The Hentze Family Farm has been cultivating produce in Junction City for more than 120 years, bringing generations of farmers and land management practices to the community since 1902. However, as the farm looks into expanding to a microbrewery and other events, the owners say some stringent rules and policies from the county and state have made the process difficult for the business to expand.
“We’re trying to open up a nano-brewery,” says Patrick Fay, husband of fifth-generation farmer Kasey Hentze, “and it’s about the size of a regular retail counter.” He says that he wants to make different batches of hard seltzer, doing it one barrel at a time, which is about 32 gallons. These malt beverages would include strawberry mint, blueberry ginger, blackberry basil and raspberry thyme, all from ingredients grown on the farm.
“If you’re a farmer and want to sell adult beverages, you’re only allowed to do that by law four times a year and 90 days apart,” Fay says. He says these are the limits under a temporary permit for outdoor venues to sell, a permit he got from the Lane County Land Management department. And right now, with this Type I use permit, it isn’t producing enough income for the farm.
Oregon law states that a farm brewery may be set up on land zoned for exclusive farm use if it produces less than 150,000 barrels of malt beverages a year, and has an on-site hop farm of at least 15 acres.
However, the farm fell short of some rules, according to the county. In September 2021, Fay filed a zoning determination application for the brewery. “As part of that review, staff found that the proposal did not meet state law ORS 215.449 (13)(A),” says Keir Miller, division manager at the Land Management department. He says a barn sitting on the land didn’t meet the required 100-foot property line setback, and the application was placed on hold. The barn has been a part of the land since the first Hentzes acquired the farm, and the family is still using it today as a produce store.
This led Fay and his family down a rabbit hole in submitting a variance application for the setback line on the property, until its approval earlier this year in March.
But despite this, the farm ran into another problem; the requirement for on-site 15 acres of hops. The Hentze family farm overall has 42 acres, growing a variety of produce and crops like bramble berries, walnuts, wheat, assorted greens and pumpkins, but only has one acre of hops.
This in turn created a back-and-forth discussion with Land Management and Fay’s attorney, Kim O’ Dea, to determine how the farm could qualify for a farm brewery using the resources it has.
“Ms. O’Dea suggested that the applicant could provide an affidavit to this effect,” Miller says. This meant using what Fay calls a “pumpkin affidavit” in place of the missing 14 acres of hops, creating a written clause that could determine if such ingredients like pumpkin can be substituted for hops. However, Miller says that based on the ambiguity of the written language, his staff approved the brewery under the Type I land use permit, allowing the farm to only sell four times a year.
“There’s a lot of bridges to cross between that, but if we were miraculously at the point where we could start producing products, I could sell this Oregon-wide,” Fay says.
Fay and his wife moved from Seattle with their three kids to help run the farm five years ago. Together, the two had planned on working with the harvest and making fresh ingredients to keep an independent farm growing for the community and family, bringing up the idea of starting a brewery. But the Type I permit makes it difficult for them to make substantial revenue.
In 2019, state Sen. Lee Beyer created the Farm Cafe Bill to help smaller farms like the Hentzes establish themselves into cafés. It says farms can “sell food items, beverages or meals that prominently feature ingredients sourced from farm products grown on the farm tract or from farms within the local vicinity.” However, the bill still hasn’t passed. ν
Hentze Family Farm is open seasonally from June to Dec. 17. Find out more at HentzeFamilyFarm.com.