Diane Stewart is one of the few female hops farmers in BC and she’s looking to connect
By Courtney Denard
Ag Women’s Network
Diane Stewart is the owner of BC Hop Company, a 35-acre hops farm in Abbottsford, about 100 kilometres southeast of Vancouver.
The company, which got its start just two short years ago, is a family operation.
Diane works alongside her husband Dwane, her children Cam and Sarah, Dwane’s cousin Brian Zaporozan, plus a small team of employees.
Diane says both she and her husband grew up on farms but they never imagined they’d ever be in the business of beer.
It was succession-planning decisions around Dwane’s family dairy farm that propelled the couple into the burgeoning sector.
“These days you have to be milking 600 head to make anything viable out this end of the world and that wasn’t going to work for us,” she said.
So when a local craft brewer approached the Stewarts, an idea was formed.
There was also something personal going on.
In 2013, Diane was diagnosed with a brain tumour that ultimately had to be removed. It was the size of an orange, she says -luckily it was benign.
The tumour and the surgery left a lasting impact on Diane.
She has recurring issues like memory loss and has been told her personality is different since the extraction. “The tumour changed our lives. We looked back on everything and decided life is too short to do things that don’t bring you joy,” she says.
Diane was a stay-at-home mom until that point and Dwane had been running his own construction company for 22 years but the couple agreed it was time for something different.
Learning about an entirely new production system and market wasn’t easy.
Fortunately, Diane says the craft brewers were extremely welcoming and supportive so that made the journey a little smoother.
BC Hop Co. brought in the best equipment from Wolf in Germany; in fact, the company’s harvester is the first of its kind in Canada.
All of the fresh hops grown on the farm are sold to local l craft brewers and home brew suppliers.
The farm is active on the festival scene, as well, hosting two major events each year-BeerBq in July and the BC Hop Fest in the fall.
“It’s a lot of work and it’s a tonne of fun,” the farmer says.
As a woman in agriculture, Diane faces her fair share of discrimination.
For example, when BC Hop Co. is seeking new farming partners Diane is often ignored.
“They [male farmers] only want to speak to my husband. I have the exact same knowledge so I try to interject and I am literally shooed out of the room with the farmer’s wife,” she says.
“I end up speaking to the wife about the exact same thing because she doesn’t need to be ushered out of the room either.”
Working with equipment dealers is a more positive experience but Diane has to stand her ground. “As long as I am sure of myself, it’s okay. As soon as I show any kind of weakness or mention a man’s name, that’s it,” she explains.
Diane says the prejudice is hard to overcome and hurts the most when she’s feeling particularly vulnerable.
She also says that BC does not have a lot of support networks for women in farming.
This is what led her to join the Ag Women’s Network (AWN).
Diane was looking for a space to connect with other females in the industry and a hash tag search on Instagram directed her to the group in a roundabout way.
She soon realized that AWN was formed in Ontario but decided to join anyway, hoping that one day the network would have a stronger presence on the West Coast.
Diane appreciates the conversation on the Facebook page, which includes motivational articles, book suggestions, and things you would talk to you friends about if you’re friends weren’t all from the city.
She sees a strong need for in person meetings too, especially in her area, which “is still run by the old boys club ” in her opinion.
“We as women need to build each other up more and not just on Facebook. Perhaps there is a place for regional AWN chapters,” she says.
For now, Diane plans on continuing her industry advancing work on the farm and supporting new entrants who want to join the sector.
She is open to connecting with other women in ag and says she can be found online and on social media.