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Organic Herbs

Time to consider the actual markets for the organic herbs Im planning to grow as a cash crop in my garden, on my porch and in my yet-to-be constructed greenhouse. The greenhouse is necessary to keep seedling starts and root cuttings coming on a regular basis all year long, and to produce the winter crop for the most reliable customers. From my experience with value-added products (salsas, hot sauces, herbal teas and such), the high-end restaurants, resorts and B&Bs who would gladly pay premium prices for fresh herbs delivered to the kitchen door on a weekly basis are concerned about having those fresh herbs available on a regular basis all year long so their chefs can plan their offerings around them. Thats important - though not vital - to establishing yourself as a reliable supplier, thus getting the most money for your efforts.

There are regional and even national supply sources that work basically like regular crop and specialty crop markets. For a small producer, these exchanges are not the best idea - shipping costs take up too much of the margin, prices are below wholesale to the producer too. But they are good places to check current large-lot wholesale prices, so you will have some idea of how to price your produce locally. Things to consider for establishing your local market have to do not just with the cost and trouble of growing them, but also with packaging and presentation, transportation (the price of gasoline may hit $4.00 a gallon this summer) and delivery scheduling.

I have a list of people and places that have purchased occasionally from me as I had products to sell, and am now producing a nice little brochure that will highlight what I'm growing, how it's available, who best loves my great organic stuff (the testimonial section), a word about organic certification and my happy little farm, and a blurb about specialty items available at certain times of year. Like those fire-hot habaneros my friend the bartender MUST have as soon as theyre harvested to put into bowls on the bar in his popular downtown pub for macho men to dare each other to eat whole. Says he sells gallons more microbrew beers when hes got habaneros, and would buy them fresh all year if I could produce them. But thats too much trouble for right now

Anyway, I'll have the brochure and some business cards and I'll take my time hitting likely customers in the area on a route-like plan. The people I already know and can count on, as well as their friends at other resorts and establishments, are pretty spread out among these mountains. There are no shortcuts here, there are windy, often gravel mountain roads and at least 3 counties (with 4 cities, 5 towns and 4 backwoods resorts) to cover. When theyre signed up - and that wont happen until I have a nice supply of fresh free samples to hand out along with cards and brochures - I can sit down with a map and mark my best route to hit everybody in one day. That way Im only losing a day away from home, a days worth of expensive gasoline and a days worth of eating out (but the food should be excellent, considering where I'll be!). What I must charge for the herbs and delivery has to cover all my costs and give me a stipend in addition. Im sure not going to get rich, but I can charge quite a bit more with this plan than I could ever charge at the Farmers Market (where a lot of the crop would wilt before sale, and Id be away from home every day).

The Farmers Market will give me a good idea on bulk pricing baselines, though, so I will have to spend a day or two there doing homework. I may even find a seller there or at the garden and landscaping center based next to the market for seedlings, root cutting starts and even potted herb collections that may sell well to gardeners and everyday cooks. Deal is, Id have to sell to the proprieters wholesale if I dont want to live at the market myself, so well see how things go at the high end first.

Chefs will pay their bosss money freely on fresh delivered consumables (I do know some vegetable growers who have regular rounds with a 2-ton open bed truck). At many of these fine restaurants a full 4-course dinner with wine and fresh bread can cost more than a hundred dollars. So they�re not that worried about having to pay premium to get premium - organic is part of their own selling charm. And there are some places where the kitchens are open (and the chefs are treated as performance artists). I expect to sell some 1-2 pound bunches of whole-plant basils to them on a weekly basis that�ll never find their way into the pesto. Rather, Ill tie these with nice ribbons (daughter works at an art supply store, I can get rolls cheap!) for hanging in the archway or breezeway between the kitchen and dining room, where they look cool and scent the air with basil�s legendary appetite stimulating aroma. Thatll be a value-added fresh item for sure, and I know of three establishments right now that will positively love the idea.

Once this market takes off, I�m pretty sure that I can till some of the high hill terraces up to grow mums, zinnias, glads and bulb lilies they�ll also purchase during the summer for arrangements (plus at least one terrace each of lavender and artemisia). Another �later� expansion. This may seem like a lot of trouble to cover all these angles of production, packaging, transportation and delivery yourself, but remember that selling directly is 3-4 times more lucrative than selling wholesale. If it�s well planned, it can do nothing but get bigger and better.

And finally, it�s always good to have some idea of how to salvage value from your excess crops - those plants that don�t or can�t be sold while still fresh. That�s bound to happen with any perishable item in any market, so you might as well prepare for it up front. Preserving vegetables and fruit is the traditional means of salvaging crops, but there aren�t that many butters, preserves or pie fillings you can put up from herbs. And drying isn�t the best means of preservation (though it works). For herbs like basil and rosemary and thyme, there is a value-added means of processing that will return a better price than bulk dried herbs ever do�

Plant extracts and essential oils for the aromatherapy and herbal medicine markets! We�ve lots and lots of that here, plus spas that specialize in such things - some of those at the very same resorts I�m hoping to sell fresh herbs to. Yet again, that�s a future expansion and a future post.

We�ll revisit this series later in the spring as we begin establishing the infrastructure and planting the crops. Stay tuned!


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+ChefsWorld Tim Capper  
Tags: Organic Catering , Organic Chefs , Organic Herbs

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