Answer: Most herbs will grow anywhere if you are prepared to factor artificial light and heating into your production costs. For the new producer, the best approach is to contact local restaurants, food stores, micro-breweries, and other businesses and ask which herbs they would be willing to buy, in what quantity, and for what price. In addition, explore the local community and farmers markets to see what herbs are being sold there, and which are not.
Many herbs can be grown either within a greenhouse or outside in the garden; however, tender plants such as basil, cilantro, dill, parsley, and chamomile thrive more in a controlled environment. Look for other factors, too, such as herbs that don’t require specialized lighting systems or a lot of light, such as cilantro, parsley, lemon balm, chives, ginger, and mint (Marquand, 2017).
In addition, research shows that even within rural areas of the country, the three traditional staples of U.S. ethnic cuisine—Italian, Chinese, and Mexican food—are accessible to a degree, with Japanese and Indian cuisine increasing in popularity, too. This opens up potential new markets in many areas for herbs such as turmeric, cardamom, cumin, ginger, fenugreek, and saffron. There are many good reference points and growing guides for these herbs and others too, such as Kaffir lime, Shiso herb, Thai basil, black cumin, and marjoram (Grant, 2016). Finally, with some experience and success behind you, start to look at other types of markets and the herbs to supply them. There are many different categories of herbs: fresh culinary herbs, dried culinary herbs, herb plants, decorative and fragrant herbs, medicinal herbs, and herbs for essential oils and dyes.
With the rise of mail-order certified-organic seed producers across the country, supplies of certified-organic herb seeds should be relatively easy to obtain. However, if organic seed is not available, conventionally produced, non-GMO, untreated seed may be used for an organic annual herb crop, according to section 205.204 of the National Organic Standards.
It is important to note here that the definition of "not commercially available" is summarized by a lack of organic seed form, seed quality, or seed quantity, "to fulfill an essential function in organic production." As stated previously, given that most certified-organic seed is now obtainable by mail order at a price, and that quality should not be an issue with certified-organic seed, the only factors likely to justify purchasing non-organic seed are seed form and seed quantity. This will still be subject to interpretation by the accredited certifier for a given operation.
For propagated perennial herbs, greenhouse herb producers often take cuttings from their own "mother plants." This gives producers that are already certified a decided advantage over startup businesses because they can procure organic starts at any time without a waiting period and at little cost. Growers seeking first-time organic certification or switching to a new certifier, as well as individuals planning to construct greenhouses for organic production, would do well to secure their perennial herbs early in the mandatory three-year transitional period. After certification of a greenhouse operation, any new perennial stock must come from a certified-organic source or be raised for at least one year under an approved organic management system before products derived from these plants can legally be sold as organic. This applies to foundation stock for potted-plant production, as well as perennials for fresh-cut herb production.
The newly revised ATTRA publication Herbs: Organic Greenhouse Production is a good resource for additional information. This publication discusses various marketing channels for organic herbs and assesses the economic factors to consider for small-scale organic greenhouse production of fresh-cut herbs. It also addresses production methods, including potential for hydroponic production.
Grant, Bonnie L. 2016. Asia herb garden: information on Asian herbs to grow in gardens. Gardening Know How.
Marquand, Molly. 2017. Six absolute easiest herbs to grow. Rodale’s Organic Life. January 9.
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