From Conflict Zones to Craft Beer: Imagine Nation Brewing
Every brewery is a gathering place for beer lovers, and oftentimes the greater community. Inspired by years working in violent conflict zones, the founders of Imagine Nation Brewing take the idea of a gathering place to the next level. Imagine Nation serves as a space for local organizations that are changing their Missoula, Montana, community one beer at a time. The goal is to make a better world, and the visionaries behind this craft brewery certainly know a thing or two about what that takes.
From Conflict Zones to Community Change
Fernanda Menna Barreto Krum and her husband Robert Rivers worked in conflict zones including South Sudan, Lebanon, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia for two decades. Fernanda’s background in trauma psychology led her down a path to help people. Native Montanan Robert left home when he was 19 to build houses in Tijuana, Mexico for the community with a local nongovernmental organization (NGO). The two met in Romania training for an organization called Nonviolent Peaceforce, which aims to protect civilians against violence.
“We’d both had symptoms of PTSD and secondary trauma, burnout,” Fernanda says. “We needed a solid break from that work at that time. And we were together enough that we felt that we wanted a home base — that we hadn’t had for a long time.”
In Brazil, where Fernanda is from, they discussed their plans for the future. How could they settle down, but still make a difference?
“We were having a beer and talking about opening a retreat center,” Fernanda says. “We wanted to continue the work we were doing in the way of sharing our experiences with other people.”
They knew if they opened a retreat center alone, it might not be enough to keep them afloat. They needed a project that could sustain such a center’s educational programs and community outreach. Beer in hand, Robert had an epiphany.
“He looked at the beer and was like, ‘How about a microbrewery?’” Fernanda recalls. “It wasn’t the beer itself, it was the idea of opening a public house where people could sit around a table, enjoy sipping a beer but connecting and talking about the challenge that we as a society and humanity face, which is what is important to us.”
They put together their business plan, started doing their homework, and purchased homebrewing equipment.
“We had never done anything like this in our lives,” Fernanda says.
They decided to open Imagine Nation in Robert’s neck of the woods, Missoula, Montana. Fernanda says the area’s open-mindedness and hundreds of existing nonprofit made it the right choice for the brewery model they envisioned.
Social Change on Tap
They opened the Center for Community Transformation, a cozy 500-square-foot classroom with a chalkboard, chairs, tables and projectors. Sure enough, the Missoula community has embraced Imagine Nation Brewing and its Center for Community Transformation.
“Four and a half years ago, we started with two events booked in the evenings,” Fernanda says. “Then we started growing to three and four.”
Now, Fernanda says they book that space six days a week on average, including in the afternoons.
When an organization wants to utilize Imagine Nation for an event, she takes the time to help them plan.
“I sit down with each one of them and we build a program and we brainstorm how to maximize the hours they’re there. What’s an activity or program they can offer while we’re raising money?” Fernanda says. “It’s a really open canvas and people are excited about it.”
For example, the brewery recently hosted an event for the Free Verse Project, a nonprofit that engages incarcerated youth by giving them writing workshops. The fundraiser at Imagine Nation is a session of the teachers reading the children’s pieces.
“People would look at each other and just really be touched and moved by it, realizing what’s going on out there with these children,” Fernanda says.
At another fundraising event, refugees performed as a band in support of Soft Landing Missoula, an organization that welcomes refugees families in Missoula and helps them settle in.
“It was a beautiful mixture of culture and celebration and integration of refugee families with the Missoula community,” Fernanda says. Now, it’s an annual event.
“Imagine Nation Brewing not only offers an incredibly friendly community space where, it must be noted, the brews can’t be beat, but Fernanda and Robert also offer our nonprofit and peacemaking community a kind and experienced sounding board for navigating the very real challenges we all face,” Mary Poole, the executive director for Soft Landing Missoula, says. “Being in their space and interacting with this incredible couple gives me strength and determination in my own path and that we are all in this work together. It is a feeling that is incredibly special and always uplifting.”
That commitment extends even farther into the Missoula community. It’s been important to Fernanda that the brewery be an open, welcoming space for anyone who needs it.
“Imagine Nation Brewing has been such a wonderful partner in hosting our outreach events,” Andy Nelson, operations administer on the board of the Western Montana LGBTQ+ Community Center says. The last Sunday of every month, the organization hosts a “Queers and Beers” event at the brewery. “The Center has always had a presence with a table of resources and volunteers there to assist with questions for folks needing information. The Gay Health Task Force is there as well offering free HIV, syphilis and Hepatitis C testing for anyone that is interested.”
Every month, Andy and his organization dream up new ideas for bringing in new people, like trivia night, speed friending, Drag Bingo, and a “WarmGiving” event where attendees can bring warm clothing to donate to the local homeless shelter.
The brewery partners with one organization each month for an event called “Taproom Dialogues.” Rather than being in the Center, it’s hosted in the brewery’s taproom, so anyone and everyone can be a part of it. The organization chooses the topic, and a facilitator fosters discussion among a panel of two to three people, with the opportunity for patrons to get up and their own opinion. “That’s how we build civil discourse,” Fernanda says. Topics have ranged from climate change, mental health, refugees and more.
A Better World Through Brewing
Ultimately, Fernanda says she hopes their Center for Community Transformation can be a place to spark connections and engagement around issues that can better their community, their well-being, and the planet. In the war zones they’ve worked in, Robert and Fernanda learned about the importance of finding that middle ground of networking.
“Helping people go beyond what they’re already doing and enhancing their ability to do even better – that’s been the first goal with the space,” Fernanda says.
And that philosophy is apparent from the murals of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the outside of the building to the enthusiastic staff on the inside.
“We don’t hire only taproom servers or a brewer,” Fernanda says. “We hire humans that have some connection with the community work and that mindset.”
Fernanda hopes to help to implement similar programs in public spaces all over.
“I think there are ways of maximizing your public space that you already have, and the community that already goes there, to make that even more impactful besides being a space to sit and have a good beer and connect, or entertain themselves,” Fernanda says. “If other businesses or other public houses would think and implement a little bit of [our] model, I think we could impact communities even more than we already do.”