BY VENI FIELDS
BACK BAY — LZ-Grace Warriors Retreat founder Lynn Bukowski’s expression of panic high above the ground in a Facebook photo began, you might say, with a pesky weed in Donald Noha’s back yard.
Both contributed to a new venture, One Red Maple Hop Yard, which aims to eventually supply hops to local craft breweries and provide revenue for the charitable work at LZ-Grace, a retreat for military special operations members and their families to rest and reenergize.
“It’s another one of those miracle things,” Bukowski said, “and it’s very hands-on.”
As it happened several years ago with her beginning LZ-Grace, one thing after another fell into place for the project to proceed.
Between Point A – Noha’s weed – and Point B – the hop yard, Bukowski found herself 22 feet in the air on a scissor lift, shakily helping other volunteers tie a coconut fiber twine called coir to wires strung between rows of 70 25-foot poles buried five feet in the ground. Hop bines – not “vines” – grow up the coir.
That moment, along with dozens of others, are memorialized on the yard’s Facebook page, created and updated by Noha, a Virginia Beach master police officer who spearheaded the effort last year.
“I’m trying to look for a title,” Noha said. “I can be recorded as ‘chief visionary’ when it comes to the hop yard.”
Noha began volunteering at LZ-Grace a couple of years ago, he said, along with his wife, Coleen McCauley, a corporal serving in the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office. He later joined the non-profit organization’s board of directors.
At a meeting during which members were discussing ways for the organization to help generate its own income, the idea of growing hops came up, Noha said. And he remembered that crazy weed.
“For three years, I’d mow and weed-eat this vine, but it just kept growing back through our fence from the other side,” he said. “By the fourth year, I was fed up and just let it grow.”
Noha said he knew nothing about hops. He had no idea what the small, velvety, green pine-cone-looking things growing off the vine might be. Until he plucked one, crushed it around in his hand, and smelled – beer? He went online and looked up what it might be, and learned that hops grow in Virginia.
With some research after that meeting, Noha said, the idea gained momentum.
As a flavoring and stabilizing agent in beer production, a small number of hops go a long way, according to home- and small brewing resources, like the American Homebrewers Association. A couple of ounces can flavor a number of gallons.
A friend of Noha’s, Tom Wilder, a co-owner of Young Veterans Brewing Company in Virginia Beach, was able to suggest which types of hops to grow.
More advice arrived from Roy Flanagan of Flanagan Farms and the agricultural extension agent in Virginia Beach. [Ed. – Flanagan is kin to John Doucette, editor of The Independent News.]
“North Carolina State [University] was way ahead of us” with resources for hops growers a few years ago, Flanagan said, “but we’ve grown our capacity as an extension and the offerings we have with Virginia Tech.”
Connections were made with a grower on the Eastern Shore, who gladly shared expertise with Noha and Bukowski’s daughter, Sheri. On Earth Day 2017, 432 Chinook and 432 Columbus hop plants were planted.
It will take three or more years for the crop to mature and offer a full harvest, Bukowski said. The yard eventually may offer its hops to the growing number of local brewers. There are quite a few — more than 30 in the Hampton Roads are alone, according to the state alcoholic beverage control department.
“We won’t know until we know” if it will be successful, Bukowski said. But scary moments for her are limited to two stories in the air, dangling cording in a spring breeze.
Initially, her board members had suggested a trial patch for One Red Maple Hop Yard.
Bukowski said no. Leaps of faith are her stock in trade at LZ-Grace.
“I don’t like to do anything halfway,” she said.
© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC