EMPIRE — Three men labored beneath a gloomy sky in Leelanau County, with sleet pellets bouncing off their backs as they tied down steel wires that support tall wooden polls used to grow hops.
The men — Andrew Bardgett, Michael Martin and Tom Wiesen — installed footings necessary for 64 acres of new crops at the Empire Orchards Hops Farm off Frederickson Road. The temperatures that morning last week were particularly crisp for October. The wind blew and the work was hard, at times downright muddy and wet, but the men didn’t mind, given their task of constructing new agricultural infrastructure.
“It’s exciting,” Bardgett said. “More work for us.”
The next morning, at a gray, tin-steel farm building just down the road, Empire Orchards co-owner Dan Wiesen met with Brian Confer. The cold weather continued and a mix of snow and sleet filled the air.
The men exchanged pleasantries, then Dan Wiesen accepted a check from Confer for two boxes filled with aromatic hops for Storm Cloud Brewery in Frankfort.
“I like the Centennials, the Cascades, the Chinooks … they all smell really good,” Confer said of the different types of hops he’d bought from Empire Orchards.
Hops — an essential ingredient to good locally brewed beer — is gaining a greater foothold in northern Michigan. Read more about hops and its role in the local agricultural economy in today’s Record-Eagle business section.