Sixth-generation Saanich Peninsula farmer Kyle Michell can sit on his farm and raise a glass of beer brewed from grains grown on his own land.
When Kyle and his wife Jennifer bought land on Hovey Road in 2015 it was a horse farm, but it marked a return to the family fold, as in the 1960s Kyle’s great-grandfather Willard Michell farmed the land.
While had been working the land with Michell Excavating, he wanted to shift back to growing and harvesting. But he also wanted to do something different.
Kyle’s dad had dabbled in grain crops and frankly, Willard likely grew grains on the very fields of Field Five Farm that Kyle planned to work.
Enter beer farmer Mike Doehnel.
Black Press Media profiled Doehnel and his homestyle floor-malting techniques more than a decade ago. Back then he was painstakingly malting barley in a backyard shed before selling it locally.
“We met Mike and he led us down the rabbit hole,” Kyle said, seated in the former horse barn, renovated into a tasting room. The building on Hovey Road features a tap designated to brew from Moon Under Water, one of the many award-winning Greater Victoria breweries and distilleries that uses their product. Others include Whistle Buoy, Beacon Brewing, Sooke Brewing Company and Devine Distillery.
In the spacious room next door, the malting room, a machine of their own design does the heavy lifting. It’s the same process Doehnel did on his shed floor a decade ago, but on a significantly larger scale, and fully automated.
They started ambling down the malting path in 2018, Kyle explained, collecting bits of used stuff along the way. The machine is custom-made by the Field Five team and Jennifer’s family at another longstanding Peninsula business, Titan Boats. Kyle calls the creation one of a kind in Canada. The large drum incorporates the malting process from steeping and germinating to kiln drying with a panel providing digital access to control all elements of the process.
By January 2020, they had a business plan and approved loan to start building, which continued throughout the pandemic.
Over the last eight months, they’ve malted more than 100 tonnes of grain, equivalent to 400,000 litres of beer. There’s room right beside their invention for a second machine as the company grows.
Thousands of acres of oats were grown in the past on the Saanich Peninsula, Doehnel said. But then Alberta grains became the affordable choice.
Now there’s a shift back and that leads to more local malting operations.
The machine makes Field Five unique, but Phillips Brewing and Malting has also upped its intake of Vancouver Island barley. The company launched its malting plant in 2015 allowing for more work with local farmers, better control and a little creativity in recipes.
For Kyle and Doehnel that creativity also grows outside the barns and in fields across the community. While seeding what they know they have buyers for, there are several small test fields of diverse grains including several barley, rye and flax varieties.
Learn more about the farm at fieldfivefarm.ca.