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49th Parallel

Idaho’s Panhandle Crop

(page 4 of 4)

Immediately following the harvest, empty support poles stand naked.

Agriculture mixes the miracles of nature with the fundamental aspirations of mankind. Over the course of five months on Elk Mountain Farm, these inherited skills are on full display.

The annual show starts with the first buried shoots that farmers coax from warm spring soil. In the months that follow, swift rainstorms will lash at entangled webs of coconut husk twine and dangling hop vines. The light of five full moons will shine ghostly across these fields before harvest, which, relative to summer’s slow symphony, is a compressed and frenzied crescendo. Last season, the operation’s fleet of six lumbering combines harvested 1,700 acres in twenty-two days.

“That’s going twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week,” Atkins said inside the cab of his pickup as we bounced along the farm’s dusty and rutted backroads.

At Elk Mountain’s headquarters, a colossal system of conveyor belts, shaking racks and enormous sieves rumble day and night to separate the one-inch cones from unwanted leaves, stems and vines. The cones are dried in propane-fired kilns and pressed into cloth-wrapped, 200-pound bales that are hand-sewn by workers prior to shipment.

“From here they’re taken up the ramp, loaded on a truck, and off to cold storage they go,” Atkins said. “This is it.”

Atkins sees off his annual harvest with notable pride, just as farmers of all stripes have for generations. Within weeks, his hops will end up in a bottle of Budweiser, where the farm’s hard work pays dividends in the reliable comfort of an ice cold bottle of beer.



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