The idea of creating a ‘community hop farm’ arose from a discussion between Walmer Castle head gardener Mark Brent and Steve Wakeford, Chairman of Deal-With-It, an active voluntary group with a strong environmental ethos.
The principle aims were to create an opportunity for the local community to participate in growing a traditional Kentish commodity (hops) that, harvested and processed through collaboration with a town based micro-brewery into a finished produce - all while raising awareness of a once culturally important & recognisable aspect of Kentish-life.
The central idea was that individuals would grow their own hop plant where space allowed in gardens, allotments and town locations. 15 hops were planted in the Kitchen garden at Walmer Castle to help support the launch of Deal Hop Farm and demonstrate hop growing by acting as an accessible reference location.
Public meetings were held to assess interest and establish a working group of volunteers. From that point a club based membership scheme was established, with a joining fee (£20) which included a rhizome and associated growing materials, for example twine.
Advice was sought from commercial growers and those with latent skills bringing lost information to the public’s attention through evening talks and lectures. This even included a ‘twiddling class’ by a retired individual who had worked in commercial hop yards in the 1950’s.
To assist practical growing methods, assess and monitor the cultivation of the hops throughout the local community a small group of ‘Hop Marshalls’ were assigned to a neighbourhood, this included watering while people were on holiday.
The take up far exceeded our wildest ambitions, eventually 140 hop plants were located around the environs of Walmer and Deal involving some 200 people, this even extended to schools.
Approximately 300 people took part in the harvest and processing of the hops including volunteers from English Heritage who’d picked hops in their youth during extended summer holidays.
The harvest was filmed by regional ITV, and broadcast on local BBC radio and nationally on BBC4 Farming Today as well as in print media.
Our initial hope for a harvest of 15kg of hops was far exceeded, eventually totalling 75kg.
Using solely Deal Hop Farm’s hops, Ripple Steam Brewery were able to produce two brews of Green Hop beer, resulting in 5000 pints of beer, with the beer being distributed to 40 pubs in Kent and London.
The initiative has also encouraged public interest and participation in the renovation of English Heritage’s walled garden at Deal Castle, which from spring 2018 will have a Community Hop Garden.