Hops company dreaming big 

Pemberton entrepreneurs looking to serve the beer business

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There was a time when hops grew in many places around North America.

But over time the number of growers has decreased, as cultivation of the key ingredient in beer has concentrated in Oregon's Williamette Valley, the Yakima Valley of Washington State and a few places in Idaho.

A few early Pemberton pioneers produced hops and Squamish was a significant hops producer in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Fraser Valley farmers also started producing hops in the late 1800s.

Now Hops Connect in Pemberton is looking to make Spud Valley the next hot spot for hops. Peter Vandenberg, the manager of the young company, has big plans. With a production building in place, some commitment from Pemberton farmers and a dedicated staff Vandenberg says he's working with a company owner who sees Pemberton's potential as a hops producing valley.

The burgeoning company has early acceptance from the Whistler Brewing Company, Howe Sound Brewing, Powell Street Brewery, Parallel 49 and other brew makers.

So far, the company has relied on imported hops but Vandenberg says his company is going to plant 1.2 acres on farm property leased by Hops Connect.

"We also wanted to encourage people to grow hops in Pemberton because the climate is suited to grow hops," says Vandenberg with a sense of urgency and obvious passion. "It would be nice to get that back into producing an agricultural crop."

A few other Pemberton farmers are interested in growing hops this season.

"We sold some hops locally," says Vandenberg. "We have five interested growers right now so we will be growing hops this year in five different places in Pemberton."

Hops production is easy to spot. The plants grow on strings that reach up usually about five and a half metres supported by wooden poles around the perimeter of the growing field.

"When they do come into bloom it is quite a majestic looking crop because it is so massively high," says Vandenberg.

The company employs a student, a sales person and Vandenberg at this point but Vandenberg predicts that greater prosperity is on the way for the area from the top of the Pemberton Meadows to Mount Currie courtesy of hops production.

"I think it is going to create a lot more jobs in Pemberton," Vandenberg says.

The new company has organic certification for its processing methods. This means the producer can offer organic and non-organic hops pellets to the brewing industry. In addition to offering pellets as the final product for use in the brewing process Hops Connect is also supporting farmers by offering rhizomes, or rootstock, to get them started in the growing process.

"We connect the people who grow hops with the brewers," says Vandenberg. "We grow, process, warehouse and distribute organic and non-organic crops."

In these early days, according to Vandenberg, the company is working with growers to determine what varieties grow best in Pemberton and figure out which varieties are most marketable.

For those who value local food production, beer made from Pemberton hops can now be added to the 100-mile diet.



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