Photo courtesy of Marlo Meyer
When we called Marlo Meyer for her Passionistas Project Podcast interview, we met a woman of many passions. First, she loves her job as the Education Administrator for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Virginia. She also cherishes her work running Meyerhof Farm with her husband, Matt. And, she's steadfast in her determination to open a farm school to serve the kids in her local community.
It's amazing that Marlo has time to plan the 3rd Annual Wet Hop Harvest Party on August 17 at her farm in Manton, California. She told us about her homestead, the decision to grow hops and the upcoming August event.
Below is an excerpt from our interview with Marlo
Passionistas: What's the thing you're most passionate about?
Marlo: There are so many things that I'm passionate about. However, one super interesting facet that came up in my life two years ago, that I didn't really realize I was passionate about, was education. I had grown up in the public school system and I have dyslexia, but during the '70s when I was in school, nobody really knew what that was and they just thought that I had developmental issues or I just didn't care.
And so it was a struggle for me in public schools. I mean, my social life blossomed because I thought I wasn't smart enough to go to college. I had counselors telling me don't think about college, but it wasn't until the '80s, when I was working as a cashier in a grocery store, that they started publicizing dyslexia and I realized, I think that's what I have.
And then I started training myself. And I went back to school, went to college, went on to get my master's degree in anthropology and since have published articles. So this is a deep seated passion.
And two years ago my neighbor came to me and told me they were going to close the elementary school and bus all of our children out. And since then I have been 150% full force trying to save education in our rural town. And I didn't know this was a passion until it was came up. And something inside of me just woke up and I said, "I have no choice but to fight for this." And so this is my latest passion.
But I also love farming and eating whole foods and raising my daughters. We homeschool our children. They're 15 and just turned 13. And I'm just passionate about life in general.
Passionistas: Talk about your work with the University of Virginia.
Marlo: It came to a point in my husband's PhD studies that the fellowship money was running out and he needed to write his dissertation. And at the same time I was working for the school of medicine. I still am. And I work with medical students when they start having interactions face-to-face with patients, especially when they come to specifically pediatrics. So I assign students where to go, when to go, which faculty member to work with. I connect their national board exams and give them grades.
I took a leave of absence to go to Brazil. But I had been doing that since 2002. We went to Brazil from 2006, 2007 they actually saved my job for me, which is unheard of. So I was able to go back to my same job when I returned to Charlottesville. And then when it came time for my husband to write, his mother said, "Hey, we live on a farm out here in northern California that has a little quonset hut. It's like a one, one room quonset hut that needs renovating. Why don't you and the kids all come out and just squat on the land? He can write." And my first thought was, "Oh gosh, you know, that sounds wonderful. We'll get back home to California, but we need insurance. We have car insurance. We have bills. How are we going to do this?"
And I said, "I just need a job that I can work from home." And you know, my husband was helping me make dinner and he said, "Well, the job you have now, you can do it from anywhere. Just because I'm in a cubicle and inside the university doesn't mean I can't be in an office in California and do the same thing. And because everything had become automated, all of the paperwork from the '90s was now automated.
So I pitched it to my boss and business manager and they just said, "For nobody else, but you, but we'll give it a shot." So I went down to part time, 32 hours, able to keep my insurance and benefits and got a laptop and a smartphone and off I went to Northern California. And that's been 10 years. It'll be 10 years in 2020.
Photo courtesy of Marlo Meyer
Passionistas: So now the farm that you moved to, is that the farm that you and your husband run now?
Marlo: No, it's not. We actually saved money and we met a real great community of farmers, fellow farmers, and just really neat people doing neat things on the ground, you know, making a difference. And we felt compelled to move in an area where they were. So we were up on a ridge in Northern California by Mount Lassen. It's like the sister mountain to Shasta but it's more east than Shasta is west. So we saved our money and we looked for land with water and we found a great parcel and we were able to buy it. So that's where we are now. And we decided we wanted to grow hops.
Passionsitas: And why did you choose hops?
Marlo: I think it was divine intervention. I don't know. I was working and we were going through the process of looking for land and something just came into my mind and I said, "Why don't we grow hops?" We really like to study California history and we're always reading to our children books of California stories. And I think one of the stories was about a hop farm. So I said, "Gosh, why don't we grow hops?"
Because we learned that Northern California, the Sacramento area, was the largest hop producing area in the country right before prohibition. And then prohibition came and everything plummeted and then it never got a foothold again. It all went up to the Yakima Valley and Washington and Oregon. So it's never been the same in California. And I thought, "Why don't we get a go at hops and we'll do organic whole cone hops and see what happens."
So we're in our third year now and it's steadily growing. But from what I understand in the farming business, it takes about five years. But we want to keep it small and we want to keep it boutiquey and organic and simple. We don't want to blow up, we don't want to make a ton of money, but we want to make a living doing something that makes us happy.
Photo courtesy of Marlo Meyer
Passionistas: How does one learn to become a hop farmer?
Marlo: We started doing farming as soon as we got back to California. We put in a plot and just started learning organic methods from our friends, the community that we befriended and we just refined our skills. We studied, we're both academically inclined so we read everything we could about sustainability. But I think really for us, it actually started in Charlottesville because we had learned about this farm called Polyface Farm and the owner, his name is Joel Salatin and he's actually the farm that, I don't know if you guys know Michael Pollan, he's the writer. He's written "Omnivore's Dilemma." He went and visited this farm out in Virginia and the whole idea is it's beyond organic.
The term organic has become so like what exactly does it mean? You know, and the laws had been changed so much that organic, it just doesn't mean anything. And like it used to mean before, if that makes sense. And so for Joel Salatin, his farm is beyond that. It's a closed circle. So he's got a rotating chicken coop that fertilizes the pasture and it moves every few days and then the cows come through and graze it. Then the pigs will come and root it. So it's a closed system, therefore it's beyond organic, if that makes sense.
So we were very interested in that and we were really privileged to have one-on-one discussions with Joel at his farm. And it really resonated with us like, hey, we should be paying attention to what we put in our body. Do we want to raise our kids out of a box or do we want to raise them out of the garden and cultivating relationships with farmers?
So when we got the opportunity to move back to California, that was our number one goal was to put in an organic garden. So we did that and we studied on how to do sustainable practices like making compost teas, getting compost fertilizer and mixing with the native soil, building up the native soil. So we started doing that and growing most of our food.
And then when we moved down to Manton it became even better because we moved onto a 30 acre parcel and 15 acres of that parcel is just pasture land. So it turns out our neighbor around the corner owns an organic meat and veggie CSA — community supported agriculture. And she asked if she could put some of her cows on our land in exchange for eggs, chickens, pork, beef, that's all raised right here in our town and on our land.
And I thought, hey, we're closing the circle babe. We're closing his circle. And so yeah, so that happened. And then of course now that we have all this property, our family garden is much bigger, too.
Photo courtesy of Marlo Meyer
Passionistas: Where do you distribute your crops?
Marlo: For our hops, we are selling to home brewers because we're on a small scale. We sell to home brewers mostly and small breweries that are popping up that want to do like local batches where they use just locally sourced ingredients. So we're doing that. We are cultivating a relationship with Sierra Nevada. We are friends with their AG manager and their Hop Technician.
And so every year we have an open farm day, which will be happening in August and we invite people to come out and pick hops — just like you pick your own strawberries, pick your own hops — and then enjoy workshops and farm to table meals.
And this year we're opening up the farm. We have a walnut orchard that we're going to open up for camping so people can come from a distance like the Bay area or LA. I have a lot of family down in Oceanside down in Southern California. So they come up, bring your camper, bring your tent and spend the weekend with us doing workshops. And so I'm looking forward to that.
Passionistas: So the Wet Hop Harvest Party, is that the event you were just describing?
Marlo: That's right, yeah. When it flowers off the vine, they call them wet, wet flowers. I don't know. Wet hops.
Passionistas: Tell us more about that event. You said there were workshops and things like that. Tell us more about it.
Marlo: We're going to be learning how to make hot pash this year, which is basically taking the flowers and putting them in these sifting bags with ice and water and it freezes the lupulin inside. And then you shake it and there's netting on the bottom of the bag and all the lupulin falls through. And you do this so many times and you're left with just the pure lupulin.
And this is becoming pretty popular I think in the microbrew area where they use, I think they call it Cryo Hops, but that's basically the same method as like freezing the lupulin and powder. It falls out of the flower. Then you're left with just the lupulin. So we're going to do a workshop on that. And we're going to do a workshop on fermentation just because everyone should know how to fermented vegetables. It's delicious and make your own sauerkraut and kimchi is so good for the tummy. So we're going to do a workshop on that.
We did a workshop last year on making salve. I did. So I took a mixture of herbs with the hops and colangela flower. And I soaked them in oil and then I taught everyone how to make their own hand salve or lip salve and that was really popular. So we'll probably do that again.
And we're also have a big booth that will have local farmers bring their stuff here so people can see what we'll have for sale. And we're going to have a band this year, Too. Apparently one of the brewers that comes every year, he's putting together an '80s and '90s cover band and asked if we wanted to have a band for free. And I was like, "Absolutely."
To find out more about Marlo and 3rd Annual Wet Hop Harvest Party on August 17 at her farm in Manton, California visit her website. To hear the entire interview visit ThePassionistasProjectPodcast.com.