A History of Hoptopia: The Local and Global Roots of a Willamette Valley Specialty Crop
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Among the grain fields and orchards of Oregon's Willamette Valley grows a distinctive plant called hops. The specialty crop is non-native, but local farming communities have welcomed it for nearly 150 years. In this rural agricultural region, the climbing plant stands alone for its vigorous vertical growth on wire-trellis supports and bright green cones that span the length of its vines. Passersby cannot mistake the hop's unique physical presence. In the past thirty years, hops have also become increasingly visible in surrounding urban centers. Once a topic reserved mostly for brewers, a craft beer revolution and local foods movement have inspired Portlanders and residents of other nearby metropolitan areas to appreciate the plant. Advertisers near and far have also picked up on this intrigue and made the hop evermore visible on beer bottle labels and in television commercials.The widespread interest in hops is not new. It has just changed over time. Unbeknownst to many of the Pacific Northwest's beer connoisseurs, not to mention the general American public, the Willamette Valley was once at the global center of hop production. In the first half of the twentieth century, Oregon produced forty percent of the American hop crop, contributing millions of hops to the world's marketplace. Historically, hops have been Oregon's most important specialty crop and their presence has provided environmental and cultural connections between rural farmers and urban centers, and the Willamette Valley and the rest of world.This dissertation addresses a historiographical void on specialty crops in the American West and makes connections to worldwide exchanges of knowledge and commodities. The project builds upon scholarship such as William Cronon's Nature's Metropolis (1991), William G. Robbin's Landscapes of Promise (1997), David Vaught's Cultivating California (1999), and Judith A. Carney's In the Shadow of Slavery (2011) to explain the environmental and cultural reasons why Oregon became a world center of hop production. While plant diseases ultimately limited production by the mid-twentieth century, a well-established crop science program at Oregon State University and a burgeoning local craft beer movement has kept Oregon at the center of the hop world to the present day. The narrative also explains how a diverse multicultural labor force hand-picked crops prior to mechanization of harvests in the 1950s. American Indian, Euroamerican, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, African American, and Latin American peoples found multiple meanings in the yearly harvest. By exploring these histories of agriculture, science, labor, and business, this work argues that despite being non-native, hops evolved with Oregon culture to become a critical part of regional identity. Within that framework, the history of the crop frames a "sense of place," or "sense of history," from local Oregon soils to people and materials across the globe.