Santa Rosa students producing hops for St. Florian’s Brewery

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About a dozen Santa Rosa High School students — sophomores, juniors and seniors — started their school day in a field on Alba Lane on Thursday morning. It was Day No. 2 of their hops harvest, a first for the school.

They lined up along the vines, each student carrying two white 5-gallon buckets, tasked with filling them to the top. The sticky process took from 7:30 until 8:45 a.m., when they headed off to their next classes.

The hops, Cascade and Nugget, were tucked in gallon resealable bags, on their way to be frozen at the high school until the entire harvest is trucked over to St. Florian’s Brewery in Windsor. There, it’ll be turned into either a pale ale or an India pale ale — head brewer Aron Levin hasn’t quite nailed that down yet.

As for a name? That’s up to the students, he said.

Juniors Shay Johnson, 17, and Lillian Dutcher, 16, stood side-by-side in the mist, Johnson borrowing the gloves Dutcher had brought along for the task.

“(The hops) are extremely sticky,” Dutcher said, laughing. “They’ve made my backpack smell like weed, honestly. ... But today we have soap.”

Students in the SRHS environmental horticulture class learn how hops grow, what makes them ready for harvest, their acidity levels and why they’re used in beer.

The idea behind the inaugural harvest came from the school’s previous agricultural teacher Riggs Lokka, said Sarah McMaster, who took over the role this school year.

“It was realizing the history of the crop (in Sonoma County) and wanting to bring it back, and having the kids do something unique,” she said.

McMaster estimated the teens would harvest about 6,720 hops from the 24 vines.

Once packaged and ready to go, they’ll be sold to St. Florian’s Brewery for about $10 a pound — money that will go back into the school’s agricultural program to purchase equipment, seeds and other materials, she said.

The harvest will yield enough beer to fill about 5,000 bottles, or 30 kegs, but after the class did a cost analysis, it decided the keg route was more economical, McMaster said. Bottles and labeling can be expensive.

Principal Brad Coscarelli was there to watch the harvest, as was Santa Rosa City Schools Superintendent Diann Kitamura. Both left with bags of hops to show off around the office.

“Anytime kids can learn in a different way, I’m all for it,” said Kitamura, a former ag teacher herself. “I call it disguised learning. Taking the theory you learn in the classroom and making it come to life out here, that’s my kind of education.”

Taylor Dionne, a 16-year-old senior in the class, said that before it came time to harvest, she really didn’t know what to expect.

“It’s definitely a lot more fun getting a hands-on idea of it rather than sitting in class learning about it and not doing anything,” she said. “It’s kind of nice that we got the opportunity to come out here and actually do something with this crop. And to have it go even further than that, to watch it grow into something else, the beer thing, it’s pretty cool.”

When McMaster brought the idea to Levin and his wife, Amy, who co-owns St. Florian’s, they thought it was an awesome opportunity.

“It’s such a great program for this county,” he said.

While he hasn’t settled on a recipe, he knows he wants to showcase the hops. “That’s what this program is about,” he said. “They’re growing it. They’re doing it. Let’s show it off. Let’s let everyone know what they did, what their hard work was all about.”

There’s no set release date for the beer, but Levin said the kegs should be available at St. Florian’s tasting room and for sale before the holidays.

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or

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