PITTSBORO — The day after a storm blew through Chatham County, knocking down trees and swamping low-lying areas, Dan Gridley is eager to check his crops at the farm.
The dirt road to the fields outside Pittsboro is muddy and rutted from the rain. The truck dances as it rumbles to two plots near the back tree line.
Lynn Mann drives. He owns 300-plus acres where Gridleys Farm Boy Farms contracts to grow two-row barley and rye grain on 27 acres.
Its winter, and most fields lay fallow, awaiting a spring planting to bring them to life. But Gridleys plots are already green.
Stepping down from the truck, he finds the fields are wet but unharmed. And thats good news for local craft-beer drinkers.
Planted in late October, the barley and grain have grown a few inches tall and now lie slumped over, hardy against the cold. They will nap like this until late March, when a growth spurt will push them toward shoulder-height by harvest time in May.
Once culled from the fields, the harvest will go to Farm Boys malting house down the road. Later, it will be shipped in large sacks to local brewers, along with hops grown on Gridleys farm, to meet the ever-increasing demand for local ingredients for local beers.
Gridleys operation is part of an emerging niche in the states agriculture industry aimed at supplying North Carolinas booming craft-brewing scene. He grows four types of grain barley, wheat, rye and milo and five varieties of hops.
The grain, from his farm and others, is cleaned, malted and packaged at Farm Boy Farms property off N.C. 87. The four white silos that sit outside the malting barn will house the 100,000 pounds of two-row barley and 15,000 pounds of rye grain he expects to malt this year.
Aviator Brewing in Fuquay-Varina recently bought just about everything Farm Boy had left from the 2013 harvest to make a new local pale ale planned for release this spring. Other brewers using Farm Boy products include Mystery, Deep River and Trophy brewing companies.
The Farm Boy Farm mantra: Craft farming plus craft malting plus craft brewing equals true craft beer. The ground-to-growler mentality is booming. The hops are sold before they are harvested. We cant grow enough grain to keep up with the demand, Gridley said Sunday when I visited.
Gridley, 37, is a special education teacher in Raleigh, where he lives with his son and his wife, who is also a teacher.
He spends as much time on the farm as he can, working after school and weekends with help from one employee. And his passion shows.
Gridley is an evangelist for spreading the word about local beer with local ingredients. Feeding off the local food movement, he takes his show to local beer festivals and homebrew clubs to tell the backstory on how a beer becomes a beer.
Many people, he said, dont think back to how everything comes from the ground.
What Im tasting
Add a new North Carolina beer to your list: Railhouse Brewerys Mastiff Oatmeal Stout. Made in Aberdeen, its a variation on the sweet stout that is mellow and smooth, showing how the style isnt necessarily heavy drinking, despite the color.
It is far from the big boy stouts with rich roast flavors and high alcohol, but still satisfying. Info: railhousebrew.com
Contact John at 919-829-4698 or firstname.lastname@example.org.