Growing A Hop Co-op Business

Longtime home brewer Tom Traver is just one of many small-scale hop growers turning his passion into profit. Long disappointed in the lackluster quality of commercial, pelletized hops, Tom knew just what to do with his open acre lot. He started growing hops about seven years ago.

Building off of a few plants, each year he pots up root starts to be planted out the next spring. Tom now has about a quarter of an acre under cultivation. Varieties like Cascade, Willamette, Golding and Centennial race to the top of his trellis each summer.

HOP CO-OP: Within a couple of years, his production began to outpace his personal use. There was no shortage of friends eager to take the surplus. This provided the inspiration to turn his hobby into a business. Tom founded the Hop Co-op about six years ago. Beginning with a handful of friends, the Hop Co-op is now the first choice for local home brewers in the know. Brewers can purchase 4 ounces of a vacuum-sealed packet of hops year round. For the seasonal treat of brewing with fresh flowers, Tom maintains a contact list to let everyone know when the hop harvest is on.

U-PICK ’EM: Location and temperament proved a secondary market and provided big labor savings. Set on the outskirts of the home brew epicenter, a couple of signs set on the road are all it takes to draw people into his Port- land, Oregon hop yard. What doesn’t go to the Hop Co-op is sold “U-pick” for five bucks a pound.

Pleasant and outgoing, Tom enjoys the chance to meet people and talk hops. He teaches people how to pick, clean or even grow their own. During the harvest Tom provides samples of many of his home brews. This gives folks a chance to taste the wide range of flavors possible from his many varieties. While we visited he let me taste a couple, too. My favorite was a rich, full-bodied lager. Tom explained that it is brewed with the same Willamette hops as a major national “macro brew.” One sip of Tom’s delicious handiwork proved it’s not the hops’ fault that the nationally recognized brew tastes weak and watered down!

GO ORGANIC: Tom spends about a week per month working in the hop yard during the growing season. This is a big time investment for the 75 to 100 pounds he currently produces. However, this translates directly into a high-quality finished product. What he spends in time, he saves on chemicals and machinery. Choosing to grow all organic means more handwork but a much broader market. Water for irrigation comes 100 percent from caught rainwater. This not only saves money but also keeps chlorine-tainted tap water off his field.

LABOR OF LOVE: After spending some time with Tom it’s hard to classify his efforts as “work.” For the retired engineer, his love of growing things, good beer and good people all come together out in the hop yard. In the future he plans to expand the hop yard on his acre and continue growing the business. His hope is one day to have a viable business to leave his son. In the meantime it’s obvious that Tom is a happy guy, having a good time making some fine beer and a little money to boot. For more info on Tom’s products you can email him at hopco-op@q.com.