POKAGON TOWNSHIP- A Michiana family is working out of the back of a pickup truck at 11 a.m. on Labor Day. Behind them vines and leaves are hanging from dozens of 18-foot poles. It's a sight you don't see often in Southwest Michigan.
“We’re picking them by hand of course, it’s a small operation," says Ed Dohm, the leader of this group. It’s harvest time right now on Dohm’s farm off M-51 between Niles and Dowagiac.
What they’re picking isn’t a crop you’ve probably seen grown around here. “Any place you can grow grapes, hops can be grown.”
That’s right, hops, one of the main ingredients in beer.
Dohm needed a retirement hobby three years ago, he took a class and starting growing.
It takes three years for a plot of hops to grow into a full yield. Last year was the first usable hops Dohm saw out of all the hard work. Being a smart business man, he knew he wasn’t making money. “Like any other type of business, you (have) something new to the area, you've got to give it to people to see if it’s a product they think is worth them messing around with.”
Dohm gave all of last summer's hops away to a startup brewery in Sawyer.
Since then that startup, Greenbush Brewery has been a complete success. “Beer is pretty much made up of yeast, water, hops and grains. As many of those things as we can source locally, the better," says Jill Sites, who runs the operations at the brewery.
Sites says in the taproom of Greenbush Brewery, they've seen nine times the business they were expecting when they opened in June.
Greenbush liked the hops Dohm gave them and are about the buy Dohm's crop. “We’re excited to showcase something that’s so close. Just 15 miles away," says Sites.
Dohm still won't make money. He wants to expand. “Getting up to 10 acres it could cover my boys mortgages and then maybe the grandkids down the line,” says Dohm.