Nestled in the hills of Starksboro a dairy farm is getting a makeover – it’s becoming a hops farm.
Julian Post of Champlain Valley Hops, previously known as Mount Philo Hops, is getting the farm in working order for the upcoming planting season.
“We’ve acquired additional fields in Starksboro, which will be our main location for hops. We continue to farm the property in Charlotte – it will be managed organically,” Post said by email.
The company Mount Philo Hops filed with the Secretary of State’s office in April to change the business name to Champlain Valley Hops, LLC. That was also right around the time the company bought the farm in Starksboro, according to the Starksboro town clerk’s office. The company also changed the web address to champlainvalleyhops.com within the past month since the filing.
“With this new location, Champlain Valley Hops is a more appropriate, representative name. We are excited to bring high quality, locally grown hops to the Vermont craft beer industry! Our mission is to farm in a way that is beneficial to soil, water, and our greater community,” Post, the farm’s manager, added.
Ironically, the name was previously used by a farm in Orwell, but the farm closed earlier this year, according to Eric Hall, one of the owners.
The farm was originally planned for Charlotte, hence the name Mount Philo Hops.
Last summer, Mount Philo Hops caused controversy in Charlotte when entrepreneur Peter Briggs started to develop a high-profile site near the popular state park and announced plans to fill the field with hops plants to supply Vermont’s growing craft-beer industry.
Briggs purchased the 58-acre Charlotte site in 2013. Adjacent to a residential neighborhood along Route 7 on East Thompsons Point Road, it drew attention from neighbors when activity began on site a year ago. They packed public meetings and posted questions and concerns online raising worries about the new farm’s potential water use, expected pesticide use, and the impact the farm could have on scenic views.
Drive by the spot today and all is quiet. Gone are the dozens of 22-foot poles used to construct the giant supports for hops plants. They were removed before any hops were grown.
Those poles now have moved about 10 miles east to a farm off 116 in Starksboro next to a large farmhouse and multiple dairy barns. As the hops operation takes shape this summer, cows will continue to graze the fields and live on site under an arrangement made with the former owner.
Post and owner Briggs are making a new start. A clue to the farm’s growth comes from an online employment advertisement on the company’s website: “Mt. Philo Hops in Starksboro, VT is seeking a full time hourly assistant manager.”
The ad goes on to say: “At the end of this season, we will be the largest hop farm in New England! This year is our buildout and planting phase. Work will include preparing fields, constructing 20+ acres of hop trellis and irrigation, planting hops, caring for the hops, and refitting old dairy barns for new uses.”
The Starksboro property will be the company’s main farm but it will still own the Charlotte property, Post explained. He didn’t say specifically what crops may be grown there.
At the Starksboro site, hops are already being planted now that the danger of hard frost is past.
Whether a large commercial hops crop succeeds in Vermont remains to be seen, according to Heather Darby, a UVM extension associate professor.
Hops are “not really good” for growing in Vermont’s wet and humid climate, Darby said. “But we have a beer and vibrant microbrew culture, so there is interest in locally grown hops.”
Champlain Valley Hops is hoping to capture that market as the largest Vermont farm with 20 acres planted this season at the Starksboro location. Farming hops is “infrastructure intensive,” Darby said, and farms often have to wait a year to get a good crop that they can sell.