Northwest hops industry has diverse history
Nothing screams “Bellingham” more than breweries. The city is filled with hop-based establishments on almost every street, so it only made sense that Dr. Ryan Dearinger, associate professor of history at Eastern Oregon University, came to speak on campus about the industry.
The process of cultivating hops has been happening in the Northwest for over a century, however the history behind it hasn’t always been prominent.
Dearinger spoke in Wilson Library on Wednesday about the history of the industry and the people who worked in the fields – those who have been strangely neglected by time, as he put it.
“Before the era of mechanization, you had people picking these hops by hand, and it wasn’t fun,” Dearinger said. “That’s always been interesting to me.”
Dearinger’s research looks to examine the history of labor in the hops industry and to better understand the experiences of the workers whose hands, brains, traditions and cultures shaped it.
“The craft brewing industry today is incredibly white. It’s also incredibly male,” Dearinger said. “I hope that folks who either follow or are involved in the brewing process think about the history of the labor.”
Dearinger’s talk focused on the beginnings of Northwest’s hop cultivation during the late-19th and early-20th century, before the modern-day technology of cultivation, when workers were more racially diverse.
At the time, the hop industry was known for a low-wage labor force that included large numbers of Native Americans and Chinese immigrants.
It was without question that the labor force was notable for its sheer diversity, Dearinger said.
However, as anti-immigration laws came into play and the values and ideas of hop-picking were questioned, many of the labor forces transformed. [Hop Lecture 39:50]
This research historicizes, or provides historical context, for what’s happening today, he said.
Rachel Dalthorp, a junior at Western, found the lecture interesting.
“I didn’t know that much about it coming in, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I’m also in an indigenous studies class, so that overlap was really interesting for me,” Dalthorp said.
The debate over immigration, labor, race and ideas of national belonging – those are old debates, Dearinger said.
“I think that the craft brewing industry might look back on history and how diverse and multicultural it was, and perhaps provide opportunities to make the industries itself diverse,” he said.
And Dearinger says he doesn’t doubt that will happen.
“I think the more people study the history of the industry, the more they will notice, ‘This is a really interesting kaleidoscope of people who contributed to hop cultures,’” he said.
Hopefully it can become re-apparent in the current industry, he added.