Aroostook Hops
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Name:           Aroostook Hops

Address:       Krista Delahunty

                      Jason Johnston

                      513 Shorey Road

                      Westfield, Maine  04787

Phone:           207-429-8105





Products and Services:

-dried whole leaf hops


-Aroostook Hops handcrafted hops soap

-Aroostook Hops twill caps

-Aroostook Hops t-shirts

-Aroostook Hops keychains

-Aroostook Hops pint glasses

What Makes Aroostook Hops Unique?

Not too long ago visitors driving through

Aroostook County would be able to see endless stretches of one potato field after another. While potatoes are still grown extensively in the area, some farmers have focused their efforts on trying to grow some different crops such as broccoli, organic grains, and canola.  If an individual happened to end up on Shorey Road in Westfield they might be somewhat perplexed about what exactly was growing in the fields in the rows with the gigantic eighteen feet poles and the impressive trellis systems.  For many passersby it is their first encounter with the unique way that hops are grown.

Jason Johnston and Krista Delahunty purchased their circa 1928 Shorey Road farmhouse in Westfield and began growing hops in 2009. Jason is a biology and wildlife professor at the University of Maine at Presque Isle and Krista teaches a college online biology course. They are raising two young daughters, Kathleen and Marie.

When Jason began homebrewing as a hobby there was a hops shortage. Since both he and Krista were trained scientists who enjoyed gardening they decided to plant 150 hops rhizomes on their farm in 2009.  In the past five years their hop operation has increased to four acres and over 4000 plants.

Although the practice of growing hops to flavor beer has been documented back to the times of the Middle Ages, its original production in the eastern part of the United States by Dutch and English farmers experienced quite a downturn due to downy mildew infestations and poor markets in the late 1700’s.  Hops farms have flourished in Pacific Northwest states  (especially eastern Washington state, Idaho, and Oregon) where ideal conditions exist such as less humidity and drier weather patterns with good access to irrigation.

In the initial days of their attempts to establish a hops farm, Jason and Krista were challenged to find people in New England who were growing hops on a large scale. They relied on Rebecca Kneen’s manual that was published in British Columbia in the 1990’s and an old book that they borrowed from the library that was published in the United Kingdom in the 1960’s. The Fishers from Foothill Hops in New York were also very helpful in answering their email questions.

Establishing the infrastructure for a hops yard is no easy task.  It is a huge investment of money and time. Heavy-duty cable needs to be secured to the top of the poles. Holes that are four feet deep need to be dug and twenty-two feet poles that have had their bark removed need to be stabilized in these holes.  The job could not have been completed without the assistance of 84-year-old neighbor, Larry Park.  He harvested the trees and cut the twenty-two feet tall poles at an angle at the top so that the water would run off.  Forty-one rows that were 250 feet long were established in the new hop yard.  Another neighbor who proved instrumental in helping out was Dick Cyr who used his full-size tractor to work with Jason to set all the poles in the hole.

Tending a hops yard can seem like never-ending work.  The stringing and training of the bines on the biodegradable coconut twine that is made in Sri Lanka takes quite a bit of time.  Days need to be set aside for mulching and mowing.  Cover crops have to be planted and tilled.  The soil need to be test and limed. Because Aroostook Hops is a recipient of SARE grants, extensive records need to be kept for reports.  When the cones have been picked from the bines, they need to be dried on trays and ventilated in the oast house.  They then need to be pressed into bricks for storage and frozen.

The demand for Jason and Krista’s hops has skyrocketed with the multitude of new microbreweries that have come on the scene. Aroostook Hops has faced a challenge trying to keep up with the demand.  Jason and Krista now grow five different types of hops on their farm that all possess varying percentages of alpha acid. The Cascade variety has a flowery and citrus aroma.  The Nugget hops, with their herbal aroma,  are used for bittering.  A mild spicy aroma is associated with the Willamette hops.  Centennial hops have a medium aroma intensity with floral and citrus tones.  Their newest variety, the Mount Hood finishing hop, is a triploid seedling of the German Hallertauer variety.

Forty percent of the hops grown at Aroostook Hops are sold to Throwback Brewery in North Hampton, New Hampshire.  Their hops are also purchased by Gritty McDuff’s Microbrewery and Allaghash Brewing Company in Portland, and Sunday River Brewing in Bethel.  It was quite an honor when Jason and Krista learned that their Cascade Hops were used in the creation of the Crown-Breaker Artisan Ale that was brewed by Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales for the 2013 Beer Advocate Extreme Beer Festival!

Individuals interested in purchasing hops from

Aroostook Hops can order them by contacting Krista and Jason through their website.  Their hops are vacuum-sealed and frozen before being shipped.  Rhizomes can be pre-ordered for spring shipments. 

Jason and Krista also make handcrafted soaps with their hops that they call “Sadie’s The Lady” and which they sell on Etsy. The four-ounce soaps contain all-natural vegetable ingredients such as ground whole hops cones, and olive, coconut, palm and canola oils and are valued for their antiseptic and gentle moisturizing qualities.  To learn all about how the soap making business originated and why it was named after Sadie, their family dog, be sure to check out the story on their Etsy webpage. Their handcrafted hop soaps are also available at the Merchant’s on the Corner and the Goin’ Postal stores in Presque Isle.  Jason and Krista also offer a selection of specially-made products with their Aroostook Hops’ logo such as twill caps, t shirts, pint glasses, and key rings.

Aroostook Hops has a commitment to growing hops with organic practices.  They do not use

chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.

Hops are susceptible to various pests and diseases such as aphids, spider mites, powdery mildew, downy mildew, black root rot, and viruses. 

Controlling weeds in a hops yard is always a major challenge.  Krista and Jason have tried various methods over the years to help with weed suppression.  The initial method of fertilizing the hop yard with well-composted cow manure proved to encourage weeds, so blood meal was added as a substitute nitrogen supplement the following year.  Other crops that were planted in the hop yard to suppress weeds were annual cow peas and summer alfalfa. A cover crop mix of buckwheat, alfalfa, and clover was planted between the rows. 

The work with hops with which Jason and Krista have been involved has received recognition from the Northeast SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education) program.  In 2011, they received a SARE grant to study the effects of drip irrigation in the hops yard, as well as the weed suppression effects of straw compared to summer alfalfa.

Aroostook Hops was pleased to hear that they

were a recipient of a second SARE two-year grant in 2012, which will enable them to investigate the best non-herbicide methods of managing weeds in a new three-acre hop yard.

Leguminous cover crops such as field peas and soybeans have been planted since they have natural weed suppressing qualities and they help to add nitrogen to the soil.  In February of 2013, Jason and Krista presented the results of their irrigation research at the University of Vermont Hops Conference.

In June of 2013, Aroostook Hops launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise money towards the purchase of a mechanical harvester and a larger sprayer.  All the thousand of bines that they have planted yield more hops cones than they are capable of picking by hand.  For the past three years they have welcomed volunteers to their hops picking parties.  They were particularly grateful to Chris Callahan for running the mobile hops harvester from the University of Vermont  Extension Cooperative Extension this past September.  They also appreciated their new hops baler which was designed and built as a senior engineering project at the University of Maine by Jacob Speed, Matt Gallagher, Nathan Rocker, Sam Ledue, and Lloyd Bryant.

On the day that Unique Maine Farms visited

Aroostook Hops in early August 2013, Kathryn Olmstead and Carol Pierson were also visiting the farm to learn about the cultivation of hops.  Olmstead, a former University of Maine Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Journalism, was gathering information for an article that she was writing for the Bangor Daily News.  (She is well known for Echoes, the quarterly magazine that celebrates rural life in northern Maine, that she has published for the past twenty-five years). Carol Pierson of Caribou proved to be a vital volunteer at the 2013 hop picking party at Aroostook Hops.  On the day she visited the farm with Kathryn Olmstead she offered to help in three weeks with the harvest and to bring her tasty vegan chili and upside down pineapple cake to be enjoyed by the volunteer pickers while they were working!

Krista explained that it is difficult to be able to

conduct tours at their farm because she and her

husband both work full-time and also care for

their two young children, Kathleen and Marie.

Although they are unable to welcome visitors

because of their full schedule, they are happy to answer questions by email.

Individuals who are interested in visiting Aroostook Hops and who are eager to help with the hops harvest are welcome.  The hops picking party usually takes place during the first two weekends in September.  Since there is a very small window when the hops harvest can take place (usually about five days) the process becomes very intense and volunteers are greatly appreciated.  A pot luck meal was organized this past September and there was an old-fashioned celebratory feel to the harvest with the live music.  This past year music was provided by Larry Park and David and Joanne Putnam.

Harvesting hops is hard work.  It is suggested that volunteers wear long shirts as the bines can leave scratches and some people end up with “hoppers itch.”  It is interesting to note, however, that the benefits of hops have been a significant factor in various herbal medicines because of their antiseptic qualities.  Hops have also been incorporated in treatments for anxiety and sleeplessness.  One of Aroostook Hops’ customers orders two pounds of hops so that they can make a tea to help their arthritis. The new growth shoots of hops in the spring can also be cooked like asparagus.

Krista and Jason recommend several resources

for individuals interested in learning more about hops farming.  These resources include the webpage on hops production created by the Hops Team at the University of Vermont Extension, and the Northeast Hop Alliance that works with Cornell’s Cooperative Extension, as well as the manual that can be ordered from Brian MacIssac and Rebecca Kneen’s Crannog Ales website.

When one looks at what Krista and Jason have

accomplished at their farm in five years, it is

truly quite amazing.  They have been profiled in various newspapers and websites.  They were one of the farms that were visited by members of the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry during their March 2013 tour of small family farms in Aroostook County.

Jason jokingly commented that the endless work and many challenges that goes along with growing hops has almost a “masochistic” aspect to it.  Krista and Jason; however, truly seem to relish the opportunity that they have created to work side by side and mix the intellectual part of their lives with hard physical labor.  They describe the chance of working outdoors among the hops and across from barley fields and distant mountains and forests as a spiritual experience.  There are stunning photos on their website of the hop yard in the light of the full moon. 

With all the plants in their hop yards and the diversity found in their operation, it appears that Jason and Krista are fully committed to an expanded organic production of hops on a commercial scale. They tragically lost their barn to a freak tornado in 2010, and they still are in need of funding to purchase a mechanical harvester, but their spirits and resolve remain strong.  If anyone can make it all come together to successfully spring forward or “hoppen” it appears that it will be Jason Johnston and Krista Delahunty of Aroostook Hops!


Kathryn Olmstead is shown interviewing Krista Delahunty for an article for the Bangor Daily News.

Back from left:  Jason Johnston, Krista Delahunty holding Marie.  Kathleen is standing in front.

Jason and Krista discuss the hops production with Carol Pierson.

The beautiful barley field across from the farm.