(Posted March 6, 2019)
By Michael Williamson, Staff Writer
Western Madison County, in the nearly 20 miles between Plain City and Mechanicsburg, is a rural patchwork of farms. Among them, a sample of much of the agricultural makeup of the Midwest: fields of corn and soybeans.
However, on a plot of land almost bordering the Champaign County line, a family with deep roots in the agricultural community is farming a unique crop.
“We have several acres and we thought that we could make a few of them productive,” said Nick Zachrich, part-owner of Zachrich Hop Yard, which he runs with his wife, Mallory. Both Nick and Mallory have lived and worked in the ag world since they were very young and both as educators.
Road to hops
Zachrich Hop Yard and Farm sits on Mallory’s family land where she serves as the sixth generation to occupy and work the soil. A graduate of Urbana High School, Mallory received a bachelor’s degree in ag education from Ohio State and a master’s degree from Texas A&M. She has taught ag at a number of schools, including Madison-Plains and her alma mater in Urbana where she currently works.
Nick also went to Ohio State, receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agriculture. He serves as manager for the Farm Science Review, which takes place annually at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London.
“The hops world is a little confusing in that when you plant the hops, the year that you plant them isn’t really the harvest,” he said. “So, a first harvest of hops is actually the second year of growing.”
The couple’s crops grow on a 1.25-acre yard at the edge of their property.
“When we were first planting, we thought we could do about three acres and we quickly learned we would be one of the largest hop yards in the state at that time,” Nick said. “We realized that would be too large to begin with and decided on the acre-plus.”
They have been planting and growing for two seasons, starting in 2017. The couple grows six varieties of hops: Cascade, Centennial, Zeus, Magnum, Willamette and Cashmere.
Hops: the crop
Hops grow on vines, often hung vertically in the yards, and grow best in a moist, temperate climate. They give bitterness and aroma to beer and function as a balance to the sweeter malt ingredient.
The largest and most common area of hops in the United States is in the Pacific Northwest but over the years, careful research and advancing techniques have allowed the crop to flourish elsewhere.
Hops as product
Although early in the process, the Zachriches have already partnered with breweries to begin using the crop in locally produced, craft beer.
“It’s really about working to grow a quality product,” said Mallory. “Why would a brewery buy from us when they could from somewhere out west? If you’re a locally grown crop of high quality, that becomes something brewers are interested in.”
Many involved in the hops growing game have an eye for local products. Given that the yards around Ohio are generally two acres or less and given the longer harvest seasons, growers have to pay attention to technique and best practices to ensure the quality makes up for the smaller quantity. That, in turn, gives brewers an extra incentive to buy locally.
“Because of the growing conditions and other factors that affect hops, brewers can often get a different product,” Mallory said. “But for some businesses, it’s exciting to get such a unique crop and be able to do that right here in the state.”
Hops growing in the state is still relatively new. The Ohio Hops Growers Guild, an organization formed to aid in the structure and research of growing the crop, was formed in 2014. In Madison County, Nick and Mallory are in the company of one other yard, OSHY Hops, run by Derek Thompson, located in South Solon.
“We’re still very early in the process and plan to continue to get better and grow a quality product,” Mallory said.
Although they enjoy the process, the couple added that they have no interest to expand beyond growing.
“There are some really talented and creative people in the brewery business,” said Nick. “We’ll leave that to the experts.”
A chance to sample
On March 26, Lincoln & Main, a restaurant and bar in Urbana, will host “Cover Crop, From Field to Pint.” During the event, patrons will be able to sample beer made using Nick and Mallory’s hops. The blonde ale, called “Cover Crop,” was brewed by North High in honor of the Ohio Farm Bureau’s 100th anniversary, using the Zachriches’ hops and malt grown by Rustic Brew Farm of Marysville. Lincoln & Main is located at 624 N. Main St., Urbana. The event starts at 6 p.m.