ROSHOLT, Wis. – Some people are motivated by money. Other people are motivated by love. Spend a little time with Peg and Randy Urness and it’s easy to learn what motivates them.
About 10 years ago the couple started growing hops on their 40-acre farm; currently 5 acres are planted in hops. Their business, Fine Bine Farms near Rosholt, supplies hops to craft brewers around Wisconsin.
Any farming is hard work – and hops are especially labor-intensive. But Peg Urness said she and her husband are “hoptimistic.”
“We had attended a presentation by a local brewery about using locally grown hops and barley,” Randy Urness said. “That piqued our interest. We did some research and decided to give it a shot. We wanted to provide local craft breweries with hops. We’re part of a couple of co-ops.”
One of those co-ops is Wisconsin Hops and Barley Co-op, started by five breweries in Wisconsin. The Urnesses also ship throughout the country.
“We have relationships with other hops growers,” Peg Urness said. “If we don’t have a variety a brewer wants, we can get in touch with other local growers who do.”
Wisconsin was once a major hop-producing state but disease drove production to areas in the western United States that have drier climates. Disease still presents challenges in Wisconsin.
“Downy mildew, powdery mildew and other diseases are common in Wisconsin,” Randy Urness said. “What has changed is that there are numerous fungicides available. We have to cycle through fungicides as resistance to them develops.”
The main motivation to grow hops at Fine Bine Farm is not money.
“We are motivated a little by the challenge,” Peg Urness said. “It’s also neat to work with local breweries. The craft-brewery people are tight-knit. The more we can learn and pass on to other potential growers, (the more) it helps get more people growing. Plus hops are just cool plants. They are awesome. Some are already 18 feet high. They talk about corn being knee-high by the Fourth of July. For us it’s 18 feet high.”
Bo Bélanger is the head brewmaster at South Shore Brewery of Ashland, Wisconsin – a member of the Wisconsin Hops and Barley Co-op. The brewery has a production facility and tap room.
“We went through a long process of finding viable candidates to be our farmers,” Bélanger said. “Peg and Randy did their homework to become pros. They clearly have passion. You can see that they always put in effort to get even better. We can trust them to follow through in the face of hardship.
“We were known as a local brewery. We wanted our product to say something about where we’re from. That’s why we wanted to source ingredients for our beer locally. The ingredients say who we are and where we are. Sourcing our main ingredients locally has enabled us to develop an intimate relationship with our farmers. We get the soul of our beer, barley, and the essence of our beer, hops, from local farmers who have the aptitude and energy to produce fine products.
Locally produced ingredients used to brew local beer and intimate relationships to brew trust and respect – that’s the craft-brewery world.
“If it wasn’t for the local people we wouldn’t be surviving right now,” Bélanger said. “Hats off to all the customers in our backyard. Hats off to our community that has given us such great support for 25 years.”
Customers who buy local beer are not just supporting a community brewery. They’re also supporting a community of dedicated farmers like Peg and Randy Urness at Fine Bine Farms.