As Tom LaPitz pushes a manual lawnmower around the edge of the Community Hops Longfellow garden, knocking down ankle-high grass and weeds, Bryce Larson pulls length after length of rough twine from a tangled pile and wraps each one into a neat figure eight.
After the last length is tied, Larson makes a final count. “We’re gonna need more lines,” he says flatly to LaPitz, reminiscent of police chief Martin Brody’s iconic declaration in Jaws following his first encounter with the monstrous shark.
Larson is the president of Community Hops, taking over the post from LaPitz this year, who transitioned to a leadership role for the Longfellow garden. It used to be that this garden, established in 2014, was the only one. As of this summer, Community Hops will expand with two new hop gardens in the Northeast and Seward neighborhoods of Minneapolis.
At the Longfellow garden, a few cascade and willamette bines are already over six feet high, nearly halfway to the wires that make up the upper heights of the trellis system. “They could reach the top by Saturday,” LaPitz says. “A foot a day in prime sunlight.”
For the new Northeast and Seward gardens, 50 plants donated by St. Croix Valley Hops are getting ready to go in the ground: 20 sorachi ace plants at Fair State Brewing Cooperative and 30 chinooks at Wood From The Hood.
More plants means Community Hops needs more people to help sow in the spring, tend throughout the year, harvest come late summer, and, ultimately, use the hops in their own batches of homebrew. It’s a lot of work, which is why the group is always looking for new members and volunteers.
To be a member, people pay $25 annually, agree to help out at the garden throughout the year, attend board meetings to help shape the direction of the organization, and, in return, get all the fresh hops they can use come harvest time.
In order to allow members to reap the benefits of the harvest, Community Hops is reorganizing from being a non-profit to a public-benefit corporation. It’s one of Larson’s two primary goals for the organization in 2015.
Community Hops was originally established as a non-profit in 2014. Larson says they realized it was not the ideal designation for them when they learned it would require them to give the hops away at the end of each year to another non-profit rather than distribute them to members. Conversely, as a public-benefit corporation, they’ll be allowed to distribute hops to members, as was the original plan. The change on paper doesn’t alter Community Hops’ overall mission, however, which is to educate the community, facilitate community involvement in the gardens, and use sustainable agriculture practices.
The second goal was to establish a new garden—which they’re doing, times two. The Fair State garden will separate an alley from the brewery’s new patio. The 20 plants at Wood From The Hood will run along a fence that borders Highway 55. There’s space for up to 100 plants there, but the soil isn’t great so they’re starting small to see if it’s a truly viable location.
Regardless of where future gardens end up, Community Hops makes a point to live up to the “Community” part of its name. Water was a challenge at the Longfellow garden due to the fact that there’s no city water line present on the property, so Community Hops worked with the garden’s neighbors to install gutters and rain barrels on their garages to collect runoff. “We’ve found a lot of generosity from the community,” Larson says. “When you talk about it people are really engaged. It seems to hit this sweet spot.”
As Larson and LaPitz continue to work in the garden, they make a point to engage people passing by on the sidewalk. They start chatting with a couple who seemed initially excited to learn the plot was a community garden, but were later disappointed when they found out it’s only for hops instead of the tomatoes they were looking to plant. Another passerby said he’s had his eye on the garden since they broke ground. “I’ve been watching it for the past year,” he says. “The first six months I didn’t know what the hell you were growing.”
It’s interactions like this that put the “community” in Community Hops.