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Chris DellaBianca and Audrey Gehlhausen of Billy Goat Hop Farm: “Go outside!”

Go outside! If parents show their kids the beauty and power of the outdoors, they will organically respect their environment. From playing with a bug in your backyard, looking at a bird and going for a walk in the park to overnight backpacking and river trips, getting your kids to enjoy playing outside will get […]

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Go outside! If parents show their kids the beauty and power of the outdoors, they will organically respect their environment. From playing with a bug in your backyard, looking at a bird and going for a walk in the park to overnight backpacking and river trips, getting your kids to enjoy playing outside will get them to care about it. When you care about something, you’re much more likely to work to protect it. I have river-guided on the Middle Fork Salmon River for 13 years. It’s a 6-day trip in the middle of the Frank Church Wilderness. I am inspired weekly by the faces of young and old alike as they light up from immersion in nature and detachment from technology and society. It truly is hopeful seeing folks leave the trip with an appreciation of wild places and a desire to protect public lands.


As part of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris DellaBianca and Audrey Gehlhausen.

Billy Goat Hop Farm is the largest hop farm in the Southwest, providing superior quality fresh, whole cone, and pellitized hops directly to craft brewers. Starting in 2017, they’ve grown to 32 acres that produce 11 varieties of amazing hops. Owners and farmers Chris and Audrey pride themselves on creating genuine farmer-brewer relations and bringing true craft into their process. Combining traditional hands-on practices and state-of-the-art technology, they use less water and chemicals which transcends into a healthier ecosystem, soil, and hop plants. Brewers enjoy the bright aroma and subtley unique flavor profile imparted from Colorado’s terroir, and the passion poured into every step of the process. Know your farmer, Love your beer. Learn more at billygoathopfarm.com.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After about a decade of river guiding, ski coaching, and golf course agronomy, we decided it was time to put some roots down. After a lot of thought, literally putting roots down became our perfect answer. Chris has a degree in Biology and a love for plants. I enjoy working outdoors, and we both love craft beer and the beer industry as a whole. After a year-long internship at Jackson Hop Farm, which is a large commercial hop farm in southwest Idaho, we were hooked and the adventure began. Hops are the coolest plant!

What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?

Our mission at Billy Goat Hop Farm is to provide the highest quality hops directly to brewers, while supporting our local community and using practices to create a greener tomorrow. In our area specifically, the Colorado river is getting overused and the salinity is increasing from flood irrigation. We installed a state-of-the-art drip irrigation system on our 40 acres to use only the water we need, keep our fertile topsoil, and keep salts and minerals out of the water system. Also, pairing this efficient system with our farm’s size, we are able to be intimate with our field, using absolute minimal chemicals to maintain and create a healthier ecosystem and the most beneficial soil..

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

Decreasing greenhouse gases! Albeit we only have 32 acres of hops, that’s 32 acres that stays in agriculture and doesn’t get turned into concrete and subdivisions, like too much incredible ag land is getting sold for. We estimate about 3 million pounds of plant material when the hops are full grown. We also donate our biomass waste (1,000’s of pounds!) to local gardeners to use as mulch. Composting helps to sequester CO2 and revitalize soils. In a small way, we’re doing our part to decrease CO2 and put out nice clean O2.

Helping to bring the Colorado River back to life! The acreage we bought had been in flood irrigation since it’s been farmed. Switching to drip irrigation, we use significant less water, only giving the plants exactly how much they need. This also nearly eliminates water loss from evaporation, prevents the loss of fertile topsoil, and does not put any salts or sediment into the river system. The ever increasing salinity of the Colorado River has been affecting the river’s ecosystem and harming the fish populations, including the endangered humpback chub. We’re doing our part to help revive that complex system.

Decreasing the hop industries carbon footprint! 96% of hops grown in the USA come from the Pacific Northwest. Being centrally located, we give breweries all across the south and east a closer option. 1,000’s of miles of truck emissions are literally eliminated by providing a more local option.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

Within our industry specifically, it’s simple: soil health. Choosing to use less inputs, properly managing disease and pests, using minimal till, and maintaining a good cover crop are easy ways to not only be environmentally conscious but also decrease your costs. Creating and maintaining good soil health saves money on both fertilizers and pesticides and decreases costs on labor, diesel, and wear and tear on equipment. It does take time and effort to get your soil ecosystem up to par, but it will save you and the environment in the long haul. We live this everyday. We were fortunate to start with a field that had some of the highest organic matter in the valley, and worked hard to keep it that way. Compared to the large conventional farms in the PNW, our per acre expenses on chemical and diesel are lower.

The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.

Lead by example. I was very lucky to be raised by parents who recycled, composed, took us on hikes,camping, and taught us about wildflowers and nature. These things just naturally became a habit, a way of life for me. I’m proud to say that my mom was the Advocate of the Year for the state of Indiana in 2014.

Go outside! If parents show their kids the beauty and power of the outdoors, they will organically respect their environment. From playing with a bug in your backyard, looking at a bird and going for a walk in the park to overnight backpacking and river trips, getting your kids to enjoy playing outside will get them to care about it. When you care about something, you’re much more likely to work to protect it. I have river-guided on the Middle Fork Salmon River for 13 years. It’s a 6-day trip in the middle of the Frank Church Wilderness. I am inspired weekly by the faces of young and old alike as they light up from immersion in nature and detachment from technology and society. It truly is hopeful seeing folks leave the trip with an appreciation of wild places and a desire to protect public lands.

Share stories of success. This day and age it can feel doom and gloom, and unfortunately I think even our youth can feel that. It’s important to show them that efforts in environmentalism aren’t for nothing. We are making positive changes and do continue to make a difference. The Middle Fork of the Salmon River is the longest and highest elevation run for salmon anywhere in the world. The number of salmon making the trek in the entirety has gotten fearfully low. Thanks to river outfitters, the National Forest Service, and efforts from groups like Idaho Rivers United, the numbers are on the rise. Seeing this success, instills that the efforts we have made are worthwhile and inspire continued action.

Meet people with different views. Today more than ever, we have become a divided country. Not everyone believes the way we do, and our values differ. It’s important to understand why people value the things that they do. Empathy is powerful. If we ignore, ostracize, or put down folks that don’t prioritize the environment, those people will never hear our side with an open mind. Our youth is the only hope for the future,and if they can’t all get along and at least hear each other out, I fear our Earth’s future is bleak. I grew up in a small farming and coal mining town in Southern Indiana. Many of my friend’s had family that worked in the mines, and their lives depended on that work. My family and I disagreed with several environmental aspects of coal mining, yet saw first hand the importance of the job. This upbringing has allowed me to go into situations with more empathy and understanding that we have to create solutions that work for everyone in order to have success.

Include your kid’s friends. Social status has always influenced kid’s views, and adult’s too for that matter. With the current social media realm, this is true more than ever. Make enjoying and protecting nature the ‘cool’ thing to do within your children’s friend groups. Not everyone has the belief, time, or energy to instill these values in their kids. Getting youth groups outside and changing that ‘herd mentality’ is not just needed, but is necessary. I worked a couple of years in Wilderness Therapy in Utah. The program took troubled youth males into the woods for up to 10 weeks. It was so interesting how little we, the instructors, actually influenced the kids versus peer relations. The vibe of the group constantly changed as different kids came and left the program. If the boys that organically became the leaders of the group were positive and motivated, the entire group made huge strides in personal development. However, if those natural leaders were down on the program, they took everyone with them.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

– You can’t over communicate. Being on the same page as your partner, employees, and clients is vital to success, and happiness! And there’s so many ways to communicate. It took me 3 years to figure out that I love white boards with lots of different colors, and Chris likes very detailed verbal directions. Sometimes people need hands on step by step directions, or maybe assertive direct feedback, or self-confidence boosting motivational talks. If everyone is on the same page it’s easier to write the book of success!

– Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Although Shakespear wrote a variation of this centuries ago, it’s hard to really grasp it until the crown is on your head. It’s easy to point your finger at the boss and say he or she is making poor decisions or is unorganized, but if you actually see every aspect that goes into a decision, and the sheer volume of decisions getting made day after day, the weight of it really settles in. The power and freedom that also comes along with it is amazing, but get ready for a tired neck!

– Stretch! Do some yoga! Although I have been told this most of my life, I didn’t listen! Especially for jobs, like ours, that include physical labor, stretching and staying healthy is imperative for success. If you’re unhealthy or in pain, you’re not going to do your best. Your mind and body get worked, you have to take care of it!!

– Learn how to ask for HELP. In the beginning, you think you need to do everything yourself, but at the end of the day you don’t have the time, and in all reality you’re not the best at everything.

– Keep up on technology. It’s wild how fast technology advances and it’s easy to fall behind. To stay in tune with everything from connecting to customers, accepting different payments, to new ways of communication, you need to stay tech savvy to be competitive. It seems like in just a few years, I became my mom! I’m asking how to post a highlighted story!

– Take time to Dance! You have to have fun too! Take time for yourself to do the things you love. You have to be happy to be successful, not the other way around. If you’re stressed out and tired, you’re not going to make smart decisions. So go dancing!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When we moved to Montrose, we rented a room from Diana Wilson and later met her partner Tim Price. They have been a constant source of positivity and support. They have opened their home to us for the winters, which has not only given us a comfortable place to live and work, but also a friendship in a time when we don’t really have any. Whether it’s just a joke in the kitchen, or wisdom from their years of life, they’ve been vital in bringing us up when everything else seems to be pulling us down.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

20 minutes for 40 days! Take the challenge; can you go outside, without any technology, for 20 minutes a day for 40 days?? If you can, I truly believe you’ll be calmer, happier, and more successful in life, and Mother Nature will too!

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

“Anything worth doing is worth doing right”. Both my grandfather on my dad’s side and my mom often said this. I try to apply this to everything I do. If I’m going to make the decision to do something, whether that’s something small in life or a greater business project, I want to put care and effort into it. We do this in every step of growing, processing, and selling our hops. For us, this goes beyond, what is right for our customers and us, but also for the environment.

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