High Country Association of REALTORS News

Hoping to the newest cash crop

The High Country has a long history in agriculture. Many years ago tobacco fields blanketed many ridges. In the early 1990s those scenes were replaced with neat rows of Christmas trees. (Even the President buys his tree from here!) In the early 2000s grape vines began crawling across the landscape, thanks to the growing viticulture business in the region. Now a new crop is finding deep roots, especially in Ashe County. If the area is good enough to cultivate a fine wine, it's got to be good enough for a cold one.

Coming soon to a local microbrewed beer near you, High Country hops.

Ashe County Growing HopsHoward Covington, like a few other farmers, began his own experiment with hops even before NC State. Covington owns New River Farms in Laurel Springs, NC. It’s a third-generation farm with a traditional focus on growing and selling Christmas trees.

“My wife, Gloria, and I work the hop yard together,” Covington says. “Until we put in our first rhizomes [in 2009], we had never seen a hop plant, much less a hop yard. Everything we have learned is from experience, the advice of others floundering around in hop production like us, and some modest assistance from agricultural extension [associates].”

The Covingtons planted four rows of hops when they first began, and it seemed like an alternative crop that was manageable without hired labor. After testing the waters, their hop yard then grew to contain five more rows in 2010. This year, they’re only cultivating Cascade, Chinook and Nugget. He says all three varieties grow well in Ashe County.

“We now have about 180 plants,” the farmer explains. “That’s not a large yard, but about all that my wife and I can handle on our own. We have plenty of space to enlarge, and will do so if we can do it economically and the market remains viable. Tending hops is not as labor-intensive as growing Christmas trees, but it’s no cake walk either.”

It's not all about growing. The Blue Ridge Wine & Food Festival held in the spring continues to grow in popularity, while the upcoming High Country Beer Fest is making a name for itself on the brew circuit. Life in the High Country not only feels good, it tastes good too!