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growing herbs for profit

gary gregory


Joined: Apr 09, 2009
Posts: 395
Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
Anybody have experience with this?  I'm trying to decide what to plant and how to find a market.


Gary
Travis Philp
volunteer

Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Posts: 951
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
    
    8
I've only been able to market a few herbs and in small amounts to high end chefs. I charge a dollar per ounce which doesn't seem like much but when you figure that most are perennial I think its worth it. The ones I've had success with are:

chives (the flowers are an even hotter item)
parsley (italian type seems most popular)
basil (purple type goes over well usually)
tarragon (can be a tough sell)
summer savory
bee balm flowers
marjoram (cousin to oregano)
oregano
sorrel (sold by the pound)
lemon balm
chervil (as an addition to salad mixes)
lavender flowers
thyme

In my experience at Toronto Markets herbs don't sell very well at all, with the exception of basil and chives during potato season. this is not to say that in your region it couldn't work out. I've also heard of a stat somewhere that only about 10-15% of farmers market customers would consider buying dried herbs from a market stand.

I'd also suggest talking to local soap or tea companies to see about starting a business relationship with them. I have a friend who's soap business is taking off nicely and I'll be selling to her in the coming years.


http://www.greenshireecofarms.com
Zone 5a in Central Ontario, Canada
                                


Joined: Dec 20, 2009
Posts: 148
I'd suggest finding a market first, then grow what they want. No time/money wasted on mistakes.
Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2108
Location: FL
    
  50
rockguy wrote:
I'd suggest finding a market first, then grow what they want. No time/money wasted on mistakes.


I'm a firm believer in this.  Sell it first, then grow it.  I spend half my day talking about vegetables.

Herbs have the advantage of not drawing the interest of very many insects.  Rarely do I see an damage.  Something chewed a few basil leaves back in NY.  I had a hornworm on a fennel plant in the back yard once-and a lot of ladybugs.  Much of it has to do with the smell.  Culinary herbs are much stronger than typical field weeds which is where the bugs will be coming from to attack your crops.  Because herbs are usually a new plant species in a recently established garden, it takes time for an insect population to grow to a destructive size.  The health of the plant is often excellent because the herbs draw a different combination of nutrients from the soil that previous crops may have left behind.  Bugs are lazy-they don't bother healthy plants, too hard to chew.

Perennials are excellent.  Rosemary keeps on growing, fennel will practically turn into a tree, mint is forever.  Get them started, they are better than a strawberry patch.  If you are using beds, establishing a bed of a particular herb with nearby beds of rotated vegetables can surely help to drive off predators to those vegetables.  Rosemary in the middle, tomatoes to the left this year, tomatoes to the right next year.  After a few seasons, move the herbs, repeat the cycle in another area.

If your zone only allows annuals, dehydrating the herbs offers an opportunity for year round marketing.  I found a store in Jacksonville: The Herb Store.  Had to stop in.  God lord the selection!  While there was a distinct lack of fresh herbs, they had every dry herb you could imagine and in forms I had never imagined.  There was the sweet basil, lemon basil, cinnamon basil, basil salt.  What got me going was the basil powder.  Powdered basil?  As soon as I got home I wheeled out the grain mill, dumped in some basil I had dried and cranked away.  Next was the oregano, then the fennel seed.

The dry herbs lack the intensity of fresh.  That's a given.  You always have to add more dry to make up for the loss.  But when the stuff is turned into a powder, the intensity returns...with a vengeance.  The tip of a spoonful of powdered rosemary just about knocked me down. 

Extend the exercise to consider blends of powdered dehydrated herbs.  Your own secret chili powder, curry powder, cajun seasoning, soup seasoning.

Should you happen to grow more than you can sell, there is still a use for the stuff.    The limit is set by your imagination.


Seed the Mind, Harvest Ideas.
http://farmwhisperer.com
Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
I've read a lot of Herrick Kimball lately. He sells a booklet on the powdered garlic business.

http://whizbangbooks.blogspot.com/2007/12/wb16.html

Not sure if it's worth the asking price, but I like that he's selling books on the buisiness model rather than just trying to expand. (He seems to have distributist leanings, which would explain that decision.)


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Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
It might be worthwhile including fenugreek in the mix.

It fixes nitrogen, and seems to be a popular and safe remedy (although apparently it makes your sweat smell like maple). Nursing mothers would probably be particularly happy to have a trusted source of it.
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3087
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
how about medicinal herbs?  any experience?


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Joined: Aug 13, 2009
Posts: 10
I live in a small resort community with several locally owned restaurants and bars.

I've found markets for:

Mint for Mojitos in the summer
Thyme and Cilantro for the Mexican restaurant
Basil, Sage, Dill, Rosemary, and Micro Greens for the other places

Rosemary is hard for me to over-winter here. I get frustrated with it and probably won't start new plants this year. The Dill goes over well because so many menus include Salmon and that's a favorite. I wish I could find more customers for the mint, because that's just SO easy. They love the fancy varieties, too! Chocolate Mint Mojitos are awesome, and pineapple mint is popular, too. The bartenders seem to appreciate having a different variety for drink specials every week.
Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2108
Location: FL
    
  50
I worked at a local restaurant part time until about a year ago.  I'd take in fresh herbs for use in the place.  The place did not need a whole lot of herbs and I was there for something to do when I was not out of town.  I did not charge anything, just testing the waters.

Dill was used in an oil based sauce that was drizzled over baked grouper.  I kept him in dill until the plants bolted.  Pick it, stuff it in a ziplock bag, add water to rinse, drain it off.  It was also used as a garnish on the smoked salmon appetizer.

Mint was handled the same way.  It was important that all the leaves were full and green.  It went into the mojitos, was chooped and used in a mint sauce for the grilled tuna, and as a garnish on a couple of other drinks.

Thyme was added to the pan braised pork chops when both were available.

Basil was used with Mozzerella ala Caprice.  A fresh mozz appetizer with romaine, roma tomato and italian viniagrette.

For a buffet, the owner asked what I had to cover platters.  I came up with broccoli leaves.  Good color, smooth texture, covered well.

There's all sorts of opportunity if you can supply a consistent product throughout the year.  Just the garnishes can keep you busy.  Kale, flowering kale, and parsley come to mind.  Purple basil would add a splash of color.

Seasonal crops can offer some intereting specials.  Fennel is distinctive as part of a dish or even as a vegetable serving.  The leaves make a fine wispy garnish.  Hollow stems in a cocktail add flavor and utility.

Expanding your selection may be something to consider.  Along with the salmon, a cucumber-dill sauce works well.  Hot peppers for the mexican place.  Every restaurant uses salad greens and vegetables.

Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 969
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
It's okay to sell medicinal herbs, but don't make any medical claims for them.  People will have to know what they are looking for and what to do with it. 

In normal times, flowers are a better seller and a higher-profit item than herbs (you could do both, for that matter, especially as some flowers are herbs and some herbs have nice flowers!).  I'm not sure about now with the economy the way it is, but often, when things are tough, people will spend a little on some flowers to perk up the house.

Kathleen
Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
My dad grows some saffron. The land and labor requirements of it mean he still buys at least 3/4 of what he uses. He has a very large garden, enjoys working in it, and doesn't use saffron particularly often.

I think growing saffron commercially makes economic sense mostly in extremely poor countries.
                          


Joined: Dec 01, 2009
Posts: 211
Location: Northern California
Growing saffron is better for selling the plants to people who want to give a thoughtful gift to a chef or flower-loving friend, I find.

Fennel grows wild where I live, and fennel pollen is even more expensive per ounce than saffron if you find the right buyer--it's a lot of work, but harvesting the flower heads and hanging them upside down over clean parchment for a few weeks could net you a decent return. I'm amazed that Alice Waters and company haven't discovered that stuff grows wild in the highway medians and keep paying $12-15/oz.!
Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
Kerrick wrote:it's a lot of work, but harvesting the flower heads and hanging them upside down over clean parchment for a few weeks...


Wow, that does sound like a lot of work. It sounds like it might be easier to keep bees in a location where fennel fills a hard-edged gap in the local vegetation's pollen production...if you're already equipped to keep bees, that is.
gary gregory


Joined: Apr 09, 2009
Posts: 395
Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
Great suggestions everyone,  thanks.
Seth Pogue


Joined: Feb 12, 2010
Posts: 81
Did anybody mention greenhouses?  Above 45 degrees north, They are KEY to making herbs economically viable.
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3087
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
I just toured a big organic herb farm east of Seattle.  wow.  10,000 lbs of chives/week during peak season.  the operation was run extremely smoothly and looked roughly like a large herb farm might be expected to look.  certainly not the sort of place I would like to be involved with.  there were several greenhouses, and quite a few poly-tunnels.

I'm not willing to condemn such a large group of people, but farms like this one seem to be the result when successful business people seek to "escape the corporate world" by getting into ag.  instead, they end up bringing that corporate mindset with them.  that's been my experience, anyway.

but back to greenhouses: the farm manager said he gets two more harvests on each end of the growing season by using the poly-tunnels.  I was wanting to get out of there, so I don't remember everything that was growing under plastic.  at least basil and marjoram and several edible flowers.  the poly-tunnels were about 300 feet long and cost about $1000 each to build.  they paid for themselves after the first two harvests.
Seth Pogue


Joined: Feb 12, 2010
Posts: 81
Here's a pretty good place to get greenhouse , high tunnel, row cover, quilted curtain, pond liner etc supplies.  Could be some better prices/quality out there, haven't found it yet, anybody know?

http://www.teksupply.com/farm/supplies/cat1a;ts1_greenhouses_accessories.html
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3087
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
Oregon Valley Greenhouses has pretty good prices and decent customer service.  they'll bend arches to custom specifications, too, which is nice.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14951
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I think that anybody that is considering using a greenhouse should be aware of the downsides, many of which are covered in the thread greenhouse suck factor.


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Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
Our friend Lori has a small herb growing biz, it brings her great joy!

We are talking about it over in the Missoula Eco Forum thread here :
http://www.permies.com/permaculture-forums/4214_0/missoula-eco-forum/upick-herbs

I'm sure she would love to hear any questions you might have.
                                            


Joined: Oct 01, 2010
Posts: 3
hello.....you can grow many herbs for profit. You need to use natural and organic fertilizers for better growth. Tomatoes growth will be best with this and it will give good profit to you.


http://www.growlikecrazy.com/
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
I have a lot of perennial herbs that grow here and I never use enough of them to make a dent, this is an idea i had bounced around in my mind before...but never tried. The amish opened a small market in a town nearby and they do take things in to sell there..I might talk to them about selling herbs next year, and also maybe leafy greens as I always have more than I need. Hopefully my fruit will also be growing better next year (hard freezes on Mother's day this past spring)..as I have sold berries in the past and have gobs of fruit trees planted now..would love to make some bucks off of my excesses without having to put out a roadside stand.


Brenda

Bloom where you are planted.
http://restfultrailsfoodforestgarden.blogspot.com/
 
 
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