Left Fields, a small 10 acre certified organic mixed farm, and Crannóg Ales, a certified organic microbrewery, are co-located on-farm near Sorrento, BC. These two businesses are fully integrated operations striving for sustainability and zero-waste.
“The idea when we started the farm and brewery was I needed to farm and my husband needed to brew,” says Rebecca Kneen. “We thought about it and realized that a farm is very difficult to get going without on-farm income. So by putting the brewery on the farm, it added the off-farm income by working at home. It was a lot of hard work and challenging at the beginning, but the concept totally worked to get us going and provided steady employment and cash flow to balance out the developing needs of the farm.”
Kneen and her husband Brian MacIsaac bought an existing farm in 1999 in the Agriculture Land Reserve (ALR) and started the on-farm brewery the following year. “Working with the ALR was a huge opportunity for us and they were very supportive of our early efforts to start the farm and brewery,” says Kneen. “We’ve established and organized our farm and brewery with the priority to produce food for our family first and then trade the surplus to support the farm. With our mixed farm including a market garden, berries and small orchard and a mix of sheep, chickens and pigs, we have been successful.”
Left Fields also grows hops, with the cone harvest going exclusively to the brewery and rhizomes sold to other growers in BC and across Canada to help the industry expand. They have helped start about 10 other hop farms in BC, about 20 more across the country, and purchase additional hops from other local farms for the brewery.
Kneen notes that their regional organic certification organization, whose members are their neighbors, were very supportive. “We were instantly linked into an extraordinary supportive and valuable group of peers who were mentors, shared equipment and answered many questions,” says Kneen. “Once you understand the requirements of certification and the ways to do things, it is easier to integrate those practices into your system.”
Left Fields produce is sold into two local farmer’s markets, and the brewery sells across southern BC. “Our priority is to sell production from both the farm and the brewery as local as possible. We’re being thoroughly tested on this strategy with the brewery because is has grown considerably,” says Kneen. “We are restricted in terms of the footprint that on-farm industry can have in the ALR, but that also coincides with our own desires to have the farm and brewery exist together in a symbiotic relationship without one overtaking the other.”
Integration, Sustainability and Zero-Waste
Left Fields and Crannóg Ales are working towards a total zero-waste system, with the farm and the brewery fully integrated to the benefit of both. The farm produces inputs for the brewery including hops, herbs, fruits and berries used in specialty and seasonal ales. The byproducts from the brewery are used on the farm, including spent grain and spent yeast and hops that are used for feed, compost and mulch.
They have also implemented a number of things to reduce the total amount of water they use in the brewery and to minimize the impact of fresh water use on the farm. Process water is re-used both within the brewery directly, and for watering livestock and the gardens. Grey water is used for irrigation and for keeping the compost moist, and is of high value to the farm.
The farm and brewery currently employ five people. However, Left Fields is looking at ways to bring in new partners to the business to replace partners who are moving on to other efforts. “We have had to think about how we want to be organized over the long term,” says Kneen. “We aren’t concerned about who owns the land or business, it is more important that the work is done in a sustainable way and we all have something to live on. When looking around at who wants to enter a farm business, it is mostly younger people who come with lots of interest and often lots of experience, but little capital. Few young farmers have $500,000 or more for a partnership in a business. We are exploring a cooperative model as a potential way to open the farm up for new people and to ensure longevity for the farm and our projects. We can’t do it all on our own and its important to us to open the door to new farmers and keep our farm and brewery businesses integrated and sustainable.”