The craft beer industry continues to gain popularity in Southern Ontario. There is something fun about going to a new brewery or brewpub and trying a beer that was crafted in your region, but what people often overlook is what goes into making a great craft beer. For many brewers in the region, it comes down to a quality hop that gives their beer a unique flavour. Hops have been grown in the region for some time now but even more so in recent years due to the demand for hops. VQH Farms is a hop farm located in Eden, Ontario. The hop farm began with brothers, Curtis and Joe VanQuaethem and Jared Hevenor who currently resides in Toronto. Jared’s keen interest in brewing and the brother’s experience in farming led to the perfect partnership. They recognized the market demand for microbreweries wanting to source local hops; so together they began producing locally grown high quality hops.
Curtis, why don’t you introduce yourself?
My name is Curtis VanQuaethem and I am one of three owners of VQH Farms which is a hop farm located in Eden, Ontario. I also own, with my brother Joe and father Brian, Eden Elevators Ltd. and VanQuaethem Farms Ltd. I went to College for Mechanical Engineering but knew I wanted to be on the farm in the end. Having an engineering background has really proved to be helpful on the farm and I get to apply those skills from school every day. You can usually find me tending to the hop yard, building new things on the farm and enjoying a local craft beer.
What is the history of farming in your family and in the region?
On my mom’s side of the family, my great grandparents grew orchard fruits and tobacco and they built and sold tobacco farm equipment such as the tobacco harvester. My great grandparents and grandfather came from Belgium in 1952. My grandfather grew tobacco up until the 1980s. My father started farming and growing primarily cash crops except for the odd exception like carrots and garlic. We now grow sweet corn, green beans, peas, wheat, rye, corn and soybeans. Both sides of my family have witnessed the rise and fall of the tobacco industry from two different perspectives and because of this it has been interesting to see the evolution of farming in Southern Ontario, particularly along the tobacco belt region.
How did you get into hops?
I am always looking to do something new that makes good business sense. Hops are just another way to diversify the farm. My cousin who has an interest in the brewing side of things was interested in growing hops so we came together and decided to really go for it. We saw a need as there is limited supply within Ontario and craft breweries were looking for alternative places to purchase hops. Our crop took off in the first year and there was a lot of interest from local breweries. Each year we have expanded to keep up with the growing demand.
Why is farm diversification important to you?
Agriculture is always uncertain so it’s important not to put all of your eggs into one basket. Disease, weather and policies can impact your crop year to year. With hops there is also some risk that comes with that. Since you can’t get crop insurance for hops it’s good to have a background in farming to begin with but also important to have something else to fall back on.
I know you get to do some taste testing, so what are some of your favourite beers from the South Central Ontario region?
Nicole VanQuaethem is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Regional Ambassador with FreshSpoke. You can connect with Nicole on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram and keep up with FreshSpoke on Facebook and Twitter.