GROWING THE HOPS INDUSTRY
Hard work, ingenuity and care for farmers earns industry leader award of distinction.
Heritage University faculty and students have received scores of accolades over the years, but so far, nothing quite like that recently bestowed on John Reeves, director of Workforce Development for Heritage@Work, a division of Heritage University.
For his 40 years devoted to developing the United States hop industry, Reeves was cited by the Order of the Hop, an organization established in France in 1406 by John the Fearless, the Duke of Burgundy. Reeves flew to the Czech Republic in July to attend the award ceremony.
Reeves’s work helped build today’s robust American hop industry, second in the world only to Germany’s. The Yakima Valley is the nation’s largest hop producer, with three-quarters of all hops grown in America coming from the Valley.
Reeves seems destined to have done great things in agriculture. When he was ten years old, he started working in the fields of southern Illinois, picking fruit and pulling weeds. When he was 12, he started a commercial tomato farm on land his dad gave him. At 13, Reeves went to work on other farms once he’d harvested his tomatoes. He once set a record by working over 100 hours a week three weeks in a row.
Reeves worked both sides of the agriculture field, laboring with migrant workers and doing business with a cooperative in Chicago that sold his tomatoes – all before high school. He put himself through college, graduate school and his Ph.D. program.
“We worked long days in hot, humid southern Illinois,” Reeves said.
In the early 1980s, Reeves brought his work ethic, people skills, and education to the Yakima Valley as field operations manager for Anheuser- Busch. He immediately developed relationships with growers and made his mark.
Before Reeves entered the scene, there had been no U.S. program for virus testing of hop plants. There was no such thing as a set of quality standards for hops nor any widely understood concept of hop farm sustainability. For the hop growers of the Yakima Valley and elsewhere, there was no selling direct to brewers to earn top dollar for one’s crop.
Reeves’s work changed all that. He was instrumental in establishing the industry’s greenhouse-based virus-free plant propagation program, which meant healthier hop plants and a more robust industry. While employed by A-B, he developed the mega brewer’s ten-point program on quality and farm sustainability, helping growers implement important standards for hop seed, leaf, stem, aroma and more. He made it possible for growers to work directly with buyers, skirting the “middleman” wholesaler and earning more in the process.
Later, Reeves and his leadership team at Yakima Chief Hops built a state-of-the-art carbon extraction facility that removed hops’ alpha acid and oil compounds – the elements that give beer its bitter flavor as well as its aromatic notes. The machine did this, minus the use of any chemicals.
With a master’s degree in plant ecology and a Ph.D. in molecular virology, Reeves took on the challenges before him. His depth of knowledge and his commitment to the industry led to a combined 22 years in leadership positions with Yakima Chief Hops and, later, Roy Farms.
Early on, Reeves’s deep sense of caring for people earned him a reputation as a fair player with the interests of the Valley and its growers at heart.
“John is known as a person who not only can accomplish the task at hand but will do it in a manner that ensures maximum consideration of the people involved,” said Ann George, Executive Director of the Washington State Hop Commission. “He’s established many lifelong friendships among those who have been his colleagues and constituents.”
Reeves says the award experience has caused him to think back on his life, that it’s a long way from rural Illinois to Prague – where, coincidentally, he had an office when he worked for Anheuser-Busch.
Reeves says a trip highlight was seeing a former Latinx colleague receive formal recognition from the Order, which he says almost eclipsed the delight he felt about his award. The man started in the business working in the fields, and Reeves gave him his first promotion.
“Today, he’s a vice president at Yakima Chief Hops and the first Latinx person to be recognized with an award like this,” Reeves said.
Reeves continues to provide management consulting to several area companies in addition to his role in Workforce Development at Heritage, which provides training programs for Yakima’s workforce.
He feels much of his life’s work has been centered on providing opportunities for people.
“A lot of the meaning in my life has come from my work. At a young age, I learned valuable lessons about hard work and teamwork that have stayed with me my whole life.
“I saw people who were systemically discriminated against, and I tried to change that.
“What’s always driven me is seeing people being able to elevate themselves.”