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High hopes for hops archive

A what? A hops archive? What would that look like? A room full of dried hops? Tiah Edmunson-Morton explains what the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archive (OHBA) is, a bit of the history of hops growing in Oregon, and how much fun she’s having working with hops.

 

Tiah, tell us about your life. How did you get into hops? When was the archive founded and why?

If you go way back, my family started in the hops industry at the turn of the 20th century. My great-great-grandfather had a small hop farm in Goshen, Oregon. When his sons took it over, they made it much larger. The Edmunsons farmed their land through the late 1950s, but sour cherries had replaced hops after mildew wiped them out in the 1940s. This mirrors the trajectory of the rest of the state. There were lots of family farms (around 1,000) at the turn of the 20th century, then a rapid decrease through the first half of the 20th century.

But I’m not a farmer. I do have five small hop plants growing in my backyard, but I don’t think that counts. I have two graduate degrees in the Humanities (English and Library Science), but I’ve always loved to garden and have been deeply interested in agriculture since I started working at OSU (Oregon State University) nearly ten years ago. I was attending a wedding at Rogue Farms in 2013 and was really taken by the depth of history in our region and by the way commercial farms continue to be handed down from generation to generation. That’s unique in the farming industry.

But hops production is only part of the story of beer in Oregon. We also have these amazing scientists who have been doing work at OSU since the 1890s and great craft brewers who are (almost) all still around for us to talk with.

In July 2013, I pitched the idea of creating an archive dedicated to documenting the story of the hops and craft brewing industries in our state. I think that the availability of ingredients, the impact of OSU scientists, our land grant college mission to share the science with our communities, and the great historical legacy of those who work in the industries are really important stories to save. There are so many great ways to approach that documentation – cultural, social, and scientific. And there are so many great topics within those categories. You can look at labor practices, immigration, gender, legal issues, technological developments, agriculture, tourism, etc.

What’s your job now?

According to my job description, I don’t do this work on hops and brewing full time… But in reality I do it a lot. I am the archivist for outreach and instruction for our department, so I work with a lot of students and faculty on research projects and coordinate outreach efforts, social media, and exhibits for the department.

A lot of what I do for the OHBA relates to outreach and reference. So, it actually crosses into the other fields of my job. Because of my personality, the collection development portion often feels like outreach and promotion.

What is the best part of your job?

Truly, it’s the whole thing. I really love what I do! I get to meet amazing people that I likely wouldn’t encounter from my perch in a university library, I get to travel around this beautiful state, and I get to learn something new every single day.

However, if I had to pick the pieces that give me the most satisfaction they would be the rush of picking up a new collection of materials that I know people will be excited to use and then working with researchers to learn more. Working with archives is like the best scavenger hunt ever.

Are there plans for the future of the archive?

Of course, I want more collections! The more materials we have, the more researchers we can work with and the more robust the historical record will be. It’s a complex story with many points of view, so I really look for variety in materials and voices.

We have high hopes that the archive will continue to grow and we will keep on working to document the industries. I’d like to grow certain areas of the archives, such as documenting the recipes and sourcing of ingredients, book and industry publications, art and marketing, and doing more oral histories. But I also love that the community is so excited about the archive and look forward to working with them to plan for OHBA’s future. I am interested in all sorts of things, but I never want this archive to be just a reflection of me.

We are also looking at sustainability from a financial standpoint. Creating a community-focused archive and having a mission of a statewide collecting initiative means a lot of travel and a lot of promotion and outreach. Oregon is a big state and travel costs money. So, we’ve been investigating fundraising opportunities in hopes of establishing a revenue stream outside the funding the library provides.

We’re also doing some work right now with a Portland brewery to recreate a historic lager recipe. This is something I’d like to do more of. There are tons of amazing historic recipes available in household management and recipe books that I’d like to collaborate with breweries in making. This kind of linking the past to the present is really important for me – not everything that we do now is being done for the first time! If we can get people to think about the ingredients and processes of brewing, we can explore how things have changed and remained the same. Plus, if I can get them thinking about the records they wish we could find then I can get them thinking about their own records!

What is the best thing about the archive?

It’s all awesome.

I am really proud of having the records of the Oregon Hops Growers Association and our local regional homebrew club. I also really cherish the oral histories that I’ve been able to record and feel fortunate to have talked with some of the pioneers in our state.

I appreciate the hops research reports we have dating back to the establishment of the USDA/OSU partnership in 1930. Without the work of these scientists we wouldn’t have the Cascade, Willamette, Nugget varieties, and others. These scientists wrote wonderful reports but they also took amazing pictures. Those reports, combined with the work of the Extension Services in Oregon, make for a robust historical resource.

I love all the art and design files I’ve collected. We have an Art of Beer exhibit up right now. It’s super to see the variety in how breweries represent and market themselves and how inspirational craft beer has been for artists.

 

Have you experienced a rising interest in the archive since the Craft Beer Revolution has started?

The OHBA wasn’t established until 2013 and the first brewery we’d categorize as “craft” opened in Portland in 1980. So, I’d say the popularity of craft brewing was a catalyst for starting the archive.

I think that the fact that Oregon has the first archive dedicated to saving and telling the story of hops and brewing in our state reflects how significant the craft beer revolution is. It’s not just about farming and drinking! We have tons of fun doing this work but the research that people can do in the archive is deep and scholarly.

And yes, I think the continued interest in craft brewing – especially in the story of its history and evolution – will mean even more interest in donating to the archive and doing research in it.

What’s your favorite kind of hops?

I certainly love all the ones I am growing, which were all varieties developed here in Corvallis.

What’s your favorite beer?

I am always tasting new things, so that answer is always changing!

But I tend to gravitate towards sours and darker porters or stouts. I love anything with a zing and anything with peanut butter or coffee.

 

All pictures and more media by courtesy of Tiah and the OHBA.

 

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