Catholic Sentinel photos by Jon DeBellis
Juan Luis Cano smiles as he helps a co-worker hang hops on conveyor hooks to be picked and processed.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Jon DeBellis
Juan Luis Cano smiles as he helps a co-worker hang hops on conveyor hooks to be picked and processed.
INDEPENDENCE — When pickup trucks filled with hops drive in from the field to be processed at Rogue Ales’ Hopyard here, tendrils of the perennial plant hang off the side view mirrors.

Originally used as a preservative in beer and ales, hops are a valued ingredient in the craft beer industry that is making Oregon famous. The use of the plant’s flower (which resembles a soft, greenish pinecone) has led to distinctive flavors and aromas in an industry built on building tasty brews.

To visitors, the Hopyard appears to be owned and operated by Rogue Brewery for the production of its own product. The farm is actually the result of a partnership between Rogue and Coleman Family Farms; the sixth generation of a family of Willamette Valley Dutch Catholic farmers.

A lot has changed in the world of agriculture since John Coleman’s great-great-great grandfather bought a farm in St. Paul, Ore., back in the mid 1800s. What crops are planted; how they are picked; who picks them; how they are processed are all changed.

Adaptation has been part of his family’s legacy of farming, says John, general manager of Coleman Family Farms, but it is also the wisdom passed down six generations that has keep him strong, diversified and faithful.

The Rogue Ales Hopyard is an example of such adaptation.

Since the mid-1980s, the Coleman Family was growing 800-900 acres of hops for Anheuser-Busch; one of the largest brewers in the world.

Then, in 2008, Anheuser-Busch was sold to InBev, a Belgian brewer that slowed down and eventually stopped its order. They grew small orders for InBev until 2011, early 2012.

“I believe InBev was searching for savings, in the old Anheuser-Busch, and realized they had more hops than they needed,” said Coleman, a member of St. Paul Parish in St. Paul and cousin to Father Jim Coleman, pastor at St. Luke Parish in Woodburn.

This was a huge financial hit to the farm.

Soon after, a phone call came from Jack Joyce, chief wisdom officer of Rogue Brewery.

The year 2008 was also a hop shortage year, and he was looking to work with local farmers to create a network of locally grown hops that he could rely on.

“We literally let our fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages looking for hop farmers,” said Brett Joyce. “John was the first to be willing to work with us.”

The conversation was a fruitful one. Rogue agreed to grow hops with Coleman Family Farms, 40 acres of which would be used to craft their beer. Ideas kept coming.

The property, in addition to being a working hop farm, isnow a destination for recreation. Rogue has added to the farm’s appeal by opening the farm’s house and buildings to hospitality, making it a weekend spot for cyclists, beer lovers and farm lovers. In addition to hops, Rogue also uses the property to farm bees, pumpkins, roses, peppers, chickens and turkeys.

“John’s a great guy, a great business man, and a great farmer and was really open to making the farm an experience for folks,” said Joyce.

Coleman also grows his own hops for sale on the property. He processes all the hops for both Rogue and his farm, selling the non-Rogue hops to brokers who distribute the product to craft breweries around the country.

Coleman’s farm has also been designated a certified Salmon-Safe farm. Founded by the Pacific Rivers Council, Salmon-Safe is a non-profit that helps farms transform land management practices so Pacific salmon can thrive in West Coast watersheds.

Coleman Family Farms also owns several other farms where they grow hazelnuts, grass seed, wheat, garlic, and seed garlic (later planted in California). The farms also grow bush beans, sweet corn and table beets for NorPac, a local frozen foods manufacturer.

“We’re farmers and we hope to be farmers for awhile,” said Coleman. “We have to take care of the land we have.”

Coleman says he’s proud that his family has been able to continue for so long doing something that helps feed communities around him.

“I grew up in farming — you can make a good honest living,” said Coleman, “but it fluctuates.”