by Haley Lawson
As I was scanning Facebook, an article from Outside Magazine popped up about beer saving west rivers. Intrigued, I took a look (and you can read it here).
The article starts with a story about Kim Schonek, the Verde River projects manager for the Nature Conservancy. While on a family kayaking trip, Schonek noticed that the Verde River was in danger of drying up. The river houses countless species and is used for irrigation for local farmers. Drought and excessive flow diversions (mostly to irrigate crops) threatens the life span of many western rivers. The Verde River project Schonek has begun to implement hopes to encourage farmers to switch to water efficient crops such as barley instead of alfalfa and cotton. Alfalfa and cotton use twice as much water as barley and are harvested in August and September; which requires regular watering late into the summer when water is scarce. Barley uses less water and is harvested in June; which means watering happens in the spring when the river is high.
Over the years, many environmental organizations have encouraged farmers to switch to barley but have been unsuccessful because barley is generally used for feed and not profitable for farmers. However, as we all know, barley is integral to brewing beer! So Schonek began to encourage partnerships with breweries and farmers to source barley locally as many breweries get their barley from Europe or Canada. Barley that is bought for the purpose of brewing beer is much more profitable than barley that is used for feed.
“It’s kind of a new conservation technique,” Schonek tells Outside Magazine. “Instead of paying farmers every year to reduce the water they’re using, we can create a market that will drive farmers to change their water use.”
It is also in the best interest of farmers to conserve water as they need rivers and lakes to grow their crops. This new partnership is sustainable for everyone.
“We care about the river; it’s the only reason there is farming here in the first place,” says farmer Zach Hauser, whose family owns the largest swath of farmland in the Verde Valley. “We have a huge interest in the health of the river, so anything we can do while still making a living is a win-win.”
I reached out to some Texas breweries to see if the same steps are being taken. Many Texas breweries (as well as distilleries) source their malt from TexMalt in Fort Worth. I reached out to TexMalt and learned they are working to source as local as possible and use water saving techniques everywhere they can.
“We source everything from Texas and as local in Texas as we can. We also take steps to recycle our water we use for steeping the grain” says Chase Leftwich from TexMalt.
With the rise of craft beer, sustainable practices like this can make a big difference. The DFW area has grown from 2 to over 75 craft breweries since 2011. If you drink local craft beer, you know the importance of supporting local businesses and the impact local business has on the local economy. The more you spend here, the more stays here — and this includes our local farmers. If a demand for barley is created, farmers will begin to grow barley, improve consistency, supply our local breweries, and save water; not to mention the fuel savings that will come from the decrease in shipping barley from out of state or even out of country. Let’s make a difference and drink more beer!