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CRAFING BUSINESS WITH Breweries: Break into a new market by selling your produce to local brewers and cider makers.

Farmers have a long list of protential markets for their produce--restaurants, wholesalers, farmers markets, and retail produce outlets are just a few common selling options. However, a novel market is emerging, offering a new source of revenue: local breweries and cideries.

An Expanding Craft

Local breweries seem to be popping up everywhere nowadays, but this wasn't always true. Although more than 4,000 breweries existed in the United States in the early 1870s, this number steadily declined over the next century until breweries in the country had all but disappeared.

A main contributing factor was the National Prohibition Act. In effect from 1920 into the early '30s, Prohibition forced breweries to stop producing alcohol except for near beers (that is, beer containing little to no alcohol). The damage done to breweries lasted until the early 1990s, when brewery numbers began to spike. Even with this revival, it's only been in the last decade that the number of craft brewers has jumped dramatically. Today, according to the National Brewers Association, there are well over 6,000 breweries in the country. Craft breweries--independent breweries not associated with any multinational corporations--comprise the overwhelming percentage of these new businesses.

Craft brewers are at the forefront of using myriad local ingredients; they're limited only by their imagination in a quest to create unique and flavorful brews. Beers have been created using ingredients as disparate as oysters, beets, sweet potatoes, and rosemary. Brewing beer isn't just about hops anymore--boundary-breaking ingredients set craft brewers apart from the rest, and farmers are in the perfect position to supply the fundamental crops.

Make Your Word Heard

Brewers are enthusiastic about their ingredients, and they want to buy local; it builds community, facilitates beneficial relationships, and frequently results in higher quality produce. Most brewers are also willing to go outside their immediate area for quality ingredients that aren't available locally. For local growers, this means getting your name out there and building relationships with these brewers. No one will buy from you if they don't know you exist.

Cameron Stark, a cider maker at Jersey Cider Works, emphasizes the importance of grooming relationships between growers and brewers. "Let us know you exist. Tell us what you grow, and maybe even more importantly, ask us what we might need you to grow. Instead of growing the same crops as every other farmer, have a sit down with the buyers and ask, "What do you need?'"

Similarly, James Priest, owner of The Referend Bier Blendery, works extensively with local growers, and values these relationships. "Local growers care to put in the time to make something worthwhile. Usually they're small, independent operations, even frequently backyard growers, where the care and attention and inherent love of the place is that much more apparent." In addition, these relationships are frequently more flexible and can be more responsive to the brewer. "We occasionally have specific needs that differ from what's popular in the market. I can't go to Costco and get perfectly overripe raspberries, but I can work with a local grower to achieve that end."

Though many brewers prefer local fare, the quality of the ingredients is usually of the greatest importance to them. This opens up additional opportunities for growers who don't feel the need to be bound to local markets. "We're somewhat limited by quantity when working with certain locally-grown fruits," says Priest. "Dark juiced sour cherries, for example, 'Balaton,' 'Danube,' and 'North Star,' are extremely hard to source in any real quantity in New Jersey, but the Hudson Valley and Central Pennsylvania are flush with them."

Will Meyers of Cambridge Brewing Co. also searches for ingredients outside his immediate area. "My primary goal is to have the best fruit, herbs, and ingredients possible to express in my beer. My secondary goal is to source as locally as possible. My ability to work with local growers is determined more by the seasonality of the harvests, and whether I'm in a position to use a fruit when it's ripe."

Breaking into the Market

It's best to know who might be buying your product before harvest time approaches, or, better yet, before you plant. That's why you need to contact local brewers and let them know you're interested in meeting their needs.

How do you find brewers? The Brewers Association is a national organization promoting the interests of craft breweries. Its website,, allows you to search for breweries by state and by county, and differentiates between microbreweries, brewpubs, large breweries, and regional breweries. Every state has its own brewers guilds. These organizations represent the interests of brewers in that location, and connect the community with the national organization. This is a great place to begin your search for nearby breweries that might be interested in your produce.

When I identify a brewer I believe has promise, I send an email explaining who I am and what I grow. If I don't receive a response after a few days, I follow up with a phone call. If the brewer still doesn't respond, I know it's time to look elsewhere. Some brewers are more interested in trying local produce than others, so don't be discouraged if your offers are ignored.

If, on the other hand, a brewer responds to your queries, let them know what you're currently growing, and ask if they need something that isn't available locally. I've always had great interest in my fruits and berries, but brewers are open to all types of produce.

In contrast with local wineries, which frequently need large amounts of product, local breweries are much more flexible about produce quantities.

Brew quantities differ substantially across breweries, and sometimes even within a single brewery. According to the head brewer at Lone Eagle Brewing, Alex Franko, most breweries make batches ranging from 3 barrels up to 50 barrels. Generally, about 25 pounds of product, suitable for about a 5-barrel brew, is the lowest number a brewery can use. However, a more common low end for products to be used as main ingredients is around 50 pounds. I've personally sold smaller quantities of accent products, such as elderflowers, to breweries.

Perfect Timing

One important consideration for brewers is a grower's ability to be flexible in delivery. David Bronstein, owner of Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing, often fights the battle between space, preparation, and timing. "It's hard for brewers to make sure they have tank space, yeast, and all their brewing arrangements ready at the exact time the local harvest is ready." Even larger breweries face the same issue; Gene Muller, head brewer of Flying Fish, echoes this sentiment. "We brew approximately 100 kegs--or 1,800 cases--at a time, so it's really expensive for us to gear up new packaging and get wholesalers on board to distribute. Ideally, we want a crop that's in a stable format--frozen, pureed, and so on. We can use fresh product, but it takes a bit more work."

I've had my own experiences successfully selling frozen produce to brewers. Last season, I wasn't able to bring my fresh raspberries to brewery customers at harvest time. Instead, I froze them. I was able to sell this product later at a good price when the customers were ready.

One season, I was blessed with a particularly robust aronia berry harvest in August. At the time, many of my regular customers were flooded with fresh produce and didn't have the storage space or demand to warrant purchasing more berries. By freezing my crop, I was able to address their needs at a later date that was more convenient for them. I was also able to beat out competition because I had access to these berries when fresh produce was no longer readily available. This highlights the value of growing and offering a crop that doesn't need to be used immediately.

With the inevitable continued growth of local craft breweries and cideries, it's a smart move to establish relationships with these businesses. In this exchange, farmers guarantee a buyer for their produce by growing specifically ordered crops, and brewers get top-quality ingredients while supporting local growers. Such teamwork is worth grabbing a cold beer and celebrating with an elated, "Cheers!"


Discover more about this garden champion, and learn how you can go to hat for them on your property. By Jo Ann Abell

* Few animals in history have been so misunderstood and maligned as bats. For centuries, these flying mammals have been associated with evil and death, and reviled as carriers of disease. The media has perpetuated these myths, portraying them as frightening, bloodsucking, rabies-infested flying vermin, giving a bad rap to creatures that really do a lot of good. However, in the last couple of decades, thanks to the efforts of conservation groups and federal and state wildlife agencies, bats are being seen in a different light for the valuable role they play in our ecosystems.

North America is home to 47 species of bats. Most are insect-eaters, the exception being three species that feed on nectar and pollen and are found throughout the southwestern United States and Mexico. Texas holds the title of "battiest" state in the country--32 bat species call the Lone Star State home at various times of the year. According to Bat Conservation International, bats make up about a fifth of the world's mammal population.

Bats are nocturnal, hunting in the dim hours between sunset and sunrise. Contrary to popular perception, they aren't blind. They can see, though many species use echolocation, navigating the night sky by emitting high-pitched (ultrasonic) noises and listening for the echoes to return. The sound waves reflect off objects, such as insects and surrounding obstacles, allowing bats to process the received data into a navigational layout in dark surroundings.

As the primary predators of night-flying insects, bats are critical to reducing insect pest populations, including those pesky mosquitoes that take some of the fun out of summertime and carry diseases. Bats are part of a healthy ecosystem, and integral to the balance of nature.

Brown and Red Bats

One of the most common native North American bats, the big brown bat is widely distributed throughout the contiguous United States. Russet to dark brown in color, this bat averages 4 to 5 inches in length with a wingspan of about 13 inches. Its favorite roosts include attics, barns, bell towers, window shutters, and man-made bat houses. These efficient feeders prey on a wide variety of nocturnal insects, including beetles, flies, June bugs, moths, and mosquitoes.

Little brown bats look a lot like big browns, but are smaller, averaging 3 to 3 1/2 inches in length. Found throughout most of the country, they can be identified on the wing by their swift, erratic flight. They voraciously consume thousands of insects in one outing, eating as many as 1,000 insects in an hour! Mated females form maternity colonies inside abandoned buildings, hollow trees, rock crevices, or similar areas. Males and unmated females roost under shingles, the eaves of buildings, loose tree bark, and in rock outcroppings.

Every May, a small number of little brown bats take up residence in our porch eaves. We haven't mowed the fields for the last few years in an effort to create a diversity of trees, plants, and wildflowers that provide food, habitat, and cover for all wildlife, including insects. Our neighbor's pond helps lure in the bats by attracting many of the water-breeding insects on their menu. We embrace these insect-eating machines that dine on beetles, mosquitoes, moths, stink bugs, and a host of other insect pests. In fall, when the nights start getting colder and insects are hard to find, our furry friends fly off to their winter hibernation site to wait for spring.

One of North America's most colorful bats, the eastern red bat ranges in color from rusty-red to yellow-brown. Short, rounded ears and swift flight at low levels mark this bat as it forages for beetles, cicadas, crickets, moths, flies, and other insects. Red bats are found in wooded areas east of the Rocky Mountains from Canada to as far south as central Florida, roosting in trees, where they resemble dead leaves or pine cones.

Free-Tailed and Long-Nosed Bats

The Mexican free-tailed bat is found throughout most of the southern half of the United States. Its colonies are the largest congregations of mammals in the world. Besides caves, free-tailed bats roost in culverts, old buildings, tunnels, and under bridges. These bats get their name from the fact that their tail is almost half their total body length, extending beyond the membrane that stretches between their hind legs and tail.

When hungry free-tails come out at sundown, humans reap the benefit. In central Texas, for example, every night about 15 million free-tailed bats emerge from Bracken Cave to cruise over lawns, gardens, farm fields, and orchards, gobbling up insect pests. According to Fran Hutchins, director of the Bracken Cave Preserve, "As the bats munch their way through nearly 300,000 pounds of bugs each and every night during the growing season, they provide a huge, mostly hidden, service to U.S. agricultural communities." And that's not all. A study in Uvalde, Texas, revealed that free-tailed bats ate 44 different agricultural pests, 20 of which are migratory, meaning that the bats are intercepting vast pest migrations and helping to lessen their spread.

Mexican long-nosed and lesser long-nosed bats are keystone species in the ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert in the southwestern United States. The bats' head shape and long tongue allow them to delve into flower blossoms and extract both pollen and nectar. As they travel from flower to flower, they transfer pollen dusted on their bodies, which causes the plants to produce fruit. Worldwide, more than 500 species of plants rely on bats for pollination, many of which we use for food and medicine. Bees, moths, lizards, birds, and other wildlife depend on plants pollinated by long-nosed bats, either for food or shelter. Indeed, if the bats were to disappear, there would be serious disruption to the world's ecosystems.

All bats struggle to adjust to environmental changes. Most produce only one offspring per breeding season, and often live in large colonies that can easily be wiped out in a single catastrophe. These traits leave bats extremely vulnerable to extinction. With many species suffering population decline due to loss of roosting habitat, loss of wetlands (which serve as insect breeding grounds), and pesticide poisoning, people can do their part to help stem the tide by making their home landscape more bat-friendly (see "Gritty's Tips" on Page 56 for advice on how to get started).

Welcoming bats will pay dividends in terms of organic pest control. These winged wonders have long played an important role in nature's systems of checks and balances. In a healthy, diverse ecosystem, for every insect pest we might find, there's a natural predator. One of these is the silent hunter of the night--the underappreciated bat.

Jo Ann Abell lives on a small farm in southwestern Virginia with her husband, three dogs, chickens, and 200,000 honeybees.

By Michael Brown

Michael Brown owns Pitspone Farm, a small-acreage farm and nursery focusing on less-common berries. He sells to a variety of restaurants, food, and beverage companies in New Jersey. Find him at

THE Right Price

Pricing is always a difficult decision: How do you determine a price that allows the customer to position their product competitively, and earns both you and the brewer a reasonable profit? Growers should keep in mind that brewers need to meet their production costs. Still, most brewers are glad to pay a premium for your product, especially if you have a well-established relationship with them. The ability to move relatively large amounts of produce at reasonable prices is a win-win situation for both partners in this relationship. Personally, I charge brewers somewhere between my usual wholesale price and my retail price.

Gritty's Tips

Bats lose suitable habitat every year as land is gobbled up by homes and industrial development. You can help provide these useful creatures with places to live and feed by making a few adaptations to your landscape.

* Bats will live in man-made bat houses if they're placed on a south-facing structure away from natural predators. (Don't mount them on trees; bats will be more vulnerable to predators, plus their branches obstruct sunlight and make it difficult for the bats to drop into flight.) Bat houses and kits can be purchased online, or you can make your own with plans from Bat Conservation International, a nonprofit organization working to conserve the world's bats and their habitats. Search "bat house plans" on the website ( to find plans and tips for building your own bat house.

* Bats prefer habitat with different types of cover, such as a mix of open and wooded areas. Plant a variety of perennials, herbs, and night-blooming flowers, such as moon-flower, evening primrose, cleome, and nicotiana, to lure nocturnal insects; and avoid using pesticides.

* Bats are drawn to aquatic areas, where insect populations tend to be greater. Adding a pond or wetland to your landscape will help ensure lucrative foraging for bats.
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Author:Brown, Michael
Date:May 1, 2019
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