Be Faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies. –Mother Teresa
When we started malting in 2010, there were 4 other malthouses that we knew of: Rebel Malting, Colorado Malting, Michigan Malt, and Malterie Frontenac. Knowing that these businesses existed made our dream to start a malthouse in New England seem possible.
What else encouraged us? Made us feel like we weren’t crazy to risk everything and take our life in a whole new direction? What encouraged us were the people we met. I’m talking about the farmers, the brewers, and fellow maltsters that we consider partners in this journey.
The last 3 years has been a steep learning curve. The steepest parts?
1. Finding the right equipment for the job and then constantly fixing that equipment. 2. Securing enough quality grain locally. 3. Learning how to malt.
I am also tempted to put: 4. Keeping up with demand.
Luckily demand for our malts and the effort needed to market and sell them has not been the challenge that we thought it might. But it does pose a challenge for us and is a very real source of stress.
Many people ask, “When are you planning to grow?” It is an obvious question for a company like ours and we review our options regularly.
Do we want to keep growing bigger? This is a question always on our mind. Sometimes the thought of being bigger and making a bigger impact is appealing. But to be perfectly honest, we never see ourselves getting big. Here's our idea and maybe it makes those with an MBA want to smack us: rather than get bigger, let's find a size that is both sustainable and profitable and stay there.
It we can show a successful business model than others may want to replicate it. In 10 years we could see Malthouses start popping back up around our country. Diversify the industry. Make an impact for local farms and local economies.
I came across the business plan we wrote in February 2010. It was a personal expression of our excitement in starting Valley Malt and shows everything we did and did not know back then.
Statement of Growth and Sustainability
At Valley Malt, we seek to make a small but positive impact on the industry by creating new technologies for malting and new flavors in the malt. It is likely that we will inspire other regional maltsters to start up a business, which will promote local grain production in their area and thus support more diverse varieties of barley growing.
Our strengths lie in our scale. We are an artisanal malting company and for now, will be the only US malting company operating east of the Mississippi. As with the craft brewing industry, a growing market of loyal customers want to purchase local and/or craft varieties.
Valley Malt will base its growth on what is sustainable for our local soil. Our growth will not be purely determined on market demand or based on current models of malting facilities but instead our growth will be based on the metabolism of nature and will purposefully be slow.
We plan to base our growth on a healthy respect for what our local farms can manage and grow in a sustainable way. We are not seeking harvest with the highest yields because we know that high yields are not natural or sustainable. We intend to revive the cultivation of quality barley in this region and in doing so, we also intend to revive the fertility of the soil in which this barley is planted. This may translate to lower crop yield but we plan to compensate the farmer well for the manner in which the crop is grown and the care which is given to keep the soil fertile and to indeed improve the soil’s fertility. Because we will pay a premium for local barley, farmers will not feel pressure to use unsustainable methods to unnaturally increase their yield.
Biodiversity is an essential and exciting part of this equation. Dozens of malting barley varieties exist and new varieties are being developed every year. We will continue experiment with new varieties as well as heritage varieties, which could create a niche market and some fairly sought after malt. This will be a cooperative and hands on process that will forge strong ties between the malt house, craft beer drinker and farms.
Valley Malt will be working with regional universities to test barley varieties that will thrive in our local soil. We are working to compile data about best practices for growing malting variety barley and will continually strive to find methods to grow barley sustainably (crop rotation, companion plants, disease resistant varieties, planting schedules). Part of this research will also include polling farmers and finding out important economic data for sustainability such as: owning versus renting equipment, optimal acreage for sustainability, heritage versus common varieties, and their success in accessing alternative markets.
One final quote about being small ya'll:
Entrepreneurs and their small enterprises are responsible for almost all the ecomonic growth in the United States. – Ronald Regan