Beer is a fabulous beverage. Whether you’re enjoying it as a refreshing breakfast drink, making it yourself to avoid cholera as you farm the Fertile Crescent thousands of years ago, or using it to push back the Dark Thoughts after work, it’s got something for everyone.
Here in Grays Harbor, Mount Olympus Brewery, working with the Grays Harbor Conservation District (GHCD), is taking the positive benefits of this wonderful beverage gifted to us by the gods even further, planting trees for each pint pulled or can crushed. Those efforts have already started, reinforcing soggy riverbanks as crews work hard to plant thousands of trees in the descending cold of winter.
“This is a community effort,” said Alexander Birk, outreach coordinator for the GHCD. “It’s great that these beers are sponsoring these trees.”
Mount Olympus was a natural partner, Birk said — they’d worked with the Grays Harbor Stream Team on a previous beer.
“Mount Olympus had a previous partnership with a nonprofit community group. We approached them to continue those efforts,” Birk said. “We said, how do we do this, how can we get involved with you?”
GHCD doesn’t make any money off the deal; instead, they’re planting trees as the brewery tallies the beers sold, Birk said.
An Olympian brewery
MOB isn’t new to working with nature-focused organizations, said owner and head brewer Orlando Maldonado.
“Stream Team was a lager we started out with,” Maldonado said in an interview at the brewery. “We ran that for a couple years to help out with the Grays Harbor Stream Team.”
With the Stream Team-label beer discontinued, GHCD district manager David Marcell said the organization saw an opportunity to resurrect the concept and to reach a portion of the community that might never consider planting a tree.
“They came up with the idea, well, let’s plant a tree,” Maldonado said. “One of the owners here has Satsop River property with erosion. He was keen on the idea.”
Partnering with Oly Pen Real Estate, Maldonado crafted the beer to fit in a gap in MOB’s offerings, working with suppliers to ensure the components were salmon-safe, and branding it with a logo near to everyone’s hearts: tree roots in the outline of Grays Harbor itself.
“I wanted a clean crisp Northwest pale ale. We used a lot of old school hops to give it that pine and citrus notes,” Maldonado said. “I kinda knew I wanted to keep it simple and showcase the hops.”
As distribution of the beer expands, Maldonado said folks are receptive to it.
“It seems to be getting really good feedback. We’re getting into more and more places, telling people what it’s about,” Maldonado said. “I think the more they know and the more they put out to the consumer, the more they come back for more.”
MOB will be brewing more batches of the River Roots as the brewing schedule allows, Maldonado said — each run is a six-week process.
“Anything that gives back to the community is what Mount Olympus is about. This is another way of doing that,” Maldonado said. “This is the best collaboration that I’ve been a part of.”
On the ground
As consumers across the state pound River Roots, running up the counter, GHCD’s field teams are busy turning those numbers into trees in the ground.
“It started on (November) 6th,” said Jeff Mach, restoration coordinator and crew lead. “We’re looking forward to being busy. A lot of that is weather-dependent.”
Planting trees isn’t a default activity for conservation, Marcell said — trees stabilize riverbanks, preventing erosion with their root networks, and shade the water, cooling the water by several degrees, aiding in salmon spawning.
“This is something you can get your hands on and do something about, the loss of property and improving salmon habitats,” Marcell said. “If you want a better salmon run, this will make that happen.”
The project is all about planting native species, while removing invasive ones, Marcell said.
“We can plant anything that’s native that fits the area,” Marcell said. “Our crew doesn’t just plant. They remove all the invasive stuff at the same time. You don’t remove blackberry and knotweed without putting something in its place.”
Mach’s team has already planted thousands of trees on local rivers, getting into the mud to make it happen.
“Of course, the day-to-day weather might affect the mood or your enthusiasm. But I think the biggest real challenge we face is, all our plantings are in an active floodplain,” Mach said. “Any of these floodplains that just get covered, working in and around that flooding status.”
Planting in the winter is intended to give the trees a chance to get established before the dry summers, Mach said.
“We want to plant while things are still dormant, while the ground is nice and soggy,” Mach said. “Getting that first year established out in the natural environment can be kind of tough. But they’re all native plants, so they’re adapted to the climate and conditions out there.”
Thousands of trees adds up to quite a lot of time invested for the team, Mach said, adding the planting locations, on floodplains and riverbanks, can frustrate efforts.
“Generally for a potted plant, it should be no more than 5 minutes,” Mach said. “If the water velocity is high enough, it’ll scour and rip the plant out of the ground. You could be planting your tree for the second or third time depending on how bad the season is.”
A broader scope
While the idea may have started locally, it’s received national recognition in the conservation community, said Josh Giuntoli, the southwest regional manager for the Washington State Conservation Commission.
“I really wanted to highlight the work of Grays Harbor, working with a private entity in a unique way. It seemed like a win-win for everybody,” Giuntoli said in a phone interview. “It’s almost comical how simple it is — drink a beer, plant a tree.”
At a recent convention of conservation commissions from across the country, Giuntoli presented the GHCD-MOB partnership, showcasing the idea for conservation groups across the country.
“The hope is that they can take an innovative idea back to their state and find new ways back to their state and build the conservation district brand,” Giuntoli said. “If you can find a way to tap into that socially conscious consumer, it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Helping to raise awareness, and more to the point, make an actual physical difference, is a powerful force, Giuntoli said.
“What they’re doing with the brewery is tapping into that — it’s a way for people to have an impact in their community, just by buying a beer,” Giuntoli said. “I think they’re on the leading edge of this. I haven’t heard anything similar. I’m looking forward to hearing about their success.”
What can you do?
The partnership is powered by funds recently made available for stream bank repair projects that the conservation district has access to, Birk said. By partnering with the brewery, they can get the project into the open in a way that people might be intrigued by, rather than ads or spam emails.
“The beer, the beauty of it, is it’s advertising for us and a way to reach people who we would typically not engage with,” Birk said. “We do have to show that there’s need. The important thing about this campaign, the more people who get eyes on it, the more people who are involved.”
Anyone with riverbank property can also get involved, Marcell said — the conservation district is funded to plant native trees for anyone with riverbank space, free of cost or labor from the owner. Fill out a form and a work crew will show up and plant it, Marcell said, under the link for request for technical assistance or contacting 360-346-7829.
There’s also ample volunteer opportunities for planting, Birk said, with ongoing events posted on GHCD’s social media.
“It engages our community,” Birk said. “It helps them to understand what the issues are and how to address them as a whole.”
Contact Senior Reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or email@example.com.