The Little Crop That Could
As the sun rises, it casts a golden glow on Charlotte Foe’s children. Row upon row of beautiful cone-shaped blooms dressed in green and yellow wave to her from the bine. Charlotte dotes on every one of them.
“They’re fatter and fuller than last year,” she gushes. “They’re happy little guys.”
Charlotte is happy too. She’s one half of a pioneer team of sorts, having discovered the secret to successfully growing hops in Florida.
“When someone says ‘you can’t do something,’ the inner child in me says ‘yes I can,’” Charlotte chuckles.
Charlotte and her husband, Steve own ten acres of fertile farm land in Brooksville, Florida. Brooksville is a rural town located 50 miles north of Tampa and resembles a much simpler Florida before condos and strip malls took over.
The couple owned a commercial landscaping business and later turned it into a tree farm, then a nursery. Charlotte had other ideas.
“I saw something on the news about Dr. Pearson at UF and how he could see Florida becoming a grower of hops,” recalls Charlotte. “I said ‘Hops, oh, I can do that.’
Dr. Brian Pearson is a horticulturist at the University of Florida. He and a group of researchers are testing how well hops grow in Florida.
Charlotte reached out to Dr. Pearson for advice and soon the company, Florida Sun Hops was born.
“With the help of the university, he will give us what we need to do,” she explains. “It’s going to be trial and error.”
The hop is a key ingredient in beer. It shapes the brew’s flavor and aroma. The most popular hops hail from the Pacific Northwest. The latitude and climate make it one of the most fertile and productive hop growing regions in the world.
Charlotte and Steve can’t change that, but they at least want to help put Florida on the hop map.
And since Florida is home to 195 craft breweries, a local hop farm would be helpful. Most brewers use hop pellets since fresh hops are hard to come by.
“We have five different types of hops,” Charlotte explains. “We have Chinooks, Nugget, Tahoma and Triple Pearl.”
But the hop that appears to like Florida the most is the Cascade.
“The Cascades went crazy,” she says. “They really seem to pop in our soil.”
“The hops take the minerals from the soil, so I think it’s going to taste earthy.”
The next two years will be crucial as Florida Sun Hops breaks new ground.
“It’s the start of something that I think is going to be exciting for Florida,” she says. “Anything that is going to help promote agriculture in Florida is a good thing because citrus growers have lost so much. So if it can be done and we’re pioneers for it, that’s a good thing.”
If anyone can do it, Steve and Charlotte can.