Ladyhops Organic Hop Farm
The female hop plant creates the coneflower responsible for the mighty India Pale Ale, the summery Hefeweizen, and the dark Stout. Next time you’re enjoying a pint, remember you owe that tasty treat to the female plant; a lady hop, so to speak. This fact is not lost on Melissa (Mel) Parker. As the owner of Ladyhops, Parker—with the help of a group of her lady friends—is embarking on her third year as a Central Oregon hops farmer.
Her agricultural dream was realized the day she dropped in unannounced at the Powell Butte Bison Ranch. If ranchers Steve and Bev Oberg were put off by the unexpected visit by an inquisitive stranger, they didn’t let it show. In reality, her timing was perfect. Parker had stopped by to learn more about the hop vines the Obergs planted, and the Obergs had recently come to realize the hop plants required too much care. Serendipitously, a woman eager to do some hops farming had materialized on their porch right about the time they were ready to let that part of the ranch go.
Raised by a wildlife biologist and a gardener, Parker had been dreaming about getting back to her farming roots. She’d done her homework about hops varieties, hardiness, growth areas, and organic practices. The granddaughter of hard-working Central Oregon ranchers, Parker has another full-time job requiring travel, is a mom to a blended family of six kids, is involved in the community and has an active social life. Yet, Mel Parker—which might have to become a new adjective—made it work. The lease was signed and Ladyhops was formed in 2014.
Today, Ladyhops sells the rhizomes (the root, for propagating), potted plants sold via “Hop Drop Fridays,” fresh hops delivered same day or overnight to breweries, and dried hops. All are grown via organic means and methods. Manure from the grass-fed, no-hormone Bison enriches the soil and diluted Dr. Brommer’s Soap keeps the bugs at bay. The Powell Butte Bison Ranch has bison meat, hay and eggs for sale as well. Parker enjoys every aspect of the work, including the drive out to the farm.
“My smile gets bigger and bigger,” she says. “I leave my phone and computer at home and have the opportunity to be connected with the earth.”
Harvest—beginning late August or early September—is Ladyhops’ busiest time of the year. Because it’s more than even Parker can handle on her own, she enlists her friends. They are a school administrator, a Family Access Network advocate, a landscaper, a homeless education liaison, and a tile setter; but none of them are farmers. Not only do the ladies chip in, but several bring their kids, too. It’s such a good time, and Parker is such a community-minded person that she welcomes new friends to join in as well. The Ladyhops Facebook page serves as the rallying point when it’s harvest time. Friends new and old join together to pick the coneflowers and have an opportunity to enjoy the beginning—or root—of Bend’s beer culture.
When asked why they would spend their free time picking hops in Powell Butte, two of Parker’s friends replied in unison, “who can say no to Mel?”
As the business expands, Parker hopes to put her 18 years of social worker experience to good use by introducing at-risk girls to farming. She plans to have her friends help her mentor the girls over the growth cycle of a section of hops and harvest them to be donated to make a charity brew released during Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October). Profits from sales of the brew would be donated to the Oregon Rape Crisis Line. When talking to Parker about this next step in the evolution of Ladyhops, it’s easy to catch a glimpse of the infectious vibe that the ladies rally around.
The next time you’re sipping one of Bend’s fabulous local craft beers, raise a glass to the ladies who may have had a hand in producing it.