Growing Herbs for the Bio (Organic) Market in Quebec
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Lee Ann and Derek Berry
Posted on: June 2, 2001

My husband and I have been thinking of producing herbs for the bio market (no pesticides or other chemicals) here in the Lower Laurentians in Quebec. I have a small herb garden and have been told by other bio producers that we should have a go at growing herbs for the restaurant/hotel market. It has gone so far as that a friend has agreed to let us use an acre of his land to try. I would like to know if producing herbs certified bio is worth the risk?

Everybody’s perception of risk and returns is different. Compared to most agricultural crops, fresh-cut herbs for the speciality restaurant market can be quite profitable. The main risk is having a big enough market ready to take your crop when it is ready to harvest. Another risk is the high input cost, mainly due to the labour required to grow, harvest and process the crop.

Is an acre of land enough to make a go of it? Many fresh herb growers started small, on one acre or less. The book, "Profits from Your Backyard Herb Garden" (available from Richters), illustrates that point. Eventually, most successful fresh herb growers need to expand beyond one acre to reach sales volumes that generate acceptable incomes to live on.

Should I start perhaps with one type, for example, just Basil or maybe a selection of the most popular culinary herbs? We don’t quite know where to begin in our little venture. I would appreciate any guidance your experience can offer us.

One of the biggest issues for restaurants when buying fresh herbs is a stable year-round supply. It is difficult for them to buy one or two herbs from a local supplier for a few months and then be forced to source their needs elsewhere the rest of the year.

Price is really not a big issue. For example, a chef will not choose to buy from a local grower on price alone even if the price is lower. Quality is a bigger determinant for chefs, and local growers should be able to deliver a fresher, higher quality product than the imported material.

Organically grown fresh herbs will appeal to the most exclusive restaurants and food stores. The high-end restaurants and stores are always looking for top quality and for ways to separate themselves from their competition. To be able to claim that their herbs are organic will be a plus.

There is no question that there is a market for organic fresh herbs; the question is whether there are enough restaurants and stores in your area to generate sufficient revenues. It would be advisable to talk to the chefs and store owners in your area to try to gauge the potential demand. If after having talked to them and you are satisfied that the volume is there, then I think starting with one acre is a good size.

Be sure to get Sandie Shore’s book, "Growing and Selling Fresh-cut Herbs" (available from Richters). Her book is the best source of information for commercial fresh-cut herb growers.

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