They Asked For It - A Couple's Journey to Growing Hop0
People often ask Marty Moga how he and his wife Stephanie got into the business of growing hop. You see, Marty is a full time manager for a Battle Creek metal finishing company, and Stephanie works at a hospital, plus they are busy raising two children, Karson, 9, and Kendi, 6. At first glance, it's hard to see where they'd find time for a full-fledged farming operation- much less an operation large enough to supply over a ton of hops to a popular Marshall craft-brewery.
But Marty and Stephanie are unique and driven individuals, and they've found a way to live their dream of being a part of Michigan's booming craft beer industry through High Five Hop Farm, building rich relationships along the way. The Moga's passion is evident as they talk about nurturing their hop plants and encouraging the next generation of farmers.
The couple met in Utah in the early 2000s, at a coffee shop owned by Stephanie. Both had an interest in entrepreneurship, good food and they liked to create things from scratch. Marty and Stephanie have always loved Michigan craft beer, and knew they wanted to be part of the industry in some way. When they married and started a family, they moved back to Michigan to be closer to their Midwest-based families. Marty an Olivet High School graduate, and Stephanie from urban Ohio, bought a farmhouse with 70 acres in Marshall. For fun, they visited the Dark Horse Brewery. One day, they literally saw the writing on the wall: a flier up at Dark Horse stating "Local hop growers wanted." An idea began to take root.
Around 2009, Marty and Stephanie began their adventure by casually planting 8 hop plants. The plants were essentially untended, but flourished - proving the land was perfect for growing hop. For a few years, the dream would come and go. They worked approximately 5 acres, planting hops of differing varieties and experimenting with growing tactics. They kept their day jobs, even today calling the farm "a side business to fulfill our passion." Marty credits his employer Rosler Metal Finishing for allowing him to take unpaid time off to work the farm. Along the way, Jeff and Bonnie Steinman of Hop Head Farms came into the mix. High Five Hop Farm became a network grower for Hop Head, allowing Marty and Stephanie to utilize the Steinman's sophisticated processing facility to prep the hop for use.
The Mogas were aiming to provide Dark Horse with local hops from the beginning, but it took a few years to reach a quality level to be proud of. Finally, the hops were growing to Dark Horse's discriminating standards, and a new relationship began - 2015 was the first year of local collaboration, ultimately creating the Dark Horse favorite Harvest Ale.
The relationship between the Mogas and Dark Horse is a close one. Marty describes the relationship as a love story, while Steph describes the annual 'Taco Bar Party.' At this event, she and Marty thank the Dark Horse team for their business and commitment to locally grown hop.
This year, the Mogas and their team of friends, family and beer-loving volunteers harvested enough hop to brew 300 barrels of beer. From bine to bottle in 16 days, the hop was processed, brewed and bottled for a 2017 Harvest Ale released September 14. (A bine is the vine of a hop plant.) Steph proudly helped with the bottling in August, and she notes that Dark Horse will distribute the beer throughout the Midwest, including Michigan and into Chicago.
The couple is excited about the success they've found on their Marshall farm, but have no plans to greatly increase growing acreage or go commercial. In ten years, Marty sees the farm still doing what it's doing now, "growing super quality hop and making awesome beer with great people at a brewery down the street."
And if Marty is asked about the inspiration for his farm, he refers to the poster he and Stephanie saw at Dark Horse years ago and says, "They asked for it."