Before Mighty Axe Hops announced a massive expansion plan this summer, Minnesota’s hop-growing industry wasn’t much of an industry at all. The state’s overall production was driven primarily by a patchwork of small-scale growers operating on one-acre plots or smaller. While these farms were able to harvest enough hops to sell to their local brewery for a batch or two of fresh hop beer, few were producing on a truly commercial scale.
Enter Mighty Axe.
In June, Eric Sannerud and Ben Boo announced that they’d raised $4.6 million in investments and had purchased a 120-acre plot of land in Foley, Minnesota, just outside of St. Cloud. They outlined their plans for an 80-acre hop yard and a 13,000-square-foot building that would house state-of-the-art threshing, processing, and packaging equipment, hitherto unseen on any other Minnesota hop farm. Construction is already well underway.
To put their plans in context, in 2015 there were 26 acres of hops growing in the state of Minnesota, according to the Hop Growers of America. That means the 40 acres of plants Mighty Axe put in the ground this year nearly doubled the state’s total acreage. Next summer, Sannerud and Boo will plant another 40 acres with the help of around 10 full-time employees they’re planning on hiring. (While no one expects Minnesota to rival Washington state overnight, to put this into an even broader context, Washington is home to more than 32,000 acres of hops.)
But the relatively large size and scope of their operation isn’t the only thing that makes Mighty Axe unique. A focus on community involvement is built into the company’s DNA. You can see it at their annual Mighty Pick harvest parties and in their recent MN Fresh Hop Tour, where they promoted beers made with their hops at three Minnesota breweries and gave away prizes to people who tried all of them. They’re also demonstrating their commitment to the environment through sustainable growing practices that earned them a water quality certification from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
With Mighty Axe leading the charge, the future of Minnesota-grown hops appears to be bright. Not only are they planning on keeping their original Ham Lake farm going as a sort of “show piece” for smaller-scale farmers looking to learn the trade, but they’re planning on giving other Minnesota growers access to their processing equipment, both of which will help propel the industry to new heights in the coming years.
Our mission at The Growler is to tell stories that inspire progress in local food, drink, and culture. And in that spirit as part of our 2016 Kind-Of-A-Big-Deal Issue, we felt the need to point out 25 people, ideas, businesses, and organizations who have done necessary, important, and groundbreaking work in 2016. See the rest of our 2016 Trailblazers here.