Rayburn family farm keeps local beer industry flavorful

ROOM TO GROW: Rayburn Farm, located in Barnardsville, produces herbs, spices and a few select vegetables for local breweries. Michael Rayburn and his son, Elijah, check their crops. Photo courtesy of Rayburn Farm

When Michael and Lauren Rayburn began farming in 2014, they didn’t know that 80 percent of their market share would one day come from local breweries. “I stumbled into the brewery market,” Michael says. “And once I did, I just kept going with it.”

Rayburn Farm, located in Barnardsville, grows herbs, spices and a few select vegetables for breweries like Wicked Weed Brewing, Hi-Wire Brewing, Green Man Brewery, Asheville Brewing Co. and more than a dozen others. “I just started knocking on doors and asking [brewers] if they would want me to grow them anything,” Michael explains. Today, he introduces up to 10 new crops to brewers every year. “I say, ‘Hey, have you tried this? Do you want to try this?’ I go around with samples and ask them what they think. Most of the time, they like what I’m bringing.”

While Michael acknowledges the sustainability and economic advantages of using local crops to flavor local beer, he also warns against falling into a hyper-local trap. “You have to keep in mind that there are things that aren’t sustainable for us to grow and produce here but they can be grown just a few counties away in North Carolina, Tennessee or South Carolina,” he says. If we allow crops to be grown where they grow best, he adds, it “frees up more area for the things that grow well here.”

Of course, Michael’s specialty is determining what does flourish in this area and then growing it. Take, for example, Italian basil. “We tried several varieties of Italian basil until we found one from Rwanda that is grown for the oil industry,” he explains. “[Brewers] don’t need your standard sweet Italian basil. They need basil that will really come through in the beer.”

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About Kim Dinan
Kim Dinan is a freelance writer and author of The Yellow Envelope. She lives in WNC with her husband and daughter. Follow me @kimdinan

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