Sustainability is “huge for me,” says Lower Forge Brewery co-founder Pola Galie. “I have grandchildren, and I don’t want them to have to go to a museum to see a tree,” she jokes.
In 2017, Pola Galie and her son Sean Galie, 37, founded the Lower Forge Brewery in Medford, New Jersey, a sustainable brewery that is doing more than just brewing. Together, the two are the head brewers of Lower Forge. Pola, a kind and welcoming woman, is a longtime resident of the southern New Jersey town. She has held a variety of positions in her lifetime, and they all tie back into the fruits of the earth.
Brewing is a resource intensive industry and from the very beginning we looked for ways to reduce our footprint.”
As a teenager in the 1960s, Pola says she started to notice major shifts in mankind’s relationship with Mother Nature. “Things were getting faster and easier but necessarily better,” she recalls. “More cars, more plastic, more everything.” In 1960, the EPA reported 360,000 tons of plastic placed in landfills across America. In 2018, that number clocked in at nearly 27 million tons. One thing became clear to Pola as the years went on: collective action was needed in all walks of business and life to change this dangerous trajectory. Eventually, Pola became a mother and then a grandmother, only furthering her passion for environmental conservation. Galie laments that she was by the early 2000s certain that without a joint effort, “[her] grandchildren would inherit a world very different from the one” she grew up in.
In the 1980s, a period characterized by a sharp rise in consumerism, Pola gave birth to her son Sean. Despite being a child of the “Greed is Good” era, Sean Galie followed in his mother’s footsteps helping to give back. A full-time firefighter and EMT in the beginning of his adult life, Sean had a distant dream to open a brewery, his mother tells me. Sean’s wife bought him an at-home brewing kit, spurring more interest in the already fiery passion. Eventually, Sean joined his mother’s longtime efforts of revitalizing the Main Street in Medford – a cause Pola and her family have been involved with for many years. Pola serves as the chair of the Environmental Advisory Committee and is the treasurer of three other regional committees on sustainability and resources. There had been chatter about hopes of the south Jersey town opening a brewpub to ignite a new wave of growth on Main Street, and Pola says individuals floated the idea to her son. “Initially he scoffed at the idea,” Pola recalls. Eventually however, Sean would look into the prospect, roping his mother and wife into the works, too.
By 2017, the doors to the brewery opened. Adorned with the name “Lower Forge” after the forgotten towns of Wharton State Forest, Lower Forge is the township in which armaments and cannonballs were made for the Revolutionary War. A registered Sustainable Business in New Jersey, Lower Forge Brewery is amongst a new wave in the industry who are adhering to strict sustainability guidelines to limit resource and water consumption, increase waste reduction programs and minimize environmental impact. Lower Forge takes it to another level, though, reaching nearly zero waste production.
Pola oversees and initiates all of the brewery’s conservation efforts. Her efforts, informed by previous experiences, have been hugely influential on Lower Force’s sustainability. Lower Forge is recognized in the New Jersey Sustainable Business Registry for its reclaimed water usage, low energy usage, and donations. Over the past year alone, the brewery has saved more than 2,600 gallons of water.
Sean has an environmental science degree and since co-founding Lower Forge Brewery has been laser focused on what he calls “green brewing.”
“While there are many mother/son teams, ours may be the only one in the nation where Mom is still on the brewhouse floor,” Pola tells me. Despite continuing the work in tandem, and rewardingly so, Pola says she and her son have different scientific approaches to brewing. “Sean is more of this century,” she writes, “where I am more like the brewsters of the 14th century. Somehow, it all works.”
The hybrid approach certainly seems to be paying off, both for Lower Forge’s success and surrounding businesses and citizens. “Brewing and farming go hand in hand,” Sean told a local newspaper. Over the past decade, the beer industry has seen a huge boom in sustainable craft breweries, like Lower Forge. These breweries tend to be not only produced with local ingredients, which further their local economies, but also are deeply rooted in local philanthropy, community involvement, and donations, according to The Brewers Association – the country’s preeminent authority on brewing analysis and news.
The brewery has near-zero waste production for just that reason: donations and partnerships. As part of their green brewing brand, Lower Forge partners with farmers in the area. Lower Forge buys 98% of its grain from a nearby farm in New Jersey and works with other farms across the state to source fruits and berries. It also 100% donates grain to farmers, who in turn use it as feed for their animals. The “brewers grain” is similar to oatmeal in consistency, but fortunately doesn’t have any alcohol content, so the animals are in the clear. The grain is then mixed with classic feed and given to pigs and cattle. In the past year, Lower Forge has donated over 7,000 pounds of spent grain to local farms, and saved over a thousand dollars in trash hauling fees, too. Currently, Lower Forge is looking into ways it can incorporate carbon recapture into the brewing process, too, Pola tells me.
When it comes to community building and local involvement, Lower Forge is at the top of the list there, too. “Our relationships with the various community organizations make me proud,” Pola says. “I often tell people that everyone (except mean people) are welcome at Lower Forge.”
Deeply entrenched in nonprofit work and educational initiatives in Southern New Jersey, the Galie family invests time and effort into bettering schooling efforts in the area from sustainability to special education. Recently, Pola has even launched an arts cooperative above the brewing space for children and adults alike.
Through all of their efforts, Sean and Pola are always looking forward, making sure the world their community members inherit is as good, if not better than the one they grew up in. “I hope that we are role models,” Pola writes to me, “we want to demonstrate that working towards sustainability can be an easier task than most think – it’s not always giving up something, but changing a way of thinking or doing a task.”