Wading River farmer reaches goal to purchase harvesting machine

03/07/2013 6:00 PM |
wading river hops for microbreweries

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO |
John Condzella hand-harvesting hops at his family’s farm in Wading River last August.

With a week to spare, hop farmer John Condzella surpassed his $27,000 kickstarter goal to purchase a German hops harvesting machine that will be available for cooperative use among start-up hop producers on the North Fork.

Mr. Condzella, of Condzella Farms in Wading River, started the fundraising campaign Feb. 5 and had until March 10 to complete it. He met his goal Monday to purchase the Wolf WHE 140 Hopfen Pflückmaschine harvester from Germany.

“The machine is being prepared to be shipped in Europe,” Mr. Condzella said. “I am going to be going over there in a couple weeks to seal the deal and purchase it.”

Once it arrives on the Island, he will need to convert the processor from European electric to American electric, he said.

“[Hop harvesting] starts in the middle of August, so we really want to get the machine here no later than the beginning of June,” Mr. Condzella said.

The hop processor will make the once time-consuming harvesting season fly-by for East End’s hop producers.

“We weren’t even able to harvest our full acre last year,” Mr. Condzella said. “We worked at it night and day for a while.”

It takes about one hour to harvest one plant, Mr. Condzella said.

“The machine will do that same plant in about 30 seconds,” he said.

There are just under 1,000 plants on Mr. Condzella’s single acre hop farm in Wading River, “with [the processor] and two people we could do the whole acre in eight or nine hours.”

Mr. Condzella said Southold couple Andrew Tralka and Jaclyn Van Bourgondien of Farm to Pint in Peconic will also be using the processor to harvest their hops this season and expand their farm.

“Without that hop picker on the North Fork it wouldn’t have been economical or efficient for hop growers out here,” Mr. Tralka  said.

“We are extremely thankful to our backers,” Mr. Condzella said. “It enables us to move forward with our original plan of growing hops. You think you can hand pick them, but this machine is going to knock away barriers and allow us to grow into it, add acreage and expand our business.”

Harvesting time matters for local brewers with special batches of ale in the works. Some can only be produced from fresh, wet hops. The processor will allow farmers to harvest and maintain larger hop farms, supplying local brewers with the quantity of hops they need.

“It allows us to now have a local source of hops as opposed to outsourcing hops,” said Greg Martin, co-founder of Long Ireland Brewing Company. “We’re a local business and we want to support other local businesses.

Mr. Condzella was “the first local guy that has a harvestable crop that was usable for us,” Mr. Martin said.

The hop processor brings brewers one-step closer to their goal of a truly local brew, but a truly local product is still impossible without local production of malted barley.

Funds for the hop processor will become available to Mr. Condzella on Sunday, according to the kickstarter website. Kickstarter.com provides a space for entrepreneurs to raise money for creative projects. If a given project does not reach its goal, no money is collected.

cmiller@timesreview.com

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