The Beer Farmers
Bruce and Will Miller
Photography - HIRO
"We wanted something that would attract people and describe what we are doing. We make beer and we farm. The brewery shows people what we have done in the past, and what we will do in the future."
Knowing where your food comes from is especially important. The global pandemic and food crisis makes it even more so. The Beer Farmers offers a one-of-a-kind experience where you get to see where beers are made. It is a unique craft brewery that grows barley and brews beer right on the farm in the heart of Pemberton Valley.
By the way, do you know that Pemberton Valley is The Seed Potato Capital of North America?
With isolation and high mountains, the valley has become renowned for growing some of the best virus-free seed potatoes in the world. Potatoes mean a lot to Pemberton Valley and to the Miller family who has been farming here since 1912. Of the forty original farmers, the Millers are one of the few farming families left here. On their 4th generation organic family farm, they operate Across the Creek Organics for seed potato production as well as acres of golden barley and hops for The Beer Farmers.
When we live in the time of "almost everything comes from elsewhere", The Beer Farmers shows people where our food comes from. And, they do it really well. The old processing facility for seed potatoes in the middle of the beautiful meadow has turned into a quaint tasting room. A large outdoor patio offers breathtaking views of the farmland, a barley field across the street, spectacular mountains, sunflowers, and farm animals. Since it opened in 2018, the Beer Farmers has claimed itself as a vibrant landmark in Pemberton Valley.
Their success didn't happen overnight though. Despite a hundred years of hard work in farming and building the Pemberton community, they have gone through a series of struggles and instability as farmers. Taking a leap of faith, they ventured into the craft beer business. Their beer not only reflects the region that shapes them, but also the generations of love, sweat, and tears that they shed on that very land. The story of The Beer Farmers is the celebration of their life as farmers. VOICE feels very privileged to share our conversations with Bruce, the 3rd generation farmer, and Will, the 4th generation farmer, as they talked us through the inspiring story of the Miller family and their connection to the food and the land where the thriving brewery stands today.
VOICE (V) : Can you tell us a little bit about your family history in Pemberton?
Bruce (B): " I am the 3rd generation farmer. It stretched out to 1895 when my grandfather, W.M. Miller from Scotland first arrived in Pemberton. A sixteen-year-old W.M. Miller adventured out to South Africa, HK, and Sri Lanka before he got off the boat in Vancouver and decided to explore. When he reached Pemberton he purchased a piece of land that is now Miller Creek (named after him), and he built his house that is now moved and exhibited in the Pemberton Museum. After a year or so, he sold the house and went on numerous adventures across North America as far as Yukon and Alaska through the gold rush. Then, briefly back in Scotland, he stopped over in Ireland and met my grandmother, Teresa. Eventually, they got married and made their way back to Pemberton. They were some of the very first settler families here. The couple bought this farm, and a lot of hard work was put to build a farm here with axes, saws, and all the horse powers. Potatoes and cattle were a mainstay crop, as well as logging, hunting, and trapping for extra income. Since the 1950s-1960s, Pemberton got a good reputation for seed potatoes, they grew the potatoes to sell to other farmers and the USA. I started farming when I was in high school, working alongside my father. It was a good family tradition to go up in the alpines in the summer and had access to beautiful lakes and meadows where we used to fish and hunt. We even had taken our cattle up in the alpine for 35 years or so. After I took over the farm from my father Donald, we transitioned the farm to certified organic. A few years back, we also sold 240 acres of our original 500 acres of land to Nature Conservancy of Canada. It is now called The Ryan Creek Conservation Area, which is preserved for wildlife. We currently farm on 250 acres of land; 5 acres of which we lease to our great farming partner, Laughing Crow Organics Farm. After many years of planning, we opened The Beer Farmers in 2018. At the brewery, we want to showcase some of our family traditions, the interesting history of our family, and trips and adventures we had together."
V: Why did you decide to open a brewery on the farm?
B: " For 120 years, we have been farming on this land, but over time, the economy has changed, the demand has changed, and the world has changed. We were figuring out what the new opportunity is, and we tried a lot of different things to generate more income. Every summer in August, Pemberton Valley hosts Slow Food Cycle Sunday, bringing in over 3,000 bicycle riders once a year. My wife, Brenda, has been home-brewing for some time, and one day she suggested selling her beer on Slow Food Cycle Sunday. That idea kind of grew. Our older son Will, came back to join us from the city, and we ended up with a bigger and long-term project. We are in our 5th year now, and it has been very popular since we opened. For the first 4 months, we were serving only taster glasses until we got the full license. That was a lot of work. Luckily, we live in a time of social media, and people seem to find us online. Craft beer has become a very popular visit. People love to come to our farm and sit and see where the beer is made and the history of the land. Brenda is our head brewer, and she has made 400 beers to date! My five sons all came back, and they are excited to get involved in the brewery business."
V: What makes special about your brewery?
Will(W): "We are so lucky that we are in the grower area. So that we can do more simple beers but do them well and refined. Our Lager is a very simple beer, and it is also our top seller. That is not usually the case with most city breweries. For some of our beers, all the ingredients are from our farm. We harvest our barley in the fall, malt it, then we can brew it next year. It takes a year and a half to prepare for brewing to really showcase what we can do here. It is very special.
We usually make 8 to10 beers at a time. 5 beers that we always make, and we have a seasonal rotation; a summer version of sour and fruit beers and a winter version of darker and stronger beers. Our signature is Cover Crop Hazy IPA that everyone loves, and Locals Only Lager is a huge seller as well."
B: "We soon realize that we became one of the tourist destinations of Pemberton. We didn't expect that. Now we offer a food truck during the summer season that has become another business on its own. It has a good old diner feeling and offers a delicious basic menu. In August when our potatoes are ready, we harvest them and make french fries in our food truck on the same day. Also, we are very lucky to have a nice partnership with Laughing Crow Organics Farm. We share space for the farm stand and sell their flowers at the brewery. Their annual sunflower maze in the summer and pumpkin patch in the fall attract a lot of people here too."
V: Do you feel the impact of climate change in Pemberton?
W: "In Pemberton, we already have extreme weather all the time, but now it is even more extreme. During the last year's heat wave, it was 48 degrees here. All around this area is a floodplain. If things go wrong in the next 10 years, this could go underwater."
B: "We have to work with a short window of the farming season. Climate change in either the spring or the fall can lose our growing opportunity. Seed potatoes, in that sense, are a very resilient crop to grow in a temperate climate."
V: How has the Pemberton community changed over the years?
B: "Growing up as kids, we didn't get to go to the town much. Instead, we had horses and ponies and rode on to go to the adventure. Things have changed a lot, especially over the last 10 years. Even farmers are changing, like us building a brewery on the farm. Having a brewery we see all kinds of people and we get to know them. As far as the change goes, that is the best change."
V: Can you describe your usual day on the farm?
B: "I usually get on the computer, and do my bookwork. My son Will joins me and we run through father-and-son and farm-and-brewery daily tasks, and we talk about future projects. Then, my wife, Brenda will come in, and we discuss the beer business. Then I go out and work. From Friday to Sunday, I cook in the food truck. It gives me a really good idea of how the business is running so that I can give our staff work instructions. From Monday to Thursday, I am doing farm things, like setting up irrigation for potatoes, and getting the sheep out."
V: Have you ever imagined your life outside the farm?
B: "No, but I have been offered that a few times by my wife! Our connection to the food is generational. My father used to tell me that he was a lazy kid, trying to avoid work. In my memory, he was the hardest working man ever. What he did set up with what we can do now, and maybe his father was the same. The generations of hard work are done for a better future for the family. We raised our kids the same thing. Our kids grew and there were times they wanted to get away from the farm, but now they are coming back. Particularly with the brewery, all kids want to get involved with beer making and barley growing. In my mind, I am a lazy man but my kids think I work hard. I also learn from my kids how to work smart!"
V: What does food mean to you?
B: "When you are growing the food, you can understand the culture of it. The food takes time to grow. When I was younger I thought there were 4 seasons, but when you are out there working with the food every day, you realize it is more like 52 seasons. You can feel the change in every little process, and see the crop grow and mature from the very first time you smell the flora in the soil at the start of the growing season."