How did everything start?
Chris has a degree in Environmental Biology and followed his passion for plants, the outdoors, and working with people. I graduated with a bachelor’s in geology and worked as a professional guide on the Grand Canyon, ran ski trips, and instructed Wilderness Therapy in Utah.
We met in 2011 and have been exploring life together since then. In 2016 we started a new adventure, traveling across five states and discovering breweries, distributors, and the magic in farms. In 2017 it was our time to start cultivating hops in Montrose, Colorado.
It took us a while and quite a lot of beer and hard work. We built an 18-foot tall, 32-acre trellis; planted over 60,000 rhizomes; built a warehouse; and acquired a tractor, irrigation system, and several different harvesting and processing pieces of equipment. Then we strung and trained the plants in the spring and harvested, pelletized, and packaged them in the fall. Next, came the hard part – selling them. We became door-to-door salesmen, email-wizards, and social media newbies. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
Sounds like you are a multi-tasker!
Me and Chris do super diverse work. We are the owners but also the accountants, farmers, construction workers, mechanics, trellis-builders, marketers, and beer passionate.
What made you want to become a business owner? What was your dream when you started your business?
A lapse of sanity. Just kidding, mostly. Prior, my partner and I had spent a decade in the outdoor seasonal lifestyle. Although it was a ton of fun, we wanted to create something of our own while also being a part of and contributing to a community. Our dream when we started was to grow a jungle of beautiful hops, selling them to brewers who became friends, and creating a fun farm experience that we could share with the local community and visitors.
“We wanted to create something of our own while also being a part of and contributing to a community.”
What makes you different from others?
We really do everything with love and care. We respect the environment and try to be as sustainable as possible, by using fewer chemicals, trying not to waste water and energy, recycling and being mindful of the shipping process and our carbon footprint. We invest our lives in creating the best product: fresh and unique hops you will be proud to use in your beer.
The beer drew us in, but the people were what made us want to join. We are part of a strong and supportive community and feel that our work pays off.
The fact we are hard but smart workers allows us to produce and pack in short timelines. By buying our products you are actually supporting small, family-owned, female-owned farms and businesses. Who doesn’t want that?
What do you wish you’d known before you started your business?
Ha! Where to begin? No matter how hard and how much work you think owning your own business will be, it’s going to be harder, much harder. There’s a reason all the good farmers are old. It takes a lot of practice.
“And that the sense of pride in creating something so difficult and amazing can bring me to tears.”
Mechanical engineering, three phase vs single phase electricity, concrete work, and HVAC are all things you need to know, yesterday. Marketing and selling family farm hops in a world of large corporate hop farms takes so much more time and energy than I ever imagined. And that the sense of pride in creating something so difficult and amazing can bring me to tears.
What helped you in the beginning to handle the challenges?
Delusional optimism from my partner and love, Chris.
What advice would you give to your past self before opening your own business?
If you can’t chew, don’t put anything else in your mouth. Although I don’t think that I would’ve listened. It’s just not our style.
Are there any special plans business-wise?
I’d say I’m intermediate at a lot of things – hop farming complexities, irrigation systems, harvesting, pelletizing, packaging, shipping, marketing, sales, accounting, AP & AR, web design, and social media, to name a few. I aspire to be an expert at any one of them!
Photos credit: Aaron Ingrao
Audrey Gehlhausen is Billy Goat Hop Farm co-founder located in Montrose, CO.