In 2008, for the Food, Conservation & Energy Act (the 2008 Farm Act), the US Congress defined a “locally or regionally produced food product” as one that has been transported fewer than 400 miles from its place of origin or a food that is produced and sold within its state of origin. This definition was acknowledged by the USDA in a 2010 Economic Research Service Study Summary. To give you an idea, 400 miles is about the distance from Portland, OR to Whistler, BC or from New York City, NY to Pittsburgh, PA. The state of California itself is about 800 miles from North to South. Regardless, there is still no generally accepted definitely of “local” and everyone can probably agree it is one of the most overused terms of the current food movement: it’s on restaurant menus, in grocery stores, on labels and signs. If no one can tell us what it is to be local, then what does it even mean to use the word?
Some people take the definition of local into their own hands, and live it. Ben Tilley and his team at Agrarian Ales are taking it to a whole new level. Agrarian Ales opened its doors to the public in late 2012, after 10 years of (very) part-time & thrifty construction with friends & family to convert Pa Tilley’s old wood working/carpentry barn into a brewery and restaurant. The brewery is housed on Crossroads Farm, the Tilley family’s vegetable farm, and surrounded by 2 acres of they grow specifically for their farm-brewed beer. (Read more about the history of the farm on their letUMeat profile here.) Having been in the area for decades, and especially through selling at the nearby farmers market, the Tilleys possess countless relationships with other Lane County and area producers. When they opened their brewery and restaurant it only made perfect sense to get everything they needed from their friends & neighbors.
Ben estimates that 75% of the ingredients used in the beer and the restaurant are sourced within 5 miles of the farm, and almost everything else comes from within 50 miles.
When Ben was conceptualizing the brewery he looked at the marketing strategies of the many nearby wineries: “the value was in their estate product”, he says. So he decided to make that a focus of their brewery: using only farm-grown hops. Agrarian Ales currently grows 14 different varieties of hops on site, which are harvested in late August. Each year they host Hops Harvest Parties, where friends & family come and enjoy beer, live music and good food while harvesting the 2 acres of hops. Last year they opened the event up to the general public and 500-700 people came each day over the course of two weekends.
Other ingredients used in the brewery (for beer, mead or sodas) include:
- pineapple weed, clary sage, chilis from their very own Crossroads Farm
- various kinds of single-varietal honey from Honey Tree Apiaries
- blueberries and melons for sodas from McKenzie River Farm
- brewing grains from Lonesome Whistle Farm and Hunton Family Farm/Camas County Mill
One of the biggest challenges he’s facing is finding a main source of malt closer to home: currently the only organic base malt in the quantities he needs is in Southern British Columbia, at Gambrinus Malting, about 1000 miles from home. In the near future he’ll be on the look out for a closer source, but eventually he wants he wants to be the first all estate-grown brewery in the state.
The brewery is open to the public on Friday and Saturday 3 pm – 8 pm and on Sunday from 12 pm – 8 pm. Not only can one enjoy whatever they happen to have on tap, but also a selection of pizzas, salads, cheese plate and/or some small snacks. The pizza is cooked in a wood-fired cobb oven, hand built by Max and Eva from Firespeaking out of Deadwood, OR.
As you would expect, everything down to the pizza flour dough is from nearby and the menu changes based on what is available.
Some ingredients for the kitchen include:
- flour from Hunton Family Farm/Camas County Mill
- cheese from Fern’s Edge Goat Dairy
- tomatoes, tomato sauce and chili powder from Crossroads Farm
- high quality organic meat & eggs from Deck Family Farm
- fruit, vegetables, spices & herbs from Groundwork Organics & Gathering Together Farm
- salt from Jacobsen Salt
- hazelnuts from Honor Earth Farm
- wild and cultivated mushrooms from The Mushroomery
- bread from Noisette Pastry Kitchen, made using spent grain from the brewery
The brewery itself is an indoor/outdoor space with picnic tables under a roof as well as sprawled around the lawn. They have beer, food, live music, games and a beautiful view of the surrounding fields, right where it all comes from – the perfect recipe for weekend afternoon fun.
Overall we were extremely impressed Agrarian Ales’ sense of community and their sincere commitment to sourcing everything they need from as close to home as possible. But then, if you have so many amazing ingredients right in your own backyard, why would you do it any differently?