A John Deere Publication
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Agriculture, Specialty/Niche   January 01, 2024

It's that Simple


How a vacation changed his operation and whole outlook on farming.

'Tis the season to take stock, to evaluate what is going in the right direction and make plans for changing what is not.

Eight years ago Lars (Larry) Hirch, of Rolling Hills, Alberta, did just that. He was losing his passion for farming and ranching. His kids weren't coming up behind him to take over the farm. And the hard work of raising grains, forage, and cattle was starting to take its toll.

So, he did what was only natural—he took a bucket-list vacation to Scotland to get his fill of golf and whisky.

It turned from a bucket-list vacation to a life-changing experience the moment a distillery tour guide explained all you need to make Scotch is barley, yeast, and water.

As an irrigated barley grower from the prairies of southern Alberta, that statement is all it took to reignite his passion.

"It got me thinking—making whisky has to be a lot more fun and maybe more lucrative than feeding barley to cows because that's been pretty tough most years," Hirch remembers. "I didn't realize how much that tour would change my life."

Above. Pivot Spirits distillery gets its name because the land Hirch farms outside Rolling Hills, Alberta, is pivot irrigated with water from the Eastern Irrigation District. His father had a passion for irrigating that transferred to Lars, and quality water is foundational for quality ingredients, including barley, and the final product. After farming for more than 25 years, Lars (Larry) Hirch and his wife, Rachelle Fiset, sold two quarters of land to start Pivot Spirits distillery in 2018. They make award-winning gin, vodka, whisky, and other spirits and liqueurs from the crops they grow on their remaining acreage and feed the spent grain to their cow-calf herd.


Feed your soul. Sometimes it is that simple. When you feel stuck and stagnant, a vacation or even just a walk in a different direction can give you just what you need to see things differently and the motivation to make a change. Research journals are full of studies proving the simple act of walking can elevate your heart rate enough to get your creative juices flowing and experiencing new and different things can change how you look at your own life.

Rural behavioral health counselor Monica Kramer McConkey, LPC, says the best results—like those Hirch has experienced—come when you add intention to the action.

"When a person steps out of their stressful reality for a bit, both mentally and physically, it can give new perspective. It is all about finding things, people, and experiences that feed your soul," she says. "Feeding your soul helps you reset and manage the demands of life with renewed spirit and increased mental and physical energy."

Then harness it. Most New Year's resolutions do not stick because the momentum to accomplish them quickly dissipates. Hirch did not let that happen to his idea of distilling his own grain.

Six months after returning from that life-changing trip, Hirch attended a distilling short-course in British Columbia and started making his own spirits. By 2020, he and his wife had fully committed to this additional income stream and done all the legwork to open a tasting room and restaurant across the road from their farmstead.

"I decided to make spirits from the grain that grows best on my farm. As a result, triticale has become my signature whisky," explains Hirch. "And it was my wife's idea to open a full restaurant so our distillery could become a welcoming destination for both locals and tourists."

Hirch and his wife, Rachelle Fiset, wanted to highlight their small community and their region's world-class grains and access to water through their product and venue. The slow start during the pandemic gave them time to fine-tune recipes and processes before also focusing on the hospitality part.

"We grow some of the world's best grain here, and I want people to be able to experience that when they visit our facility," says Hirch. "It has become way more of a tourist destination than I actually envisioned it would."

To show visitors barley growing in the field and cows eating the spent grain has made this venture come full circle and he has successfully reinvigorated himself.

The idea came easy, and Hirch says his decades of farming with ag economics and research background made it possible to figure out the other, more difficult steps. "Now I'm curious why more farmers don't do this, too." ‡

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