Dal student hops into farming for Garrison

Commerce student fills niche market by starting a local hops farm.

Evan Price awaits his batch of beer this season at Garrison Brewing Co. (Photo: Scott Riddell)

Evan Price awaits his batch of beer this season at Garrison Brewing Co. (Photo: Scott Riddell)

Evan Price, 27, is a finance student at Dalhousie University, and he's about to embark on a career in agriculture.

On Nov. 24, Price signed a deal with the Garrison Brewing Company to provide them with all of his hops. It's the first deal of its kind for a Nova Scotia brewer, and as a result Garrison will be able to sell a beer to Halifax that follows the 100-mile diet.

Harvesting fiddleheads is a very labour intensive process. "You are literally bent over at the waist and harvesting things ankle height," says Price.

Finance and farming are an unlikely combination, a fact Price has become well aware of while getting his hands dirty digging holes, transplanting a crop of fiddleheads and building the infrastructure to grow hops this spring.

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Building the trellis system for the hops. (Photo: Courtesy Evan Price)

Garrison Brewing Co.

 

FiddleHop Farms is Price's conception. Ten acres of land with three acres along the riverbank devoted to fiddleheads and the remaining area used for growing hops.

It's a perfect example of how you never know what you're going to end up doing with your education. Price is using his training in finance to capitalize on an opportunity he identified a number of years ago.

And it's finally all coming together.

Why hops?

"Why hops? Indeed," replies Price. He had his epiphany back in 2005 while working at the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation in Truro. He became aware of an international hop shortage, artificially created by the major hop unions in a transition toward a higher yielding strain.

Because of the shortage, many small breweries almost went out of business. This resulted in brewers looking for local farmers who could guarantee first pick rights.

Price saw the demand, and he began devising a way to create the supply.

Now he has partnered with Garrison to help them develop a 100 per cent local beer.

Daniel Girard, brewmaster at Garrison, says he is just as excited about the relationship with Fiddlehop Farms and making a totally local beer. He says that while "others have tried it, (Garrison) is going for it."

Garrison has made room for Price's product says Girard. They are holding on to wait for the hops to make a beer they can sell across the country. "Instead of making one batch or two batches, we are going for it all."

FiddleHop origins

A small group of Price's friends has been harvesting fiddleheads from along riverbanks around Truro for the past eight years. It's a tradition that has come down from 80 years of practice by parents and grandparents.

Price, with his mind for commerce, figured out a way to make this more profitable.

As part of his commerce degree, he is required to spend a portion of his time each year working with a company, a sort of apprenticeship to gain experience in the field. Last year, he approached his professors and pitched the idea of analyzing the fiddlehead harvest. They gave him the OK and Price set out to work.

Typically, the harvesting crew, which includes his brother and some longtime friends, would spend a day along the riverbanks picking what ripe fiddleheads they could, then take them to the farmers' market for sale and to restaurants and grocers around Truro and Halifax.

Price saw the need for organization in the way they operated the harvest. He focused on sales and distribution while the others picked the crops, and in one season Price brought the business from selling a few bags of 100 pounds, to about 2,400 pounds. "We beat the market for demand and price and quality hand over fist," says Price.

The land, the goal

After increasing revenue, Price next looked at how to reduce their major transportation costs. The solution seemed obvious: to centralize their harvest. He began to search for land to start up a farm.

But Price had a bigger goal in mind.

An exhaustive search around the province led him to a plot near Glenholme in Colchester County. It had just the right arrangement of embankment next to the river for fiddleheads, and an adjacent flood plain to grow hops.

The fiddleheads were just a means to build a hops farm that would be organic, sustainable, and within 100 miles of Halifax.

The problem for him was the huge capital required to start a hops farm. After establishing a profit with the fiddleheads, Price made an arrangement with a landowner, who would provide the land, equipment and land maintenance in return for a share of the profits from the crops.

It took a little convincing, because as Price said, "I don't have an agriculture background at all." He had to see that "this wasn't just a school project," said Price. "This was going to be a lifestyle."

Thus began FiddleHop Farms.

After sealing the deal on the land, Price, and a crew of friends and contacts got together to build the farm.

They needed to transplant fiddleheads to the new plot and had very limited time to do it. As Price says, and any farmer can attest to, they are always at the mercy of mother nature.

Over six weekends in October and November, the team dug the holes and transplanted fiddlehead crowns, ensuring a crop for next season.

The next step was to erect a trellis system for the hops to grow. For this Price enlisted the help of a friend with a degree in ecology design.

They drew up plans for the system made up of 242 four-by-four inch posts. The posts support aircraft cable, which makes up the web system for the hop vines to climb.

This system was put in place over the winter holiday break, "literally from the day after exams until the first day of classes," says Price.

Environmental impact

Price has worked hard to make this a project for the community. Everyone involved has an interest in the project. The labourers are mostly friends and people he has met though the farmers' market and sales. As well, other farmers in the area interested in what's going on have been dropping by.

Price now has the support of universities and funding agencies who will provide work internships on his farm. This summer several students will be doing environmental impact research.

Jason Pelley, director of research in the business, has degrees in sustainability and biology, which Price says is a perfect mix for what they are doing.

Pelley is responsible for setting up the impact study and overseeing the student workers and grad student interns doing their research.

Price is looking to make the farm completely sustainable, eventually putting up wind turbines to create energy.

The crops are to be grown entirely organically. As he says, if he were to use chemicals on the hops, it would simply run off down to the fiddleheads grown below and into the river from there.

Price has even found lumber with an organic sealant from a company in B.C. rather than using lumber with standard chemical treatment to prevent decay.

3 everyday uses

On the weekend of Jan. 28, Price hosted a party to thank everyone for all their hard work in putting the farm together.

Speaking to the intensive labour Price had a hand in, he said, everyone was "eager to see me transfer from less of a finance role into more of a labour role."

Price has based the entire endeavour on addressing three everyday uses: food, energy, shelter.

Currently, they are focusing on the food aspect by growing the greens and hops. But, Price already has plans for putting up wind turbines, which will fulfill the energy contribution.

Further down the road Price wants to get involved in low income property development.

Reflecting on the challenges he has faced so far and those he is certain to face in the future, Price says, "Problems can always be fixed on a micro level by re-evaluating what you're putting your efforts into.

"The worst day in the world can always be fixed by getting out and walking around the property and putting your hands in the soil."

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