How green is that beer you’re drinking?
No, this isn’t a question about the color of your pint. We’re talking green – as in nature-friendly.
After all, people want to know how their food and other products are produced and what effects they have on wildlife and water. But do you know where your beer comes from?
Across the country, breweries large and small are finding out that customers want their beer produced in sustainable ways. From reducing energy use to composting to growing hops on-site, brewers are demonstrating that you really make a green beer. Some are getting directly involved in protecting nature.
As The Nature Conservancy works to protect lands and waters around the world, we find that the circle of people, companies and agencies we work with gets ever more diverse and interesting. That includes breweries.
On a chilly March day at Silver Creek Preserve in south-central Idaho, moose graze placidly and flocks of ducks circle overhead. In every direction, wildlife appears – coyote, a flock of tundra swans, a herd of elk, bald eagles.
The Silver Creek Valley is also a working place — lined with farms and ranches. This is where beer or at least a very important part of it – barley – comes from.
The Nature Conservancy purchased Silver Creek Preserve 35 years ago, and as with so many places, the Conservancy realized that the spring creek’s future depended upon those who live and work there.
“Working farms and ranches contribute so much to this valley,” says Dayna Gross, Silver Creek Preserve manager. “They are the reason elk and moose still have a place to roam. They are why anglers see beautiful scenery instead of a creek lined with houses.”
Barley farming for breweries has long been a major use of land and water here. Several of the largest barley producers for MillerCoors farm along Silver Creek and its tributaries. Since these farms play such a large part in its health, it’s vital that the Conservancy work with the farmers and the company they supply to achieve our conservation goals.
The brewery first engaged with the Conservancy’s efforts to improve habitat along Silver Creek by supporting the planting of native trees, which shade the waters to keep streams cooler. Warm water can be detrimental to spring creeks, in particular threatening the stream’s abundant trout population.
But it’s not just about fish. Much of the area’s economy depends on fly fishers, who travel from all over the world to catch Silver Creek’s trophy trout. Guide services, fly shops, resorts and restaurants depend on the cold waters of Silver Creek to stay in business.
The Silver Creek Preserve project also has addressed water quantity: barley farming requires a lot of irrigation for a good crop. A project focused on retrofitting a pivot – the part of an irrigation system that shoots water out over a field – with a device that disperses water closer to the ground and at lower pressures.
The result? More than 450,000 gallons of water saved per day.
This success stimulated a new idea – a model barley farm demonstrating the best conservation practices. The farm showcases farming methods that provide more habitat for wildlife and improve water quality and quantity.
Located on the farm of John and Elizabeth Stevenson, the project will host barley farmers from around Idaho and the nation to see the results – conservation that benefits not only clean water, but also the farmer’s bottom line.
The connection between beer and nature can also be seen in a Conservancy project thousands of miles away from Idaho.
Consider a typical Sunday afternoon just outside the city of Yopal, Colombia. Families gather along a mountain stream to enjoy chicken dinners and swim in clear, almost Caribbean blue waters.
A thunderstorm passes over the area, pelting the picnickers with rain and instantaneously turning the water from clear blue to muddy brown. Raging torrents replace placid waters. People flee up the banks.
Instances like this are not only temporary hazards. These muddy Andean waters caused by forest loss upstream affect everyone downstream – dirtying drinking water and flooding homes.
That’s why the Conservancy helped create Water Funds in the Northern Tropical Andes. Here’s how the funds work: businesses and government agencies in cities like Bogota or Quito pay into funds that support activities to improve the health of the land that delivers their water.
The funds are used for reforestation projects and to help farming families upstream launch nature-friendly livelihoods, reducing the tide of deforestation and degradation of grasslands that regulate and clean water.
In short, these farmers are finally being paid for a service they provide.
Fortunately, beer companies also recognize the value of this service. Without clean water, they couldn’t produce beer. Other brewers in the greater MillerCoors family – SABMiller subsidiaries Cervecería Nacional and Bavaria – are key investors in the Quito and Bogota Water Funds, helping to build a self-sustaining flow of conservation funding that protects water for people as well as their own bottom lines.
So raise a glass to celebrate the special places your beer comes from — places like the beautiful valley of Silver Creek Valley, where barley farmers, moose, ranchers and trout all thrive thanks to flowing springs and healthy habitat.
Here are some things you can do to support better use of our fresh water resources:
November 14, 2013
Matt Miller is Director of Communications for the Conservancy's Idaho program.