MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen takes us to Foley where a college project has led to one of the largest hops-growing farms in the Midwest.
The Land of 10,000 Lakes is also known for its farmland. Corn and soybean fields are everywhere. But on a piece of property in Benton County a new crop literally towers over all the others.
“You can think of this as vertical farming. The 18 feet up we can go is 18 feet of yield producing we are going to get,” Eric Sannerud said.
Eric and Ben Boo started with 200 hops plants. Now, as part of Mighty Axe Hops, they have over 82,000 plants on 82 acres of land — a seemingly never-ending forest of vines.
“It’s kind of the thing you dream of when you see the pictures of farms out west,” said Ben. “I couldn’t tell you 3 years ago that this is where I’d be right now.”
It all began with a college project in a business class.
“You had to have gotten an “A” in that class, right?” Lauritsen asked Eric.
“I think we did pretty good,” Eric said.
“We are the largest hops farm from Michigan to Idaho in the entire center of the country,” Eric said.
Even before they graduated from the University of Minnesota 5 years ago, Eric and Ben got hopping. With their college project, and with the craft beer rise, they knew there was a chance to add their own flavor.
Over half of the world’s hops come from the Pacific Northwest. But that didn’t stop a couple of city boys from farming.
“I think a lot of Minnesotans imagine all the cool stuff can’t grow here. Oranges and bananas, you can’t grow them. Hops, those are cool but we can grow them here,” Eric said.
In the spring, a crew of workers move quickly, tying strings up high while another crew uses metal clips to establish a foundation, down below. That’s where the vines get their start.
“This is called training and you always go clockwise. If you go counterclockwise they spin themselves off,” Eric said while wrapping a vine around the string.
There are 3.6 million feet of string on the farm. In September, they harvest the plants, pick off the flowers, and then dry them. They are stored in a freezer set at 27 degrees until brewers are ready for them. When the time comes, the dried flowers are milled into pellets that clients like Summit Brewing, will use.
“We are trying to show that hops from a specific place, hops grown in Minnesota, matter to people in Minnesota,” Eric said.
As they celebrate their fifth anniversary, Eric and Ben think they’ve found the key to a homegrown business and a hoppy life.
“I would love to have 150 acres of healthy, happy hops that come from Minnesota and show the character of Minnesota grown crops as a unique, special thing,” said Ben.
Eric and Ben said the “Mighty” in Mighty Axe comes from the Mighty Mississippi, and the “Axe” comes from Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
They are hoping to have a Hops Fest at their farm sometime down the road.