Sarah Mann knew she would probably have help the first year she harvested hops at her Sweet 16 farm in Houston County.
She just wasn’t sure that help would show up the second year.
That’s how the Hops Harvest Festival was born.
“The idea was, how do we get them to come back?” Mann said.
Live music headlined by Them Coulee Boys, camping, and some driftless area vendors are a good start. The Sweet 16 Hop Harvest Fest was initially born out of a bit of necessity — harvesting hops.
Picking hop cones off the bines can be a tedious task.
“If it’s just four or five of us picking hops off 250 plants, it’s not much fun at all,” Mann said.
Two years ago, Mann and some friends had an idea to sweeten the deal for their hop-picking helpers by providing some live music and craft beer.
Last year, more than 100 people showed up to pick hops while musicians picked some tunes.
“This is not a heavy work day,” Mann said. “(The hops) are there and it’s an invitation to help, really.”
For some people, it’s satisfying work. For others, ten minutes of picking is plenty.
Now, in its third year, Mann and company expect about 300 people at this year’s festival. There might not be enough hops for everyone to pick. However, that’s increasingly becoming a secondary concern as the festival gains attraction and attendance.
Organizers of the annual Boats and Bluegrass festival helped Hop Harvest Fest bring in the performers. Them Coulee Boys are a popular draw. Lowest Pair, a banjo duo made up of Minnesota native Palmer Lee and Olympia, Wash.-based Kendl Winter, met at the Boats and Bluegrass festival.
“We love Them Coulee Boys,” Winter said. “It was easy to say yes.”
The pair also welcome opportunities to play in the driftless region.
“It’s one of my favorite places in this country,” Winter said.
She'd be willing to pick some hops once she's done picking some banjo, she added.
“If it's an option, I will,” Winter said.
Galena, Ill.-based Driftless Sisters Rochester duo and My Grandma’s Cardigan also join the lineup.
Sweet 16 farm grew from a desire to return to the driftless region — an area of Southeast Minnesota, Western Wisconsin, Northeast Iowa and Northwest Illinois that escaped glacial cover in the last ice ages. That left the land contoured with formations that are millions of years old.
Mann, after finishing college, wanted a job that let her work remotely. About 10 years ago, she returned to the Root River valley and started a business growing fruits, flowers and hops.
Driftless Grown, an initiative to promote the environment, agriculture and communities in the driftless region, is holding the vendor fair at the festival. That fair and festival start at 2 p.m. Saturday. Entry to the Hop Harvest Fest gets you entry to the vendor fair.