After working to promote peace in 15 conflict zones around the world over the past 25 years, Helena native Robert Rivers and his partner Fernanda Menna Barreto Krum want to promote peace by using something that's brought people together for thousands of years: good beer.
“Conflict is an invitation to growth, or violence, depending on how you deal with it,” Rivers said. “Usually conflicts become exacerbated when people take an individual approach.”
Rivers and Menna Barreto Krum intend to open Big Medicine Brewing Co. in Missoula. They say the brewery will bring people together to educate them about social conflict and social change. They also plan to serve beer inspired by breweries around the world.
The couple visited Helena on Sunday to gather support in Rivers’ hometown. They're also trying to raise $200,000 to supplement their own investment.
Instead of using conventional means to finance the project, the couple is asking for donations to their for-profit venture. The brewery is currently incorporated and their recent fundraising efforts have brought them $35,000.
They're taking that approach to avoid taking on debt that would detract from their mission, they say, and to create a sense of community from the start of the project.
Rivers said that time and time again, non-violent solutions are found when communities come together. Both he and Menna Barreto Krum have spent time in conflict zones promoting peace while witnessing the effects of genocide, torture and war.
Rivers worked as a contractor, advising and training humanitarian organizations. Menna Barreto Krum, a native to Brazil, is a trauma psychologist and family therapist who has treated victims in conflict zones while working with Doctors without Borders, Doctors of the World and Doctors of Victims of Torture.
Besides a strong showing of support from the Helena community, Rivers and Menna Barreto Krum have some big names in Montana brewing behind them.
Brad Robinson, a co-founder of Big Sky Brewing Co. in Missoula and a Helena resident, thinks their idea is a brew for success. Menna Barreto Krum and Rivers inherited the books Robinson learned brewing from before he first produced Big Sky’s well-known Moose Drool Brown Ale.
They've also benefited from his advice and support.
Robinson said the combination of structured social change and brewing beer bridges a gap between two things that belong together.
He said fundraising for a for-profit business was a new concept for him, but after meeting Rivers and Menna Barreto Krum and realizing their passion three years ago, he is confident they will reach their goal and be a success in Missoula and on a bigger scale eventually. He sees their business model as a revolutionary approach.
Menna Barreto Krum and Rivers see their venture as enhancing what is already present. Breweries are already gathering places for celebration, Rivers said, and people already share ideas over good beer.
Big Medicine Brewing Co. will intentionally bring people together to collaborate, learn and share ideas to promote social change, Rivers said.
In the first year of operation, two-day workshops are planned each month, featuring subjects related to social conflict and social change initiation, as well as one-hour dialogues twice a month.
For the first year Rivers and Menna Barreto Krum plan to draw on their own expertise and experience to facilitate these programs and brew the beer. Rivers has a master’s degree in peace and conflict studies from the European Centre for Peace Studies, and Menna Barreto Krum has a master’s degree in psychology and a certificate in global mental health from Harvard.
Both have been brewing beer for around five years now and Rivers holds a certificate in brewing and malting science from the University of Wisconsin.
But does Missoula have room for another brewery?
Robinson thinks so. He said that, while he is confident their beer will be a success, their product is social change. The couple said they picked Missoula as a place to start because the market for breweries is strong.
Once up and running, Big Medicine Brewing Co. will produce no more than 1,000 barrels of beer a year, Rivers said. Yearly earnings are capped at $50,000 each for Rivers and Menna Barreto Krum, and any earnings beyond that will go toward purchasing land for a retreat center near Missoula, the couple said.
Robinson said other breweries might turn a cold shoulder to their project, but Menna Barreto Krum and Rivers have seen genocide, Robinson pointed out. He is confident they can handle the local competition.
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