Craft beer craze inspires Leetonia's Knucklehead Hop Farm - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Craft beer craze inspires Leetonia's Knucklehead Hop Farm

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LEETONIA, Ohio -

More and more breweries are popping up around here and as the demand for local beer increases, so does the demand for everything it takes to make beer. That's where a place like Knucklehead Hop Farm comes in.

If you drive by Jon Rydarowicz's place in Leetonia, at first glance you might wonder just what he's doing back there.

"There are people stopping out here on the road asking if I'm putting zip lines up if I'm building a house," said Rydarowicz.

No, what he's doing is growing hops. That's what's strung up 20-feet tall in his field, trying to capitalize on the craft beer craze.

"With all the upcoming breweries popping up left and right, look at the stats online, there's a big-time shortage of hops in Ohio," said Rydarowicz. "They have to go to Pacific Northwest and you don't get fresh, wet hops to do the IPAs that people are craving right now."

Knucklehead Hop Farm in Leetonia is one of only about 70 certified hop growers in the state and one of the only farms growing hops in northeast Ohio. It takes about three years to get a full crop and Jon is in year number two.

With several breweries within driving distance, he has a chance to offer something no one else can; true, fresh hops.

"Once you cut the bottoms of these vines, you have about eight to ten hours to get them into a pot brewing them," said Rydarowicz. "To grow commercially and sell them commercially, I don't think there's many around and you don't have much time to travel five hours out to get the hops, five hours back to get them in the pot. They're ruined by then."

Still, there's a reason you don't see many hop growers around here. It's the same reason Jon named his farm "Knucklehead." They're extremely vulnerable to disease, so he says you basically have to be a knucklehead to give it a try.

"Downy mildew is a horrible disease. Takes the root system over, just rots off. Powdery mildew, the potato leaf hopper, two-sided spider mite. There's just so many enemies out there," said Rydarowicz.

So disease prevention is key, and Jon says the Ohio Hop Growers Guild's been extremely helpful when it comes to learning how to keep all those plants green and healthy.

He already has an eye on the future. Right next to all the plants he has growing this year is an open field that he's already preparing to plant next spring.

"If I would have done it six years ago when I was talking about it, this whole field would be full. We have another 700 plants on order for next year to fill the rest of the field up there," said Rydarowicz.

So maybe it's not such a "knucklehead" of an idea. We have the local beer, and the local ingredients aren't far behind.

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