After 20 years, it was bracelets and boulders that reunited kindergarten friends Julian Hensarling and Caleb Freese: The pair ran into each other at a Brooklyn rock climbing gym. “Julian came up to me, and we were both wearing bracelets from Bierkraft, which is one of our favorite bars,” Freese says. “It was kind of odd that both of us would put Bierkraft bracelets on separate of each other.”
The chance encounter set in motion a beer-related business partnership; a year later, the duo started to work on Thousands Win, an urban farm brewery and rooftop hop farm.
The concept was rooted in a desire to create more green spaces around the city via starter crops. “Julian and I met when I was in the testing phase with different vines,” explains Freese. “I tried out a bunch of flowering vines and grape vines, but they were so finicky. It really hit home with hops.”
Freese — who grew up in a family of farmers, cooks, and cheese mongers — had been looking at rooftops as a place to grow plants since he first moved to New York. “It was fascinating that no one really thought about growing vines on rooftops,” he says. “It’s a lightweight way to get coverage, but you don’t have to put soil on the ground.”
Once he and Hensarling realized they could successfully grow hops this way, they began pulling together a plan for what to do with their crop. New York recently began granting Farm Brewery licenses, which stipulate that a certain percentage of ingredients used must be locally grown. Thousands Win not only plans to brew its own beer, which should debut this October, but also aims to sell its hops to local breweries or help brewers grow their own hops on green spaces.
Encouraging others to grow more hops will help restore a heritage crop in New York, which was the largest producer of hops before a series of diseases struck in the early 1900s and pushed production westward. But the benefits of rooftop green spaces go far beyond the beer industry. For one, Freese says, these gardens help clean the waterways by better distributing storm water runoff that would otherwise flood the sewage system. The Thousands Win model also helps filter the airstream while simultaneously bringing down the temperature of the concrete jungle (which, according to Freese, is about seven degrees hotter than immediately surrounding suburbs). On the most basic level, the green spaces will bring back a glimpse of the wildlife and nature that New York once had. “It’s incredible to read about the Hudson valley and how fertile and amazing of a place it was,” Freese says.
While it was the team’s environmental concerns that initially prompted the project, the founders are well aware of the perks of the yield. They hope to eventually open up a tap room at a flagship green space location for folks to kick back, grab a beer, and fill up a growler while taking in a city view from a rooftop farm — a rare experience that Freese created in his own home before ever making a business of it. “That joy of being up there and in a really beautiful garden with 20 or 30 of your closest friends, drinking beer and all — it’s this really exciting contrast,” he says. “It made us want to share that with the rest of New York.”
For more details and to learn about ways to support their cause, you can check out their Indiegogo campaign, which is running until midnight tonight.