Non-Organic Herbs
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Mohammed Baten
Posted on: September 30, 1998

We have a farm here in Vancouver. We like to start growing herbs but can not go for organic right now. Could you please suggest us some annual herbs that have demand in the market but not required to be grown organic (might be aromatic).

You are somewhat in luck, as I have grown up in and around the Fraser Valley and have a marketing partner (for 30 years) who lives on Denman Island. I have also lived in the Okanagan (the other side of the Cascades) and have actually farmed in those regions as well. What part of B.C. makes a major difference as to crop selections available, however, as you can tell there is a major difference between what side of the Cascades one farms.

Because of the large influx of Chinese into your region over the last several years (from Hong Kong), the dietary needs for local restaurants and stores has changed considerably. While Flora Manufacturing and other larger buyers have gone specifically toward COG ("Certified Organically Grown"), there is still a very large market for produce grown in more conventional ways.

All of your culinary annuals (including Dill, Basils, and Cilantro) still enjoy such large markets, specializing in those fresh and dried markets still support hundreds of farms in the region. Hops and other larger farm crops still exist in the outlying regions (like Abbotsford). I suspect that even poultry and cattle food supplements may also be in demand from local feedlots. These crops would include Marigolds, Comfrey, and Purslane.

Purslane is the highest terrestrial source for Omega-3 acids, reducing cholesterol as a dietary supplement. This means it can also be used as an animal food supplement without changing flavor in such products as chicken meat or eggs. We did a large harvest of Purslane from Arizona and sold it to several layer hen producers in Lancaster, PA. It is used to produce a low cholesterol egg (25% reduction) which now markets along the Eastern seaboard (at $0.05 more per dozen).

Probably the best way to start is to contact local and regional fresh food distributors and find out what they would like to add to their distribution network. While you are growing your annuals, you could also start your timetable for becoming COG. Of course, with the more sophisticated and educated buyer in Vancouver, the need for COG is primary.

Victoria, B.C. has one of the two largest buyers in the world for Dalmatian Pyrethrum Flowers [Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium (Trevir) Vis.]. Just north of Victoria (toward the ferries to Vancouver) is Safer Corporation’s main headquarters. The other primary buyer is Johnson & Johnson (KS). Both currently buy from Kenya, but would prefer domestic sources.

This flower is the source of the best-known natural insecticide, pyrethrins, and is used by all COG programs. The volumes are significant, and it will grow well quite well in your region, although Arizona might offer some competition. Your advantage is shipping to a primary buyer who is local in your region. What would need to make it viable is a simple Flowerhead Harvester.

I have a working prototype now being used in Arizona for this very purpose. With the addition of a laser optical scanning system, it could even be used to harvest Chamomile Flowerheads. This is a far more difficult product to harvest. It was designed and built by the South Dakota School of Mines and Engineering, Robotics Dept. to work Marigolds for the poultry markets. I plan to show a video on this device in operation at the October conference in Goodwood.

I understand that a budget had been discussed to actually build a prototype for Canadian study in Saskatoon, but that was put aside for other projects. Further, they have not yet formally asked me for access to my device. I supervised 80 acres of cultivated Pyrethrum for eight years, and explored several technologies before I settled into the current prototype.

I personally think the Canadian government should take this project back into consideration now, as it would make some 20,000 acres of tundra-type soils (and otherwise marginal lands) available for flowerhead cultivation over the next three years. Other countries now exploring this type of device include Russia, Egypt, and Israel.

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