CEDAR FALLS – Keri and Mike Byrum “hopped to it” not long after they moved here from Orlando, Fla.
Keri, a Cedar Falls native, and husband Mike, originally from Virginia, were previously involved in real estate development in Florida and spent a big part of the spring on their hands and knees planting nine acres of hops plants – about 4,200 in all. They plan to add another three acres yet this fall.
The result is Cedar Falls Hops Co. While there are a number of smaller backyard-style hops-growing operations, this is one of the larger hops-growing operations in Northeast Iowa, just west of Cedar Falls, in partnership with Keri’s dad, Rusty Leymaster.
They got into the business for two main reasons: The first is craft brewing is a growing industry in Iowa.
“We also like beer a lot,” Keri said with a smile.
And there’s market demand, Mike chimed in.
“People aren’t going to be drinking less beer,” he said, smirking.
They recently held an open house for their hops operation. And yes, folks were able to pick hops. And then there were curious neighbors from down the road who wondered what those tall poles and plants were.
The Byrums met in Orlando, have been married 3 1/2 years and just moved back to Cedar Falls.
Keri’s dad also owns a drainage tile business, Leymaster Tile.
“He decided he was going to retire. And we decided we were going to move back and take that over. My background is in horticulture. I figured I’d find something to do. And after doing some research, hops seemed like a great joint project for my dad. He’s a farmer – I don’t know if you know farmers; when they retire they still run circles around the rest of us. So between his farm background and my horticulture experience, it seemed like a good joint project for us.
“So we moved back in April and started going gangbusters to get this done,” Keri said. “Our goal was to get the first four acres planted this spring.”
They installed poles, a cabling system and irrigation to provide the structure within which to grow the plants.
“We have about 4,200 plants,” Keri said. “This is as big as they’ll get this year before the frost. They’re perennials, so they’ll come back. It’ll be the third year before they hit their full production.”
Eventually, the plants will grow the length of the poles, which protrude 18 feet above the ground. A scissors truck will be needed for harvest if they grow that tall.
“This year we decided to harvest just a small percentage of the plants so that we could have samples to give out,” Keri said. That first public event was “kind of practice, if you will,” she said.
“There’s a lot of people good at growing corn and beans. It just didn’t fit my skill set as much. Hops is a lot more hands on. And it’s a new industry in Iowa. The people who are doing it the longest are just in their third year. So it’s kind of exciting to get at the start of a new industry,” she added.
It’s a big year of change for the Byrums, who are expecting a baby in January.
Keri broke open a fresh hop berry and offered a sniff of its aroma. “Since I can’t drink it just makes my mouth water,” she said.
“See, she tries to play it off to like she’s counting down to the baby,” Mike joked. “She’s really counting down to when she can have a beer” — drawing a giggle from his wife.