just one batch and that’s it. “Sometimes he repeats a batch because it’s so popular,” said Perlmeter. “Essentially, all the brews are one-offs. Even the same recipe a year later won’t be the same because the fresh ingredients will taste different.”
The one constant, usually available year-round, is a farmhand session.
They recently started barrel projects and have bottled a few favorites. Like everything at Agrarian, it’s a labor-intensive, totally manual production process with one person sanitizing the bottles, another filling them and a third corking and caging them.
The first bottle release was Yuletide, a Belgian beer that was strong aged in rye whiskey barrels for eight months, bottled and aged for another year.
Last fall their neighbor offered them Akane apples from his orchard. They ground and pressed the apples, then aged the juice in a pinot noir barrel letting it ferment with all the wild yeast for one year. Then they used that tart, funky juice to brew a Belgian saison, bottled it and aged it for another six months. The Akane Saison is only available on-site.
Eventually, they want to grow or produce everything they use. That means having a malting facility on-site and a yeast lab.
“The goal is to continue the ethos and grow organically. We like to grow roots deep into the ground versus spreading them across the land,” said Perlmeter.
Speaking of organic growth, the next step for the hops is to get organically certified. “We think it will be worthwhile for sales, documentation and talking points. We have some unique practices out here. Finding a way to communicate that to customers without hitting them over the head with it is important. We want people to come out here and experience that lifestyle,” he said.
Back at the brewery, the long-awaited addition of indoor bathroom facilities was completed June 27. This project was the number one priority for the funds that Agrarian has raised from Hatch Oregon, a new investment opportunity available only to Oregon residents. Agrarian was one of the first investment opportunities rolled out when the new law became effective in January.
Their original stock offering was set for $165,000. So far, halfway into their one-year time frame, they have raised $65,000, most of which went to the new addition. The remainder will go to purchase more kegs, cooperage and larger batches of grain.
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