New Carlisle hops farm jumps into local craft beer game

The farm, located at 10840 Milton Carlisle Road, was started three years ago. Co-owners and homebrewers Tom Hoenie and his wife Stacey and Joe Pellegrino and his wife Aimee see themselves as more than farmers working a crop.

“We consider ourselves artisens; we do it all by hand,” said Tom Hoenie.

Locally grown hops is becoming an attractive market for some breweries.

“Small craft brewers are interested in a local source of hops,” Hoenie said. “Brewers can come out and see what we have.”

When Mankato Farms started three years ago, there were only 12 to 15 hops farmers in Ohio, according to Tom Hoenie. The number has grown to be around 35 farming hops in the state, he said.

Yet Tom Hoenie didn’t have anyone in the area to collabrate with on growing hops.

“I started with a small-control grow at the house to see how they would do,” he said.

After growing the small batch at home and also a lot of research, the search for land became priority. Before beginning, the owners reached out to the Ohio Department of Aguculture to make sure they met standards.

“ODA didn’t have any standards for growing hops,” Tom Hoenie said.

The ODA and Ohio State University Department of Agriculture met with Tom Hoenie and Joe Pellegrino to discuss what was needed to start selling hops. Mankato Farms was the first in the state to have a license, according to Tom Hoenie.

It is not easy to start a hops farm.

“It takes a ton of labor and money up front,” said Tom Hoenie. “It takes 3,000 feet of aircraft cable, permanent trellising and 2,000 plus feet of twine every year.”

The plants grow rapidly, maturing within three years.

“They will grow a foot a day; out west with 300 acres of hops, you can hear them growing,” Tom Hoenie said.

Hoenie manages his farm despite working a full-time job as well. After leaving work at 5 p.m., he said he works in the fields until 11 p.m. and most weekends. But all the hard work is paying off for Mankato Farms.

“The first year we had a crop of 60 pounds, the following year a crop of 600 pounds and this year a crop of 900 pounds,” Tom Hoenie said.

He is all about beer as he is employed with Bon Bright Distributing, in Dayton, selling beer during the week. There have been brews he sold that had his hops in it.

“It’s neat to sell beer that has my hops in it,” he said.

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