An Interview with Janell Zurschmeide from Dirt Farm Brewing
The Zurschmeide family is no stranger to farming and agriculture and have since grown three successful businesses in Loudoun County. We got to speak with the owner of Dirt Farm Brewing, Janell Zurschmeide, to hear how it all started and her thoughts on women in the brewing industry. The Zurschmeide family own and operate Dirt Farm Brewing , Bluemont Vineyard, and Great Country Farms all in one convenient and scenic location!
Where did the idea and name for Dirt Farm Brewing come from?
The brewery itself was just seeking creatively how we could expand our family business. The property across from our farm and next to our winery went on the market. We wanted to put the land back in agriculture and find a way to make a living from it. We had thought of some other ideas but I had been witnessing that the Virginia craft beer scene was booming. I also noticed the rise and demand for folks wanting local ingredients. We had already been having local brewers asking for our peaches, pumpkins and other crops to put into their beers. So, there was definitely a movement happening there. As we are farmers by trade, we saw the opportunity to make our own beer. We also had some influence from our favorite vacation spot on the eastern shore in Delaware where Dogfish Head Brewery is located. We had gone there for several years and sensed their energy and creative spirit and all the cool things they were doing there. That was definitely another influence for us.
The name comes proudly, as when people would ask of my husband’s profession, and always jokingly I’d say, he’s a “dirt farmer”. Nothing exciting but always proud of what our family does. It’s a name that we always use in a loving manner. We wanted to name the brewery after something that ties into our other businesses but unique enough to stand on its own. We came up with the name and everybody loved it.
We recently read that Dirt Farm is considered a “farm brewery” what does this mean exactly?
One of the challenges we had when we decided to go down this path was not realizing that there was local zoning or state legislation to allow this type of business. Breweries typically open in industrial warehouses because of the heavy manufacturing. We realized that we had to work with local zoning and state legislatures as well. Luckily there was already something in the works with our friends in Goochland County, Lickinghole Creek who were already working on that – bill SB430. It helped that we had joined the VCBG years before opening the brewery. It helped us to get in touch with the right people and get the ball rolling. The bill passed which allowed a brewery to operate on an agriculture piece of property and basically Loudoun County adopted their zoning ordinance soon after.
So, to be a farm brewery, you need to be on land zoned-agriculture and grow some sort of product that goes into your beer. It is very important for our business because we see how vital these ingredients are in this industry. It definitely benefits being locally sourced as possible and growing it yourself. It creates sustainability in a very hot market. This falls in line with the whole farm to table movement. What’s old is new again. With breweries, you want your neighbors to drink your product. It builds the community. It is very important to us, and it helps that we have an educated audience when it comes to food and drink. They want a fresh product.
There are over twenty breweries in Loudoun County and the list keeps on growing, how does Dirt Farm stand apart from the others?
I think we are in a very fortunate situation to be where we are located. We wanted to create a space that was close to nature, a lot of outdoor seating, where families could come and bring their kids and pets to relax and get a taste of the country. More importantly, I would like to think it’s the quality of our beer. The water out in here in Bluemont is delicious well water. We take our water with us when we travel! I think you can taste that quality and freshness in our beer from that. Also, having a heavy farming component tied into our business, more often than not our beers on tap contain our fresh ingredients such as our Tart 31 Cherry Ale, Som Peach Ale, Fluster Cluck, and our Pumpkin to name a few. Our creativity is definitely driven from the farm.
Since we are on the topic of beer, which is your favorite?
I am an IPA girl. Our hop yard is very important to me because for a good IPA you have to have those yummy hops. My favorite in particular is “Work”, our session IPA and close behind is Awe Dang, a Citra IPA.
What are the advantages of running a family owned business?
The advantage is definitely strengthening your family bond. Bruce’s parents have been the driving force and the family glue. They are the examples that we lead by. The advantages are that it’s your family, their happiness and livelihood is near to your heart. We really respect and support each other whenever or wherever it is needed whether business related or just family help. But within all that we have fun, we work hard and play hard too. The values we set for bringing up the next generation are vital and letting them see that it is okay to work hard and that it feels pretty good.
And the challenges?
I think there is challenges to any business, but for us it circles right back to the fact that this is your family. You have to work it out together and be good partners. It alleviates a lot when you know everyone is working towards the same goal.
Are there many women in the brewing industry?
I know there is a lot of women in the beer industry and I think that is fantastic. I have gotten to meet a lot of wonderful women. I am honored to co-chair to the Virginia Craft Brewer’s Guild Farm Brewery seat with Lisa Pumphrey from Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery. She is another great example of women in the beer industry, but there is definitely a lot more men. We recently formed the Loudoun Brewers Association and it is great that in here in Loudoun there are several women at the table. I think you will continue to see more and more of women joining the industry.
Do you find any challenges about managing a brewery as a woman?
I do not see any challenges really with that. I am surrounded by a lot of men and women in this industry but I would like think it is refreshing for them to get a woman’s perspective. There are things that we contribute that could possibly be a benefit. It’s really a great industry for comradery and friendship. You get to know the families of the other breweries. It really is like one big family within the industry.
Who is your role model?
I would have to say my husband is my role-model and I think that is why I married him. He loves his job, his family and friends and works hard every day for it. His happiness and constant selflessness makes me a better person.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Be Bold For Change.” What does this mean to you?
For me, that means to me just speak from your heart and speak your truth. Don’t be afraid to be the minority in the room. What you feel is right is what you should strive to be and be that change. And, in that place is where decisions should come from.
We thank Janell for her valuable time and highly recommend to our readers to stop by Dirt Farm Brewing and the other locations for a one-of-a-kind experience!