Matt Cunningham’s family has farmed Ohio land, growing corn and soybeans, for nearly 100 years. And for much of that time, the Cunninghams have belonged to Ohio Farm Bureau. They’ve relied on the organization to raise awareness of the important contributions farmers make to the Buckeye State, advocate for them at the Statehouse and provide top-notch educational opportunities.
And now as Cunningham works to cultivate new farming opportunities for himself and future generations, he’s also helping Farm Bureau celebrate its centennial anniversary. Cunningham, owner of Rustic Brew Farm, grew and malted some of the barley that Columbus’ own North High Brewing is using to make a special edition beer commemorating Farm Bureau’s 100th anniversary. “Cover Crop” will make its debut at OFBF’s annual meeting in December and will be available throughout 2019 wherever North High beer is sold. Ohio Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Adam Sharp said the name, Cover Crop, is appropriate. “It’s a practice used generations ago to improve the soil and is now coming back as a way to protect water quality.”
Ohioans love their local foods and local beverages. As the demand for craft beer grows, a centennial-themed beer was viewed as a way to connect agriculture and the tens of thousands of Ohioans who enjoy the occasional cold one.
“Craft beer fans are as enthusiastic as foodies about local ingredients,” Sharp said. “Our partnership with North High Brewing helps us reach an audience that’s really engaged in knowing all they can about the products they buy. This is a fun way to reach a different audience and build more appreciation of Ohio’s agricultural community.”
Partnership with North High Brewing
Farm Bureau worked with North High Brewing, which is also a Farm Bureau member, to craft a light-bodied, easy drinking golden ale that uses Ohio-grown ingredients, said brewmaster Jason McKibben.
For Cunningham, contributing to the beer reaffirms his decision to start growing hops and barley on his family’s land in Marysville. Seeking to diversify his crops, he began studying beer-related crops about four years ago. He liked the challenge that came with producing beer-worthy ingredients and was excited to be a part of the craft beer movement.
On the recommendation of some Ohio brewers, Cunningham and his wife, Michelle, built a malt house on their property in 2015, which they have already expanded. Barley must go through a malting process in order to be used for beer, he explained. In the malting process, barley is immersed in water and allowed to sprout. After a germination period, it’s then dried and cured before being sent to a brewery.
“It’s a lot more work, but it’s also more rewarding,” he said. “It’s a chance to be more intimate with the grain. I grow the barley, malt it on my property and then hand deliver to the brewery. Sometimes, I stay and help brew it. I really enjoy having that connection to my customers.”
He’s hopeful that Rustic Brew Farm and other Ohio growers can expand their crops enough to make a noticeable impact on local beers. “We have to put up or shut up a little bit. Ohio-grown hops and barley are still a novelty because they’re hard to find,” he said. “If we can provide a steady supply, it could be a growth area for farmers.”
As an Ohio brewer, McKibben is always eager to incorporate locally sourced ingredients in his products. It’s important to North High Brewing and its customers, he said. “People want to know how things are made and what ingredients are used,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest in local. I want to be able to provide that.”
Champaign County Farm Bureau members Mallory and Nick Zachrich of Zachrich Hop Yard are helping supply hops for the centennial brew. McKibben said they are providing about half of the hops needed for Cover Crop.
The Zachrichs are sixth generation farmers in Mechanicsburg who launched into commercial hops production two years ago. Cox Seed and Supply will also be supplying a significant amount, according to McKibben.
North High Brewing was “excited and honored” to craft Cover Crop with the help of Ohio farmers, McKibben said. The beer includes Ohio-raised barley and some corn, he said. “We wanted something that would be really approachable for a lot of people—something with a nice balanced flavor,” he said. “We wanted something that had a mild malt flavor.”
Creating a beer with Ohio ingredients is a fitting way to commemorate the Farm Bureau’s anniversary, he added. “It’s a way we can make a definite connection between our customers and Ohioans with the No. 1 industry in Ohio, which is agriculture,” McKibben said. “It’s really just an honor — it adds gravity to what we do.”
Sharp noted that there are several great, local brewers in Ohio that are also Farm Bureau members.
“We hope this partnership with our group member North High Brewing will help elevate other local brewers who are also supportive of Farm Bureau,” he said.
For more information about Ohio Farm Bureau’s 100th Anniversary, visit ofbf.org/centennial.