BONNERS FERRY — It was a cool, drizzly day, with clouds draped over the tops of the nearby mountains, when members of the Bonners Ferry Chamber of Commerce gathered at Elk Mountain Farms on Sept. 6, for a Harvest Tour.
The idea behind the gathering, which was sponsored by both Elk Mountain Farms and the Chamber of Commerce, was to provide a social event for chamber members, while also learning about a local business that had a large presence in Boundary County. For many who attended, this was their first visit to the farm with 1,700 acres of hops.
“I have never seen anything like it. The scale of it is incredible,” said first time visitor and chamber member, Kris Lonborg. “When it is in full bloom like this, it is absolutely, stunningly lush and green.”
The tour started with a van ride into the hops field where they were harvesting a hop variety called Amarillo.
Picking up one of the hop cones, Elk Mountain Farms General Manager Ed Atkins, broke it open, revealing a yellow substance in the interior, called lupulin.
“That lupulin houses all the organic acids and oil compounds,” explained Atkins. “If you take these and you rupture them and you can smell the aroma of it.”
The tour continued and the members learned all the hop plants on the farm were females and that they did not grow from seeds. They are essentially clones, propagated from cuttings, so one or two plants can become about 700,000 plants.
“It is a lot more stable, which is why we do it that way,” said Atkins.
The Chamber members were then taken on a tour that showed the elaborate process taking the harvested hops from the truck to a finished product — large bales ready for shipment.
“It was not what some other tours are, where it is one station, the next station, the next station,” said Luke Croll, owner of Boundary Consignments. “The people were very friendly and pictures were acceptable — which was wonderful.”
Lonborg, owner of CrossTime Saloon, enjoyed learning about the process that goes into the products he sells — beer — calling the operation “impressive.”
“I had always thought that they refined it down to a lupulin powder, because the lupulin is the end product that they are looking for, but it is actually more like a pelletized hop,” said Lonborg. “The processing it takes to get down to the clean product — and the fact that there is hardly a single human being in any of those buildings, it is all mechanized now — that was something I had no idea about.”
Croll expressed that he was impressed with the American ingenuity, as well as the local ties and aspects.
“The people lived here and worked here; the machines were built here,” said Croll. “It was just really neat to see how Anheuser-Busch has benefited Boundary County, and how Boundary County has benefited Anheuser-Busch.”
As the tour drew to a close, people loaded back into the vans that took them through rows and rows of hops until they reached their destination: the Hidden Bar, where they were treated to a wide array of beverages and a salsa bar serving homemade pico de gallo, homemade refried beans, and chips.
“That is some of the best pico de gallo I have ever had,” said new Chamber member Angelique Altamuro.
Altamuro, who has only lived in Boundary County for about a month, joined the Chamber — as she has in other places that she lived — to learn how to get involved,
“For me, it is a way to be part of the community,” she said.
For Atkins, who has been with Elk Mountain Farms since it began in 1987, it is all about community.
“This farm does not operate in and amongst itself. It takes support from local industry, such as these folks represent,” said Atkins. “It is always good to have a group of local folks that contribute to the community, and help maintain the community, and obviously the Chamber is that group. It is a fun event.”
“It is fun to have folks out here who understand business, who appreciate what you do, and what it takes to do what you do,” he said.
The tour, and socialization afterward, allowed business minded people to talk shop if they wanted, or to just soak up the misty evening while enjoying a beer, as a rainbow stretched across the background.
“I appreciate this place and we are blessed to be able to live in this community,” said Atkins. “One of the things that is unique about this county, is that we are all fairly close knit. Everybody knows everybody. I don’t know all these people personally, but I know of them. You can’t go to a lot of places and find that.”
Although Chamber representative Diane Rogers believed the number of attendees was impacted by weather and timing, she was happy with the way the day turned out and the ability to give back to the Chamber members.
“They are Chamber members and they feel like they are thanked for supporting the Chamber,” said Rogers. “The Chamber would not exist without members, so this is one way of paying back to them.”
A little business … a little pleasure … a great community.
“It is good to support all local business because we are all in it together,” said Atkins. “People here are real people — what you see is what you get.”