Hop farming in Norfolk

By Pat Finney

Curious Norfolk County travellers on the Charlotteville West Quarter Line have wondered about the crop grown on the field dotted with telephone poles at the intersection with St. John’s Road.
Hop, as it turns out: Humulus lupulus, a bittering agent used in the production of beer.
Norfolk County hop growers Tim Wilson and spouse Melanie Doerksen took the plunge in 2011 and founded “Carolinian Hop Yard” when they planted one acre of their 41 acre farm with five cultivars of hop, called Cascade, Nugget, Chinook, Stirling and Williamette.
“Our first harvest yielded eight pounds” said Wilson with a grin. “It was a very hot summer”. “We added drip irrigation for the next year and by last summer, we harvested 400 pounds of hop”. This spring, another acre will be planted with 1,000 plants of four more varieties: Crystal, Galena, Magnum and Mount Hood.
Their locally grown fresh hop contributed to the success of the “Sweet Leaf Brown Ale” produced at The Blue Elephant Craft Brew House in Simcoe, which won the “Bottomless Cup” award at the Great Ontario-Hopped Craft Brew Contest, hosted by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs on February 19th in Niagara Falls. The award-winning craft beer was created by Port Dover brewmaster James Grant using fresh Cascade and Nugget hop from Wilson and Doerksen’s farm and was unveiled at a celebration hosted by The Blue Elephant on April 1st. “It’s ultra-local beer” said Tim Wilson. “It’s an ale, not a stout and it has a deep, dark chocolatey flavour”.
“It will put us on the map” said Heather Pond, owner of The Blue Elephant Craft Brew House. “We want to use Norfolk produce. We’re using sweet potatoes, strawberries — all kind of farm-fresh products in our beer”. “There’s more to life than the beer you always drank before”. “It’s about educating people”. Two hundred and eighty litres of the prize-winning brew was produced and quickly sold out. “You have a good recipe and you hope for the best with every batch,” said Ms. Pond.
Wilson and Doerksen would love to open their own artisanal brew house and tasting shed some day. It’s a dream that already has a name, Charlotteville Brewing Company, and a possible future home in a 1913 “McIntosh” barn and a shed from Coldstream that were dismantled and moved to the farm. “The barn spoke to me” said Wilson, running his fingers over the hand-hewed post. The dream includes environmental and social benefits too.
Wilson explained: “As we are growing without pesticide or chemical fertilizers we think we are on a very sustainable and soft-treaded path”. During a farm tour in March, Wilson said: “Our goal is to hire marginalized workers and seasonal labourers. Even if we break even, we’re still making a profit”.
It’s an ambitious dream for two people who already have enough to do. Melanie Doerksen is a chef instructor at Fanshawe College in London, with a penchant for local artisanal cooking while husband Tim Wilson is a trained neuroscientist and Professor of Anatomy at Western University.
Wilson said: “We’re city dwellers on one hand and barefooters the rest of the time”. “We love this part of the world”.
To learn more, visit: www.carolinianhopyard.ca