Rural innovators eye hops as new crop
Many local rural business jurisdictions are looking to build what already has been successfully established for the area.
Kellie Boles, agricultural development officer for Loudoun County's Department of Economic Development, estimated that 60 to 70 percent of attendees came from Loudoun County and explained the purpose of the forum.
“We try to showcase replicable models of innovation. So whether it is an innovative way to market, funding or new production, we do a cross section,” Boles said. “If any of these innovations help to make better use of existing lands or use land that isn't in use, then we have done well. We want to show people viable options for using all the available land in western Loudoun for agriculture. It will help us build a stronger rural economy.”
In a different twist to this year's forum, the regional Innovation Award winners were recognized and organizers decided to form a panel to share their innovations.
“This year we felt we had some great examples here and we wanted them to share their businesses,” Boles said.
One of those award winners was a Loudoun County rural business owner.
Locally owned Brossman's Farm was one of the businesses to be recognized with an Innovation Award.
“Rick Brossman has changed the dynamic of a CSA. Instead of people picking up a box of produce every week, they actually plant their own row of produce and then pick it when it is ripe,” Boles said. “It is sort of a twist between a CSA and a community garden, because [Rick] provides the seeds and seedlings and then takes care of them by watering, fertilizing and weeding them. It is just a great model.”
According to Boles, Brossman sold out last year and added another 40 percent to what he was offering this year. He is again sold out.
While innovative businesses were honored throughout the day, the forum's first speakers talked about a new product that is growing in interest in Virginia.
“Our first speakers of the day were about growing hops because we are getting a lot of interest in Loudoun and its surrounding counties on growing hops and putting in breweries. That is an innovative example because it is a new crop and one we are not currently growing.”
According to Boles, there are not a lot of hops growers in Virginia or even on the East Coast. Most production of hops occurs in the Pacific Northwest in places like Oregon and Washington.
Boles thinks hops could be the key to fulfilling the county's rural economic development plan.
“In our plan one of our recommendations is to enhance marketing programs to enhance the linkage between rural and urban economies. One of the ways we currently do that is through our winery sector,” Boles said. “If we can put more hops in the ground in western Loudoun and more breweries in western Loudoun then that brings that urban segment out to western Loudoun for another reason.”
Rural businesses also had the opportunity to learn new ways to receive funding for innovative operations.
“We had someone from the Virginia Department of Agriculture speak because innovative ventures fall outside the realm of a traditional lender,” Boles said. “The VDA representative talked about the new community planning grant and farmer's value added grant.”
Boles noted that the value added grant definition has been changed from recent years and now can be defined by how a product is produced and who produces it as well as how it is marketed.
“We need to make a complete picture of the rural economy and any examples we can give of doing that through this forum feed right back into what our strategy is moving forward,” Boles said.