Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Flubs, Fibs, Microbrew, And Permacommerce

Monday I mis-quoted a friend, Scott, about the business of brewing. Saturday Sam had given me a taste of very promising ale between fermentations, and, in my enthusiasm, I misunderstood Scott's conversation. I wrote:

“A commercial brewing start-up, even for micro-brewing is prohibitively expensive. Scott has been researching ways of making it happen. According to my, even urban farmers, can make things like beer cider and mead, without all of the government-mandated investment required of stand-alone breweries. One small batch used all of Sam’s 2009 hops, but Scott says you get to import to fill the holes in your own production.”

Later I got to thinking that saying that without talking to Scott myself put me out on a limb. I asked Scott to comment, and he wrote me”

“That's pretty close. To be very precise, the only change would be ‘...,can make things like...’ to ‘...may be able to make things like mead, wine and possibly even cider and beer without...’ “The general idea being that I'm still not certain. The Minnesota Farm Wineries Act appears to be pretty simply worded and certainly appears to allow for urban farm wineries (at least by omission)...”

Scott goes on to say that sales in the city would be a problem because a farm winery’s sales happen mostly on site, and an urban business would have more licensing and zoning restrictions than a place in the country.

Scott writes, “...I'm not quite as optimistic that it could apply to beer. I'm fairly confident about wine. Mead is usually not distinguished from wine so I'm pretty confident about that too.”

I don’t even know what mead tastes like. I wonder how it would go with seasoned almonds. Gotta get a bottle.

“My understanding is that cider is already regulated fairly minimally, and since it is made directly from a minimally processed ag product, I think it's also pretty likely. Beer, though, is a bit different, so I'm not quite as optimistic.

“One other clarification, my understanding of the Act is that importation of ingredients from other states is only allowed to cover shortfalls in production due to natural agricultural variability. I don't think it applies to shortfalls due to production constraints that are implicit to your operation (like urban micro-acreage).”

All this means that I let my enthusiasm get the better of me. I've changed the original post. I think that it’s probably possible for a permaculture operation like Barbara’s and mine to feed us, create some beauty, and take pressure off the city’s storm sewers. What I was searching for in my brewing discussion was ways to live in the cash economy, without helping steer it toward destruction.

Barsy’s Almonds are a beginning. There’s an infant upper-midwest hazelnut industry that might eventually make a marriage with Barsy’s. It seems like very good beer would be another transition product. (Sam's Christmas beer received an honorable mention at the 2008 State Fair.)
Buckminster Fuller wrote to a young admirer, “The things to do are: the things that need doing: that you see need to be done, that no one else seems to see need to be done.”

One of the things that I see needs to be done that no one else seems to see needs doing is building a transitional economy. The old economy is adapted to conditions that will not continue, abundant cheap fuel, and an unsaturated world as sink for waste (familiar explanations of current economic problems consider proximate causes, with little consideration of the sand where our foundations wiggle their toes). Beer and flavored nuts, as well perhaps as art, are cash products which might weather disruptions to the oil-and-waste-dependent economy, while we reduce our personal dependences.

I drew the accompanying illustration at a week-long permaculture design course in the newly built cidery at Mark Shepard’s New Forest Farm, near Viola, Wisconsin.


GooseBreeder said...

So much to do to reduce our dependency,increase our self reliance and live better.If everyone started now with mead and roasted almonds on the front porch we'd be a quarter way there.

Tom Roark said...

I think the problem is knowing what to do and how.