In June 2017, the Pittsburgh Hop Company received a $5,000 Kiva loan to purchase a used tractor to help them operate their farm, which they call Study Field. Their Kiva loan was endorsed by DECO Resources. I sat down with one of the co-owners, Pete, to learn more about the history of the Pittsburgh Hop Company, how the purchase of a tractor impacted their business, and the progress of this year’s crop.
Bethany: Why did you guys start working with hops instead of flowers, or produce?
Pete: So, all of us [Pete and his friends & business partners, Joe & Phoebe] like beer a lot. The first idea was to start a brewery, but it seemed like everybody in Pittsburgh was doing that. We all like farming and gardening, so then we tried to find something that used those skills and was beer-related. We came up with the Hops on Lots project: grow hops on vacant lots or weird locations within the city. The hops are donated to a local brewery, the brewery brews a beer, and the proceeds from that beer benefit the community the hops were grown in. Our first year was really successful, so we decided to start a larger farm to test out new methods.
Bethany: So how does the farm that you purchased the tractor for help the Hops on Lots community projects?
Pete: Study Field Farm is our testbed. By the end of the summer, we’ll have one and a half to two acres of hops to experiment with. Everybody in the city likes the idea of the project, but one issue that we’ve run into is obtaining land that’s good for hops (clear and sunny). So, we decided to start this farm, mess around, and get a better idea of how to grow given the conditions. One of the things we do a bit differently is we grow on a low trellis system, just 10 to 12 feet high. Most commercial hops farms, specifically in the Pacific Northwest, are about 20 to 22 feet high. We replicated a farm that we would like to place in the city and built it out in West Middletown. So we’ll be taking cuttings from these plants, to turn them into plants for Hops on Lots, once we get the right space in the city.
Bethany: Have you guys had a harvest from the Study Field Farm?
Pete: Yeah, last year was our first year, so we had a typical first year harvest. Hops do not mature/ plateau until about year four or five, so we only got a small harvest out of it: about 25 pounds. We took it to Spoonwood Brewery and made a fresh pale ale with it. It was nothing big, but we had no idea what to expect. So this year we strung again, and we’ll see what happens. We’re expecting a couple hundred pounds from the harvest. The plants are a lot hardier, and doing a lot better.
Bethany: So, how did the tractor that you purchased with your Kiva loan change how your business operated?
Pete: Let me give you an idea. We built the farm last year, before we had the tractor, almost entirely by hand. The land we’re leasing is on a slope and there’s a barn where we store all of our tools and supplies, everything to build a trellis system, at the top of the hill. While we were building the trellises, we carried everything down the hill by hand, and then picked it up at the end of the work day and took it back up the hill to the barn. (laughs) Yeah, we were in quite great shape by the end of the summer. With the tractor and its little cart, we can not only harvest the whole yard, but it also serves as our little portable truck that we drive around. It’s been a huge time & energy saver: before, if I was fixing something in the field and forgot a tool or got the wrong size ratchet, I’d have to walk all the way to the barn & back. Now I can bring the whole toolkit with me in the cart, so I have it all available.
While the team perfects their methods and looks for the next location in Pittsburgh to plant their crops, be sure to check out their website, Facebook page, Instagram, and Twitter to keep up with Study Field Farm’s & Hops on Lots community locations’ progress and find out when the next brew is out.
Written by Bethany Arneson. Interview has been edited for length and clarity.