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Farm to Tap Linking Craft Brewers to Locally Grown Ingredients

Now more than ever, people want to buy local, and that includes the food that they eat. And while the Farm to Table movement is still going strong, there’s a new way to enjoy a local favorite while supporting farmers and other small businesses.

Farm to Tap, a pilot program launched by Food21, is providing the opportunity for regional craft brewers to buy malt barley from local growers. The end result is that customers will soon get to enjoy delicious craft beers produced entirely through local partnerships.

“We were talking with a brewery about putting a big greenhouse on their property, and we asked them about their needs,” explained Vince Mangini, Food21 coordinator for value chain initiatives and team leader of Farm to Tap. “They said they’d like to have local ingredients to put in beer, so we decided to approach farmers about growing barley. I visited about eight local craft brewers and asked if they’d be interested in using local barley, and they said they’d love to; since there was a demand for it, we had to figure out a way to make it happen.”

Now in its second year, Food21 was established to help Pittsburgh develop a more sustainable food economy. The nonprofit is currently working on a $30 million greenhouse in Duquesne that will grow one million pounds of produce a month, and recently established the Pittsburgh Food and Beverage Network to connect small, local food businesses.

Food21 approached two Westmoreland County farmers to grow spring barley, which resulted in 870 bushels to malt.

“We heard that spring barley is difficult to grow, and that turned out to be true,” said Mangini. “Half of our crop was destroyed by the dry summer, so we’re trying winter barley now; we’ve got 50 acres already planted.”

Working with CNC Malting Company out of Butler County, this finished product will be delivered to local craft breweries to use to create locally sourced brews.

On April 17, the first beer made this way, Old Hanna’s Town Ale, will be tapped at All Saints Brewing Company in Greensburg, PA. As more barley is malted, more craft brewers will be taking advantage of this local resource, including Recon in Butler and Cranberry, 4 Points Brewing in Charleroi, and Mondays Brewing Company in McMurray.

“When we put out word we were going to have local barley, it was all purchased within two days,” said Mangini. “The second group that is malted will go to Four Seasons Brewing Company in Latrobe, North Country Brewery in Harmony/Slippery Rock, Stick City Brewing Company in Mars, and Conny Creek Brewery in New Kensington.” Straub Brewery and Penn Brewery are also in talks to use this local barley in their recipes this summer.

While this arrangement is a win for all involved, the logistics weren’t easy. “Farmers just want to grow the barley and sell it; they don’t have connections with malt houses, who then need to have connections with brewers,” said Mangini. “Our job was to serve as a value chain coordinator to make these relationships work.

“We hope, as long as we can make the financial case, that this will continue,” he added. “Right now we’re mainly in Westmoreland County, but there are farmers in Butler and Washington counties that we’d like to convince.”

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