Went for two Christmas hikes in the unseasonably warm 50’s weather – the first up the back side of Greek Peak and then over to Virgil Mountain on the Finger Lakes Trail in Cortland, NY. The second around Beaver Lake in Baldwinsville, NY, where there were thousands of Canada geese.
Today I went for a hike in southern Onondaga County, NY between Labrador Pond (with Labrador Mountain in the distance) and Spruce Pond in Morgan Hill State Forest. This trail is part of the Finger Lakes Trail in Central New York, which is also part of the North Country National Scenic Trail. I come to this area of CNY frequently to hike various sections, I have always loved the farms along the rolling hills and small mountains.
They don’t say Ithaca is Gorges for nothing. Much of New York State’s landscape was carved by receding glaciers forming long, narrow lakes, rivers and accompanying gorges made of limestone, sandstone, and the hotly debated Marcellus Shale. Over the last year I’ve visited a few different state parks featuring some of these unique gorges: Letchworth State Park, which is considered the “Grand Canyon of the East;” Thacher State Park, which is one of the best fossil bearing formations in the country; and Chittenango Falls State Park.
Last weekend I headed to Munnsville, NY to interview Steve Miller of Cornell Cooperative Extension at Foothill Farms. Steve is the resident NYS hops specialist and is doing a ton of work across the state to bring information to new hop farmers. He’s the founder of the Northeast Hop Alliance and he started the “GeoHopping” project that is tracking the varieties and locations of wild hops in New York.
Steve told me that in the last few years, we’ve gone from having just about 15 acres total of hops growing in the state to over 130 acres today. That’s still not much, but the interest is booming and new hop yards are popping up all over. Despite the heritage of hops farming in NYS, today they are basically a brand new crop and every farmer is starting from scratch to grow them.
I also stopped at Szaro Farms in Utica for an update with Dave Pasick. He strung wire on new poles he put in and told me about the research he’s been doing on funding opportunities through Empire State Development’s one-stop shop for the beverage industry. Lots of questions remain for him as far as qualifying for grants since his farm hasn’t been in production for many decades. For now, Dave is learning as he goes and doing what he can to keep expanding his hop yard.
This is the 3rd video from Hopped Upstate and the second update from Dave and Kayla Pasick of Szaro Farms in Utica. I visited Dave in May while he was finishing up a new row of poles and transplanting new wild hop plants from the barn and silo on his land. At that time, he was already seeing tremendous growth in the bines and by now, they’re probably towering.
Earlier this year Dave set up a Kickstarter campaign in an attempt to crowd source some funding to help expand his hop yard. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to reach his goal (meaning he received none of the money pledged), and felt that maybe the timing had something to do with it. Now half way into the first year of New York’s Farm Brewery Law, we’re seeing a rising tide of media attention around craft beer, hop farming, malting, etc. Dave was interviewed in April by Innovation Trail radio, and before that by the Utica Observer-Dispatch. He feels extremely encouraged by the continuing hype and thinks it’s the best way for people to get informed about the business and farm networks developing in their local communities.
Watch the latest video below and learn more about Hopped Upstate here.
This weekend I started production on my new video project about the craft beer movement in New York State. Over the last decade, the country has seen an enormous shift in beer consumption from the mass-marketed “American” lagers made by large macrobreweries like Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors to dynamic, flavorful, home-grown brews created by small, region-specific microbreweries. New York itself ranks in the top three states with the fasting growing craft beer industry. It’s been called a “bright spot” in New York’s economy and the rapid growth is expected to continue well into the future.
This is about so much more than beer. We’re seeing (what I hope are) the beginnings of an Upstate New York revival – a new appreciation and investment in small businesses, and not just the breweries themselves, but a ripple effect to other local businesses. We’re riding the wave of the “go local” trend by supporting farms and breathing new life into our agricultural industry. And it will hopefully bring the same kind of needed agro-tourism that our wine country has boasted for decades.
Last summer, Governor Cuomo and the state government started taking necessary steps to support craft brewers and farmers by passing the Farm Brewery Act, which includes tax incentives and other benefits to give financial relief to burgeoning breweries. The legislation also requires that 20% of ingredients used by breweries must come from NYS farms, and that will increase eventually to 90%. As a result, we’re seeing more and more farms expanding their operations to include hops and barley production.
To start my project, I visited Middle Ages Brewing Co. in Syracuse, NY. Middle Ages is one of the older craft breweries in both New York and the country, opening its doors in 1994. I love Middle Ages beer – it reminds me of home and special occasions spent with my family, it represents a pride of Syracuse – it’s more than just good beer or simply a brand or product. (And these are many of the same reasons that the rest of the population supports their own local breweries.)
Middle Ages was bottling their ImPaled Ale (IPA) while I was there and I chatted with owner Marc Rubenstein about the brewery. Middle Ages makes traditional English-style ales, importing their malt straight from England to give it as authentic a flavor as possible. Marc is optimistic about New York becoming a hops-growing state, but said that finding local maltsters will still be a challenge.
Next I headed out to Utica, NY and spent the morning with Dave Pasick of Szaro Farms, owned by his family since 1922. After finding wild hops growing along the old barn and silo, Dave transplanted them to a trellis and was able to successfully grow them last summer. His first harvest was used to make a wet hop IPA for Saranac Brewery.
Dave is now looking to expand his hop yard, but with costs totaling up to $15,000/acre – he, like many new hops farmers, will need financial support. He’s pleased with the legislative progress so far – helping to boost the industry and giving both brewers and farmers incentive to produce and sell crops locally – but there are still many hurdles ahead. Stay tuned for the full video!