Mariah and Jordan Brownwood of Nopalito Farm are some of our favorite local farmers. With help from family members, they run an 8-acre organic hops farm and orchard in Valley Center. San Diego is known for its beer culture, and the Brownwoods make their contribution through their speciality fresh hops and gourmet burger stand. Nopalito also plays host to events and weddings. We chatted with Jordan about some of the joys and challenges of running a hops farm.
Terra Cultura: How did you get started with Nopalito? What made you decide to start farming and how did you go about it?
Jordan Brownwood: We’d been into growing food on a home garden scale for several years but had wanted to do something a little bigger. Our idea was to find an affordable piece of land to slowly build on, but we came across an existing farm for a great deal and jumped right in.
TC: For those who aren’t hops savvy, tell us what’s special about fresh hops?
JB: Almost all beer is brewed using dried hops, which makes wet (fresh)-hopped beer so unique. You get the same acids and oils that dried hops provide, but also a bit of chlorophyll and other compounds present in the plant. This gives wet-hopped beer a more “juicy” and “grassy” taste.
TC: What are some advantages and challenges of farming in San Diego?
JB: The advantages of farming in San Diego include a long growing season, mild winters, tons of sunshine and an abundance of local agricultural resources. The disadvantages are a lack of, and high price of water, long dry seasons, expensive land and high cost of living.
From pest abatement to water conservation techniques to irrigation repair, we’re always learning new things, mostly after messing up the first time or three.
TC: Tell us about your burger spot and when and where can we feast?
JB: Our restaurant, Royale with Cheese, is a gourmet burger stand in University Heights. We source almost 100% locally, from our meat to our bread to our produce. A lot of the veggies we use are grown on our farm. We’re in the midst of a rebuild, but will be back open this summer.
TC: What were your past jobs and experiences that prepared you for farming? What did you come in knowing and what have you had to learn along the way?
JB: Neither of us had much previous farming experience. We’d spent time on a number of farms in several states, but it was never our profession. We started with some knowledge of sustainable growing practices and soil health but have learned a lot in the past few years. From pest abatement to water conservation techniques to irrigation repair, we’re always learning new things, mostly after messing up the first time or three.
TC: What are the top 3 indispensable tools on your farm?
JB: The three most indispensable tools we use are the “Hori-hori”, or soil knife, the broad fork and our 1973 Mitsubishi tractor.
TC: What’s your advice for people wanting to acquire land and start growing & selling?
JB: My advice for prospective farmers trying to acquire land is to inquire with existing farmers about land leasing. Many farmers have underutilized or fallow land that might be available to an aspiring grower.
TC: What’s next for Nopalito? Where are some breweries where we can taste your hops in action?
JB: The next step at Nopalito is acquiring a neighboring grove and bringing it back into production. We’re also heading into hop harvest in August, so you’ll be able to enjoy beer brewed with Nopalito hops from breweries like Monkey Paw, Nickel, Fall, Thorn Street, Amplified Ale Works and several others this fall!