Every workday, you’ll find Dan Mathews '90 busy building an impressive legal career. He owns the third-generation Mathews Law Firm in Syracuse, N.Y., practicing civil litigation, corporate and real estate law. He also is a judge for the Town of Geddes and the Village of Solvay, as well as chairman of the local savings and loan.
But if it’s the weekend, you’ll find him on a tractor, building a farm life.
“I love driving the tractor,” he said. “No one is yelling at me, there are no phones, no computers. It’s great.”
Mathews and his siblings inherited the property where they used to go deer hunting with their dad. One day, Mathews happened to read an article about the history of hops farming in New York State, and it planted the idea of trying hops on the family land.
“I didn’t have a plan,” he said. “I just went for it. Looking back, I set myself up for failure, but if you don’t take the risk, you’ll never know what could happen.”
He planted 300 hops, with zero irrigation. They grew. That’s when the judge began moonlighting as a farmer.
One bumper-crop growing season under his belt, he went to the state fair. A poster showed all the hops-growing operations in New York, with green dots indicating farms with fewer than 1,000 plants. On the map, Mathews’ Fawn Crossing Hops Farm was a green dot just outside Syracuse. There were only a handful of red dots, operations with more than 1,000 plants. Mathews wanted a red dot.
“We put in another 1,500 plants the next year,” he said. “And suddenly, we’re big. What are we going to do with all of these hops?”
Mathews decided to take advantage of a law passed in 2012 permitting farm breweries. That’s when the judge who was moonlighting as a farmer also became a microbrewer.
“We make good beer, and every batch gets better,” he said.
The Local 315 Brewing Co. produces ales and stouts from hops grown on site, including its most popular brew, the Soul Kiss IPA.
Like its hops, the business has grown. Mathews hired a full-time brewer. They added beehives to produce honey for the beer. They brought in a menagerie of photo-friendly farm animals, a favorite with visiting children. In smart agricultural synergy, the animals eat the leftover grains from the beer mash, then naturally provide excellent fertilizer for the hops.
The Local 315 (named for its area code) buys grain from nearby farms and then sells the resulting kegs locally from the red farmhouse on the property, and also to 70 commercial accounts in central New York, including local restaurants and franchises like The Cheesecake Factory.
Mathews’ enterprise was fast becoming everyone’s favorite party spot. Local bands were brought in for shows at sunset, and food trucks were invited to the farm every weekend. Brew-loving road-trippers from the city showed up and word spread. That’s when the judge moonlighting as a farmer and a microbrewer became host to one of the most popular beer-tasting destinations in the region.
“Our space is bursting at the seams,” he said. “Our facility really can’t handle much more without expansion. We have food trucks on Fridays and Saturdays because our license only allows limited food prep. A lot of people bring their dogs and their kids and have a picnic, play a little cornhole, listen to live music. It’s a lot of fun.”
Because he remains busy with his day job in the courtroom, Mathews’ family is involved with the brewery (now with group tours and tastings) and the farm. His wife Jessica, whom he met at Syracuse University College of Law, schedules employees and keeps on top of the bills. His sons Cole, 16, and Caden, 13, planted and tend a six-acre pumpkin patch, with plans for an apple orchard. Both kids love farming, but also dream of playing lacrosse for Lynn.
“We go back to Lynn every spring with the boys,” Mathews said. “The changes on the campus are unbelievable. I had a great time when I was a student, especially being an RA my senior year—D Wing of Patton Hall.”
Mathews, who grew up in Syracuse, followed his older sister to Lynn. He studied business, good preparation for the unexpected turn of becoming a farmer-brewer-taproom impresario.
“It was a well-rounded education,” he said. “It gave me a great background in how business really works.”
Mathews said supporting Lynn and its annual fund will always be important to him.
“They gave me my start in life—it’s that simple,” he said. “I feel like part of the family there.”