Save water, drink beer: Camp Verde collaboration swaps corn for barley

CAMP VERDE – Chip Norton has a message to promote the importance of river conservation: “I’ll say it both ways – Save water, drink beer. Drink beer, save water.”

Norton, president and principal shareholder of Sinagua Malt, started his malt house in 2016 to help reduce water use from the Verde River.

Norton and the Nature Conservancy, an environmental nonprofit, teamed up with local farmers, which rely heavily on the river, according to a previous Cronkite News article. The goal: Swap out water-intensive crops for winter barley, starting with Hauser and Hauser Farms, the area’s largest farm.

To make sure the farmers could stay afloat, they needed a way to turn that grain into a key ingredient of craft beer. And that’s why they needed a local malt house.

“That was the missing piece in the farmer doing the switch: He had to have a market, and that meant we had to have a local malting facility,” Norton said. “And now we’ve done that, and we’re selling malt to brewers throughout Arizona.”

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Norton said the farmers would have had to ship the barley to places such as Idaho or Canada to get it malted.

“We go over and pick it up at their farm,” he said of the barley. “So they have to ship it zero miles.”

The farmers worked with the Nature Conservancy to make the change.

“We really need to think about conservation more in a business perspective,” said Kimberly Schonek, the Verde River program director for the Nature Conservancy in Arizona. “We really need to think about how do we use business in our conservation because conservation as a philanthropic pursuit is not going to be successful.”

Several stores and restaurants in Arizona now sell the beer made from Sinagua malt.

“The beer is good,” Schonek said. “I’ve tried a lot of the different beers. It’s very good.”

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.

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