A Head For Business
Tue April 22, 2014
Humboldt County's Community-Supported Brewery
You may be familiar with CSAs , or Community Supported Agriculture. These are the subscription farms that regularly deliver boxes of produce to your door. Now, there’s an entrepreneur in McKinleyville, California who is applying the same business model … to beer.
Jacob Pressey is a beer farmer. While there may be other breweries that grow their own ingredients - Rogue Brewery being one - Jacob may run the only brewery to both grow its own ingredients and use a Community Supported Agriculture - or CSA - subscription model.
Jacob Pressey: “We call it a “CSB” - a community supported brewery. So I basically just take the same model as the CSA farms, and offer discounts for larger shares. But instead of a box of food each week there’s a fresh new flavor of beer. So members will come in and fill their growlers under pressure and get the rotating taps grown in Humboldt County.”
Since opening in August of 2012, Regeneration Farm and Brewery - based out of McKinleyville - has enlisted well over one-hundred subscribers.
The brewery and tasting room are in a tiny commercial warehouse unit tucked well off McKinleyville’s Central Avenue. On a recent sunny weekend afternoon, subscribers and non-subscribers alike talked about what draws them in.
Beer Drinkers: “I like the local aspect of it. Knowing what is being put into your beer and who is making it, makes it tastes better … “
“Because it’s always fresh.”
“It’s like you’re part of the whole experience of making it almost. Because you’re his friend, not his customer.”
“And it’s always happy .. and hoppy!”
Jacob grew up around the Napa wine industry. He had experience as a home brewer and took a job at Eel River Brewery to help pay for college. After getting his degree in Soils and Alternative Agriculture at Humboldt State, the notion of hybridizing his interests began to take shape.
Jacob Pressey: “I always wanted to start some type of permaculture or sustainable Ag farm. Going back to a more regionalized and localized economies; I don’t mean to the extreme of isolating ourselves, but the more a community can produce for themselves - especially staple goods like grains, beer, and bread and whatnot - it just builds a more resilient community.”
Back on his farm, Jacob points to one of his fields …
Jacob Pressey: “This field here is an L-shaped field, you can see it going out there. It’s about 2 acres. All these tall, white stakes around the side, each one of those represents a different variety of grain.”
The beer ingredients at Regeneration are very nearly 100-percent local. Jacob grows several varieties of barley, wheat, and rye. He mostly uses his own hops and has even experimented with creating his own yeast colony. It’s a permaculture farming model: self-sufficient, human-powered, and eco-friendly. The emphasis is on water conservation, mowing rather than tilling for weed control and mulch, and adapting all of it to local weather patterns.
His commitment to staying local has struck a chord with his CSB subscribers, like Brian - who along with his wife Jenny - were the first two subscribers at Regeneration.
Brian: “Well community is like your family in an extended sort of sense. If you support them then they will support you when you need help. Or if you have a capital venture going or things like that. It’s just a big circle so keep things flowing that way.”
And the flow of beer at local bars and restaurants reflects this spirit of community building. Along the Humboldt County coastline there are six breweries in a 33-mile radius. Their top selling beers feature prominently on most menus in the area.
Jacob Pressey: “I’ll keep my integrity of staying strictly local. I’m never planning to bottle and ship out of the area. Even if it means making less money for than what is potential for expansion. The model that I”m going for is out of principle you know. I’m not trying to get rich but obviously you have to play the game right so that you can keep the business healthy and all that.
Back at the tasting room happy hour is gaining momentum. A father and son have dropped by and the dad seems eager to test if bartering is part of the CSB model.
Dad: I’ve got some agates, a pocket knife with sharp blades, a guitar pick, seventy-five cents … (and you’re going to try and buy beer with that? ) … yeah! Just a sip.”
Jacob Pressey: “My end goal is to have one place, one estate brewery, where folks can come and enjoy the beer and whatever products we have … have a large beer garden where people can actually see the beer farm. Maybe have interpretive signs where there is a passive learning process.” So, you know, if we can even get close to that it would be a pretty cool scene. "