URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Patrons of Riggs Brewery are more likely focused on their beverage than the grain used to make it, but it was the other way around on Saturday.
Beer enthusiasts at Riggs were oblivious to a bumper crop of small grains enthusiasts more focused on the wheat and barley test plots on the east side of Urbana. Owner Matt Riggs hosted small grains researcher Jessica Rutkoski and her followers, but there is a great family story that brewed from it as well.
“I’m sure it’s hard for every family that’s running a business together,” Matt said. “It takes a lot of communication. Some people are better at it than others, and you’re doing something where, when there’s a failure, it hurts everybody.”
Matt is one of two sons of Sidney farmer Dennis Riggs, but did he raise farmers or brewers?
“I raised intelligent young men and they’ve turned into both,” Dennis said. “They turned into beer makers first, I might say, and now they are turning into farmers because we’re trying to find a way to integrate our family farming operation into a new commercial venture, which of course is beer-making.”
And father Dennis says the family farm is responding.
“For the last four or five years, we have been scaling up and scaling up to match their production needs,” Dennis said. “And we’re up to, I don’t know the bushels, but we’re over 40 acres of our farm that used to be no grains at all, now is barley and the wheat and also some white corn for the production.”
But it was not an easy start.
“I think he alluded to the fact that it was crazy. And we, eventually through persistence, convinced him,” Matt said. “Essentially we started with one acre, and over the years we have ramped that up as we have demonstrated ‘Hey, this works.’ It’s not perfect, it ain’t easy. But he’s at the point now where I think he’s all on board. But that took years, and that’s not a bad trait for a farmer to have.”
And Dennis also found some additional benefits.
“There’s a lot of environmental reasons to do this,” Dennis said. “For the soil, for runoff, and I like all those things. As we try to integrate that into our operation to make it more environmentally friendly, its working out great.”
And a lot of folks will drink to that.