Saturday, November 3, 2007

Brewin' green beer, if you will

Well, beer's gone into crisis mode, apparently. I suppose I should have known, but had never really considered, that the agricultural market operates like any other market. Decreased demand for barley and hops a couple years ago resulted in less planting of both last year, and a couple unlucky weather events sealed the deal. The result? Much higher prices on barley and hops, and uncomfortable times for American craft brewers and craft beer lovers. Obviously, it's also a bad time to be a homebrewer.


Now, this is probably a crazy idea, but in keeping with my recent resolutions to live in a manner consistent with my best understanding of the world - i.e. as locally and really green* as possible - why can't I grow some barley and hops myself? Well, no reason at all, actually. That's exactly what I'm going to do. I have a little space and some nice compost rotting happily away, and I intend to use them.

The barley, of course, will likely be a novelty if I can even manage to grow it. I have only a tiny plot in our back yard, and I don't anticipate I'll be able to grow enough back there for more than the most meager microbatch of scratch-made beer. Even if I can eke out a significant harvest, there's still the matter of malting and roasting it, neither of which are reputed to be easy to get right. All told, it will be an experiment, more for fun than for profit, and even more for practice than for fun. One day I will have more than a tiny backyard plot, and I will be ready!

The hops, on the other hand, might not only save me money, but might even be a viable business venture. They're a climbing vine, so they shouldn't need all that much space, and unlike barley, which has increased in price only some 80%, hops have become an astonishing 700% pricier this year. They also rather like the Northwest climate; so even if I end up having to buy barley, I can still grow my own bitter and save a bundle doing it!

Since I've arrived in Seattle and seen the number of food gardens even in our dense, relatively urban neighborhood - admittedly a few miles away from downtown and made up mostly of single-family homes with a few condos, not the large apartment blocks the real urban center - I've been wondering why more people nationwide don't grow more of their own food. Sure, gardening is a fairly popular hobby, but not nearly popular enough to be called common. I suppose, like many things American, it's a matter of patience vs. convenience. It takes a long time to grow tomatoes instead of buying them at the store!

As much as America has changed, though, since gardening started to become less popular decades ago, today would be a fine time for a resurgence in its popularity. We're not talking about landscaping with petunias here, either; even a man's man should be able to get behind the idea of feeding his family with his own By-God sweat and blood.

Hell, if American families grew a few vegetables, maybe it would even help reduce obesity and improve general health. I can't picture many parents allowing their families to get away without eating their greens if it were a matter of pride and not just prudence, nor can I see the blue-collar man settling for Bud Light any longer if the missus brewed up a fine, nutty Pilsner instead. I don't expect it to happen, mind you, but the idea has its merits.

* - Genuinely green is different from the dogmatic Green, you understand; they have in common certain things, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs (which save you money, incidentally) and a strong support for public transit as opposed to driving (which gives me some time to relax and read before and after work, instead of swearing at traffic); but a free-thinking individual concerned with genuinely improving his life and minimizing his negative impact on the rest of the world's population, rather than making an absurd and ineffective political point, does not knee-jerk oppose genetically modified crops, nor think that the Toyota Prius is anything more than a small, ugly economy car.

Yuppies, you are not saving the world by giving up your Beemer and buying a Prius; you are marking yourselves as ill-informed and smug. You undoubtedly mean well, and you might, admittedly, be contributing to a movement which will encourage research into carbon-free automobiles, but not in an effective way, and I sincerely doubt you thought it through that far anyway. And, incidentally, "organic" is often nothing more than a corporately co-opted marketing tool! Buy local from independent businesses instead, and in so doing support your regional economy.

Yeah, that's right. I said economy, bitches. There's no point to trying to live a conscientious life if you don't do it in a way that makes things better for everyone, and that means human prosperity. Prosperous, content humans are also generous, educated, concerned, responsible humans. (Yeah, credit to Shellenberger and Nordhaus again)

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