Since my last post on this blog page I've been able to schedule and complete one full round of fieldwork, conducted over a period of eight days in mid-July. (I also took a little time off for vacation immediately afterwards!) I should note that I tend to schedule fieldwork in one- or two-week increments, which enables me to immerse myself more fully in the fieldwork process, achieve some measure of momentum to drive that process, and quickly follow up on any leads I've developed within the timeframe of a given round of fieldwork.
In this most recent instance, I visited various farms and other sites throughout northern Vermont, including brewery taprooms. Throughout I engaged in conversation with hops and grain farmers and other producers of raw materials for craft beer (and mead and cider), also talking with brewers, barkeepers (and their customers), beekeepers, foragers, and others who have a relationship to the craft beer industry, along with the mead and cider industries. At this early stage I'm focusing mainly on developing a network of leads for follow-up later on, as people become available for meetings and interviews. I'm also interested, at this early stage, in outlining broad parameters, i.e. the scope and shape of project content, in order to develop a functional conceptual map. And of course, I'm doing mapping of the more usual kind — locating the sites of various activities relating to this project and identifying any geographical patterning among those sites that may prove significant in some way.
During this most recent round of fieldwork I was able to schedule and record two interviews – one with a hops farmer who also taps maple trees and produces syrup, and the other with a former dairy farmer whose farm, though still privately owned and operated as a family farm, collaborates with the University of Vermont to conduct research on various experimental crops.
Together these interviews provide important information on some aspects of farming in Vermont, such as agricultural diversity within a given farm, and on emerging trends in non-dairy agriculture throughout the state. Given my interest in hops farms and farming, I was also interested during this field trip to have firsthand experience of an increasingly visible and possibly related trend – hemp farming! Hemp farms are no longer hidden or otherwise protected from public view; they're beginning to appear along roadsides, cropping up variously on the landscape in Shoreham and Starksboro and Ferrisburg, among many other places.
Unsurprisingly, brewers and their customers have begun to consider introducing hemp into craft beer. In fact, some experiments along this line are already underway, though hemp doesn't appear to be forming a significant new direction in brewing at this time. In addition, some dairy farmers are devoting acreage to the hemp plant in order to diversify their farms sufficiently to enable them to continue milking cows, by providing a hedge against continuing low milk prices. Hemp provides returns to farmers in the first year of planting, unlike hops, which can take up to three years before a marketable crop can be harvested.
I'm in process of transcribing those two initial interviews and once completed, will offer the transcripts to interviewees for review, and for permission to eventually deposit them with a reputable local or regional archive. Ultimately I plan to transfer all documentation produced by this project to an archive that adheres closely to all currently accepted professional standards and practices – the Vermont Folklife Center comes immediately to mind, but there are others – in order to preserve the information and make it accessible to students, researchers, and to members of the general public with an interest in the subject.