Rebecca Kneen has downsized. She grew up with sheep, 350 of them, on her parent's farm in Nova Scotia. Now, she is building up her own flock from four rare Icelandic ewes, but on this day the black and brown animals and their offspring are too busy grazing in the far corner of a distant field to show themselves.
"We had to have some sheep," Ms. Kneen says. "They are so nice to have -- and to eat," she adds with the practicality of a true farmer, which she is, among other things.
Ms. Kneen and her partner of 15 years, Brian MacIsaac, own Left Fields Farm, an organic masterpiece, the home of Canada's only no-waste, on-farm, certified organic microbrewery, Crannog Ales.
Their bucolic brewery, about 20 kilometres west of Salmon Arm, is one of a handful of such places in the world. Just about everything that moves, or grows, on the farm's four hectares is good to eat -- or drink.
"The farm provides ingredients for the brewery and the brewery waste provides food for the livestock and compost for the crops. We also grow most of what we eat," Ms. Kneen explains.
The farm overflows with piglets, chickens and turkeys. There's a grapevine, an orchard with cherries, plums, peaches and apricots, raspberry canes, black and red currants, and herbs and vegetables flourishing both in a large greenhouse and in the vegetable garden. Even flowers have their purpose, as an apiarist keeps several beehives on the farm.
And then there's the hop yard.
Ms. Kneen, 38, and Mr. MacIsaac, 42, are almost singlehandedly reviving B.C.'s hop-growing industry, once one of the province's largest agricultural employers. In the 1940s, hop yards flourished throughout the Fraser Valley, employing more than 4,000 people to harvest the pungent flower heads for beer-making. Then local breweries found cheaper hops in the United States and the B.C. industry collapsed.
The couple's hops grow to about eight metres, or taller, and need supports. "You get over a fear of heights pretty quickly when you grow hops," says Ms. Kneen, a former special events co-ordinator in Vancouver.
Several organic farmers in the area are also interested in growing hops. "We're trying to give something back to the community," Mr. MacIsaac says. "To get everyone involved."
This year, Willem Roell, an organic farmer in Enderby, is also growing hops for Crannog Ales. "It's fairly labour-intensive," Mr. Roell observes. "You have to have trellises, wires and ropes for them to climb up and along, and then it's all hand picking . . . but it is interesting."
Mr. MacIsaac, Crannog's brewmaster, brewed his own beer for years and volunteered in a Vancouver microbrewery to learn about the craft.
Feeling burned out by his job as a social worker on the Downtown Eastside, and with Ms. Kneen anxious to "get back to getting my hands dirty," the couple decided to start their own microbrewery. With a little financial help from some friends, Mr. MacIsaac went to a brewing school in California and then they started looking for land.
In 1999, they discovered their dream property, on the south shore of Shuswap Lake, about 10 km west of Sorrento. "It spoke to us," the ponytailed Mr. MacIsaac says. "It's been a farm since 1820. It immediately felt like home."
The couple had heard about one or two organic microbreweries in California, whose owners were working toward zero waste, and decided this was the route they wanted to follow. There are several microbreweries in B.C. producing some organic beers, but none are certified, and none operate on-site as a farm.
"It is virtually impossible for an urban brewery to do what we do," Ms. Kneen points out.
Moving and repairing buildings already on the property, and building constructing more themselves, the couple also built their brew house. The name, Crannog, reflects Mr. MacIsaac's interest in Ireland and Irish culture, as well as Celtic art. Burnaby-born, Mr. MacIsaac spent much of his childhood in Belfast. He sports several Celtic tattoos, as does Ms. Kneen, and he designed the brewery labels as well as the art and murals decorating many of the farm buildings.
Ales are brewed three times a week in summer, two in winter. This undertaking involves short bursts of intensive labour with sweet water (from the farm's well), barley, hops and pails of foamy yeast, followed by periods of clock watching, combined with a lot of stirring, boiling water and steam, followed by a long cooling process.
When they started brewing in 2000, the couple made 40 batches of ale a year, each yielding 1,000 litres of ale. Now, three times that amount is barely enough to keep up with the demand for their prize-winning draught ales, which sell for about $5 a pint in bars and restaurants. The brews have won three first prizes in the annual Okanagan Fest-of-Ales.
"Fabulous beer. Fabulous people. Fabulous place," enthuses Neil Ingram, wine director for Vancouver's upscale Lumiere and trendy Feenie's restaurants. "Their Back Hand of God stout knocked my socks off.!"
The name of this rich, smooth stout, which is garnering rave reviews from ale aficionados across B.C., is a Gaelic expression meaning a big surprise, or a bolt from the blue, Mr. MacIsaac explains. He brews four staple ales and, using fruit from the farm, brews seasonal beers at Christmas and in summer; his Pooka Cherry ale is a much sought-after summer brew.
Hops, hand-picked in September, are dried on the top floor of a large barn, while the main floor is open for the animals to shelter in, if they choose. Outside, chickens peck around the hop vines, eating the bugs and providing fertilizer. In another field, piglets root busily among weeds and thistles. Waste water from the brewery is used on crops, and the livestock is fed the barley mash left over from the brewing process. "Everything we produce in one place is used in another place in one way or another," Ms. Kneen says.
With the help of a friend, the couple delivers their ales to bars and restaurants in pressurized metal barrels and vats. The beverages must be kept cold; if handled properly, they will last about three months. The farm grossed about $150,000 last year but, despite the demand, Crannog Ales won't be expanding any time soon.
"We are pretty happy. We are comfortable. Everyone is employed but we are not killing ourselves," Mr. MacIsaac reflects, climbing out of a brewing tank he has just cleaned. He stands in the brew-house doorway, looking over the fields and spruce-covered hills behind the farm.
"It would be hard not to be grateful," he observes. "Living here and doing what we do is life-enhancing."