Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Resident proposes Copake Hops Growing Cooperative
Project could help town ‘heal’ financially
By Jamie Larson

COPAKE — An agricultural plan to start a municipal hops farming cooperative in the town of Copake has received enthusiastic support from town officials, farmers and citizens.

The plan, proposed by part-time resident Tim Reilly, if carried out successfully, would give all willing Copake residents a share in the Copake Hops Growing Cooperative, as well as bring many new jobs and businesses to the town. Reilly says existing local farmers and purchased land would make up most of the area required for the operation, but that town residents with any amount of acreage could grow the crop, and citizens without farmable property would still be able to buy into CHGC.

Reilly’s proposal aims to transform and revitalize Copake’s sluggish economy by reintroducing the highly prized specialty crop to the area. Hops flowers, which grow on trellised vines, are the main flavoring and bittering component in beer. Hops once grew abundantly in the Hudson Valley before a blight and prohibition sent the industry out west.

In the past 10 years, due to a number of economic and environmental factors, the price of hops has increased from $5 to about $28 a pound, and Reilly says the time to get in on the action is now. He claims that even if the hops market settles down to a conservative $16 a pound, Copake’s farmers would rake in an estimated $28,000 an acre. By comparison, Copake’s most abundant crop, corn, only grosses a little over $3,200 per acre.

“The town is (economically) challenged,” Reilly says. “The co-op would really help the town through the hard times ahead.”

The Town Board is fully aware of its community’s unattractive financial situation and when Reilly first publicly presented his proposal at Thursday’s meeting, board member Bob Sacks said, “I think I can safely speak for the board when I say you have our total support,” adding, “tell us what we can do to help.”

Supervisor Reggie Crowley recently attended a gloomy meeting of Columbia County supervisors where he learned that the county lost more than $1 million in sales tax last quarter.

“I’m in support of anything that can help out our farmers,” Crowley said Friday. “Agriculture is a dying industry. If (Reilly’s plan) is good for farmers and creates jobs for the community, I am all for it. Absolutely.”

While planning is in its early stages, Reilly has been discussing his ideas with board members since April and did some test farming last summer with board member — and local farmer — Walt Kiernen. Reilly says they learned a lot from their limited trials and feels even more strongly now that hops would grow abundantly in Copake.

The town would need to acquire a substantial amount of funds to start the cooperative; a large harvesting machine would need to be purchased and large buildings would be required to dry and process the hops. Despite the substantial startup cost, Reilly says he feels grants for such a profitable enterprise will be warmly received by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and says he has received support for the CHGC from Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand.

Reilly currently lives in New York City where he works as a consultant and project manager on large-scale restoration and construction of decorative architecture. He also has a degree from the Culinary Institute of America and works in the catering industry.

Reilly admits that he does not have any experience or history in farming and says he will rely heavily on the expertise of Copake’s local farmers.

He does, however, have a background in beer. As a student at the CIA he was the head of the Beer and Ale Society, and has also worked on the construction of breweries, most notably helping to build the Hartland Brewery in Union Square.

“I’m in love with brewing, and the brewing industry,” he said.

Because of his history in the New York City construction industry, Reilly was asked if he has ever used Bronx County Recycling to dispose of construction debris from sites he managed. Bronx County Recycling LLC is partially owned by Salvatore Cascino, who has been repeatedly fined for dumping construction debris, and other illegal actions, on farm property he owns in Copake. Cascino is currently suing the Copake and Columbia County planning boards in State Supreme Court for not allowing him to build large structures on his property. The boards felt he would use the buildings to shelter illegal activity.

Reilly says he was completely unaware of the Cascino situation in Copake until he was asked about it Friday, and says he never oversaw the debris removal aspect of his construction jobs. He said he had never heard of Bronx County Recycling LLC, adding that he is interested in making the CHGC as green as possible.

He says that instead of building new structures for the co-op he would like to retrofit existing structures, and has expressed interest in buying the old Taconic High School on Route 22 to use as a base of operation for the project. He also says that since hops grow on 25-foot trellises there is an opportunity to top support poles with solar panels to make the co-op more energy efficient.

Reilly will be meeting with the Copake Economic Advisory Board at 7 p.m. Tuesday to parse out more details for the CHGC.

To reach reporter Jamie Larson, call 518-828-1616, ext. 2269, or e-mail