This post is part of the “Know Your Farmer” series, which profiles farmers who collaborate with Epiphany Craft Malt. Check out our other posts to learn more about the people who grow the foundation of fermentation.
When did you know you wanted to be a farmer?
Oh gosh. I’m in a unique situation in that my wife’s family has been farming for six generations now. And I have no agricultural background — you’d have to go to my great-grandpa to have any farmers on my side of the family. I certainly didn’t grow up thinking I would be anywhere near a farm. And only after my wife and I started dating and got married, did I go out with my father-in-law to see what he does and help him out around the farm, just sort of knock around on the weekends. It really sparked my interest.
But I’d say it was about 10 years ago that I knew I wanted to be a part of the family farm and help continue the legacy of my wife’s family. But maybe five years ago, I got serious about making a direct contribution.
How did you get connected with Epiphany?
Interesting story! So we had barley in the ground, probably about six years ago, and I was starting from scratch. I had no buyer. Nobody was interested in it. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it.
So I reached out to the gentleman up there in Virginia who helped me get started, and he reached out to a gentleman by the name of Dr. David Marshall from the USDA. He’s a small grains plant breeder. And he came out to the farm and checked out my barley crop. He asked me where I was going to sell it, and I said that I didn’t know.
And David said that there’s this guy, he’s in Durham, he sounds serious. He’s German, he’s got some brewing credentials. He sounds like he’s legit, you should give him a call. It was sometime around the winter of 2014 and the spring of 2015.
So I reached out to Sebastian. At the time he was just getting started and finding his own way through all of this too. And so he came out and saw the crop and got a bit of insight into my situation. He said that even though I didn’t know much about barley, I was clearly willing to learn. So he stuck with me. Sebastian was there every step of the way, rooting for me. It took three years before I got a marketable malting barley crop that he could actually purchase. So that’s how we met — through the trials and tribulations of becoming a barley grower in North Carolina.
What do you grow at Perry Farms?
So we grow tobacco, still, several hundred acres of tobacco, and then soybeans, small grains — so barley, wheat, and grain sorghum, as well as rye, which is a cover crop that helps with the soil.
What does a normal day on the farm look like for you?
So a normal day on the farm for us is centered around the primary crop, which is tobacco. We’re a traditional tobacco farm in North Carolina, and small grains were only ever an afterthought. For me, a day on the farm is really pulling the focus away from the traditional cash crop and thinking more about being different. These traditional cover crops are really key for us in maintaining our operation and making that transition from one generation to the next. And it’s been a real paradigm shift. That can involve a lot of different things day to day.
Then the more mundane stuff — typically, there’s a lot of equipment maintenance, there’s a lot of labor that moves around. Troubleshooting breakdowns. Usually we’re up by 5, 5:15 a.m. or so. Boots on the ground at 5:30, then out there hustling until 7:30, 8 at night.
How would your friends describe you?
They would probably describe me as a big nerd. I love technology. I’m fascinated by the way things work. And I think that’s really what’s helped me in becoming a good farmer. Because there’s so many things around us that are out of our control with the weather, the climate, all the things that are changing all around us. So I ask, “What are the things I can tweak here and there? What levers can we pull to effect a positive outcome? What can I control?” I think my friends would probably call me a mad scientist in some regard.
And they’d probably also describe me as someone who likes to have fun. You know, work and play hard — try to enjoy everything that I do. Because we only get one chance to do it, whatever it is we’re gonna do.
What’s your favorite beer?
Well of course I’m going to say malt-forward beers! Anything that showcases the rich malt heritage that we’re trying to establish in North Carolina. Those are my favorite ones, that use local ingredients, that tap into the rich heritage of the things around them.
The first thing I do if I’m looking at a new beer in a grocery store is look for the Epiphany Craft Malt logo, because some brewers have started implementing Epiphany’s branding on the can or bottle. I like any beer that’s made with our stuff. It tastes just a little bit better than any other.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve driven past so many open fields and farms over the years. And every one of those fields is tied to a story. Every family that tends the land has a history to it. It’s easy to blow by a farm going 65 miles an hour and neve think about it. But if people think more about these open spaces, I hope they think about the people and the stories behind that land.
Maybe it’ll influence some of our purchasing behavior, to try to buy more from those people with a story as opposed to the quick and easy, the prepackaged and industrial.
And I hope that people can get an appreciation for beer and what’s in it, and where it comes from.