The cultivation of wild yeast strains to add value to farmhouse fermentation

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2019: $26,370.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2022
Grant Recipient: Second Nature Honey
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Maggie Wachter
Second Nature Honey

Information Products


  • Agronomic: Yeast
  • Animals: bees
  • Animal Products: honey


  • Crop Production: beekeeping, Fermentation
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: market study, new enterprise development, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, values-based supply chains

    Proposal summary:

    Yeast is fundamental to brewing. Most commercial yeast strains are produced in laboratories and have standardized flavor profiles.  Wild yeast, on the other hand, reflects the terroir of the local climate, crops and soil.   

    Small farm breweries using wild yeast occupy a growing niche in the local foods movement.  However farmhouse breweries using wild yeast usually rely on open, accidental fermentation.   This project is intended to take the guesswork out of open fermentation.  

    When honey bees gather nectar from flowering crops, they also gather yeast spores. Honey is therefore a natural medium for the collection of wild yeast strains.  We plan to take samples of honey from hives located on two mature farms.  Then, with the support of a microbiologist, we intend to demonstrate skills to control wild yeast selection under farmhouse conditions.  Home brewers and small-batch commercial brewers will help test and select the most promising strains. 

    We feel that farmers and beekeepers are sitting on top of a commercial goldmine of wild yeast strains with diverse flavor profiles and attenuations.  This natural resource is currently under-exploited and uncontrolled.  Our goal is to increase the commercial viability of farmhouse fermentation by demonstrating how to control and replicate wild yeast.  

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Evaluate potential of wild yeast as a crop by identifying and testing wild yeast strains in particular terroirs (fruit farm: Curtis Orchard and brewery farm: Big Thorn)
    2. Encourage farmers to exploit the wild yeast possibilities of their particular landscape (terroir) and products (beverage, baking, cheese, pickling, etc.) by sharing findings through social media, educational presentations, conferences and written information
    3. Identify scientific methods that would be useful for propagating wild yeast under farmhouse conditions
    4. Evaluate impact of seasonal fluctuations on the flavor profiles of wild yeast
    5. Encourage development of innovative market bridges and income streams between local agriculture and local brewing
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.