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Growing and Selling Fresh Cut Herbs.
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OF THE MONTH
Faithful Visitors and New Visitors:
following article appeared in the August 2000 issue of Growing for
Market, a newsletter for commercial growers that sell at farmer's
market. It will explain why I have not added a new Herb of the Month feature
here in the last two months - I've just been too busy! Rest assured, a
new herb of the month will be written and placed on this site in the not
too distant future so please check back. Visit the Growing for Market
Fresh-cut Herbs at Farmer’s Market
By Sandie Shores
fresh-cut herbs at a busy farmer’s market can be very lucrative indeed.
The demand for fresh herbs is high and continues to grow. Not only have
American cooks become aware of the value of using fresh, as opposed to
dried, herbs but virtually every ethnic group uses at least one fresh
herb in their cuisine. And while the consumer may settle for fresh herbs
from the supermarket in the off season, given the choice, most prefer
to buy directly from the grower. This is where you can profit!
growers sell the easy to grow annual herbs such as basil, cilantro, parsley
and dill. However, with the addition of a few of the less common and perennial
herbs you can significantly increase your profits. Herbs such as arugula,
chives, oregano, sorrel, sage, French tarragon and thyme will sell at
your market when the customers discover that you offer them. If you learn
how to manipulate the growth patterns of the various herbs so that you
can maintain a continuous supply you will be money ahead. For instance,
you can grow cilantro during
the hot summer months by choosing the right microclimate in your fields
and making succession plantings every week.
is also in your best interest to learn what ethnic groups are in your
area, what herbs they use in their cuisine and how to cater to their needs.
For instance, in Rochester Minnesota (home of the Mayo Clinic and IBM)
our population, and long term visitors, consists of many broad and diverse
cultures from around the world. Many growers at our busy Rochester Downtown
Farmer’s Market have done their homework and grow herbs and produce specifically
to supply the needs of the many and diverse cultures. The result of this
is, of course, increased profits.
as with most produce, can be difficult to keep fresh when the temperatures
are high and they are in direct sunlight. But learning how to keep your
herbs fresh can make the difference between selling your herbs and taking
them home to dry. Fresh cut herbs are quite perishable and similar to
other produce after harvest. They will eventually deteriorate and lose
quality. Soaking a whole herb bunch in cold water for 10 minutes can revive
herbs that are only slightly wilted. Wilted herbs make a fine addition
to the compost pile!
a quality fresh cut herb to the market has as much to do with growing
a healthy plant as it does with the care given to it during harvesting
and beyond. A healthy, disease and insect free plant will
remain fresher and more appealing longer after harvest than one that is
moisture and nutrient stressed.
handling and storage conditions during and after the harvest will also
help delay the decaying process. Care should be used in the harvesting
process to prevent damage to the herbs. Bruised, or torn, leaves promotes
quick deterioration after harvest and are a statement to the consumer
of poor quality standards.
two most important steps you can take to preserve the freshness and quality
of herbs after harvesting are to lower the temperature quickly and prevent
moisture loss from the herbs by packaging them as soon as possible. Generally,
it is best to not wash herbs but sometimes this can’t be avoided. You
don’t want to sell muddy herbs or those with insects on them. The bunched
herbs can be very gently swished in cold water and the excess moisture
allowed to evaporate before packaging.
should be picked the evening before the market and cooled quickly. The
exception to this cooling rule is basil. Basil should be held between
45 to 60 degrees as it can turn brown quite quickly at temperatures below
that. Harvest herbs that are perfect and have no cosmetic damage from
insects. Herbs that are flowering should not be offered for sale, unless
a customer requests it for use as garnish material, as flowering herbs
have less of the desired foliage and they also tend to be bitter.
ideal is to keep the herbs in a cooler and sell from a display of each
herb you offer. However, we all know that customers like to see an abundance
of fresh herbs and produce if they are to make purchases. Our displays
should look full and inviting.
years past I have displayed the herb bunches propped up in a small amount
of water, much like fresh flowers. My partner, Catherine Osborn (Wildside
Herbs and Wildflowers) has developed an easier method of keeping herbs
standing upright in water. She places a 10X20 inch large hole flat upside
down in a standard sized cooler. The cooler is filled with water to the
level of the flat. If the weather is very hot ice cubes may be added to
the water. The cooler is then filled with bunched herbs with their stem
ends between the holes in the flat causing them to stand upright. This
keeps them fresh and presents a beautiful display. The cooler is set on
small stools in front of the main display table so it is nearly at the
level of the table. More herbs are kept in coolers to replace the ones
sold from the display. The herbs in the display are misted with water
frequently using a spray bottle as added insurance to prevent moisture
loss from the foliage. Providing shade is, of course, a major part of
keeping the herbs fresh.
customers are anxious to learn about using fresh-cut herbs and it is our
job to teach them and increase our sales at the same time. To this end,
I came up with the idea of the “recipe of the week”. Each week we offer
a new original recipe using fresh herbs and produce in season. We try
to use some of the unusual herbs, such as lemon balm and marjoram, in
an effort to introduce them to the customer and educate them as to their
use. This is also a way to sell herbs that we have in abundance at the
give away the neatly printed recipe and sell the fresh-cut herbs used
in the recipe as well as the individual plants. The recipe fresh-cut herbs
are conveniently bunched together and contain more than enough to make
the recipe. We use the same bright sign each week with the new recipe
pasted on it. This is surrounded with the herb bunches (also sitting in
water) and plants and it makes a nice, eye-catching display. We have many
customers returning for the recipes and more new people eventually become
regular customers each week.
developing our recipes we try to consider that many consumers are looking
for convenience foods and easy to make new ideas.
We base our recipes on the convenience concept as well as the season.
We try not to ask the customers to bake when the temperatures are soaring!
offer free samples of the recipe each week but you should check with your
own market manager to see if this is legal at your market. Giving away
the free samples has increased our business quite a bit but this idea
has come back to haunt me! Besides all the work involved in getting ready
for market day (you all know what I mean!) we now have to prepare the
samples in a large volume too! We take turns developing the recipe and
making the samples so this does remove some of the pressure of having
to do it all each week. Many of you may not have this luxury.
a customer buys more than one kind of herb we ask if these herbs will
be used in the same recipe. If not, they are packaged in separate poly
bags. Most herbs have strong flavors and/or aromas and if these are allowed
to co-mingle it can add an unwanted taste or aroma to food.
The customers appreciate this small gesture of concern and good
will. They are most willing to share their recipes with us, which creates
friends as well as customers.
times the customers will take the herb bunches from the display themselves.
As an added bit of hygiene we pull the poly bag over our hand, the herb
bunch is grabbed with the covered hand and the bag is pulled over the
bunch and given back to the customer. The customers have often told us
how they appreciate the care and concern given to each and every bunch
love growing and selling the fragrant, useful herbs AND making a profit
with them. I bet you will too! So, grow herbs-you will not only make the world
a better place, but you will also be making a profit.
a future article we will discuss techniques for maintaining a continuous
supply of various herbs and “tricks of the trade” for growing herbs out
of their desired season.
Shores operated Herb’s Herbs for 10 years in southern Minnesota. She is
the author of Growing and Selling Fresh-Cut Herbs (Storey Books, available
from Growing for Market) and now sells organic herbs and produce at the
Rochester (MN) Downtown Farmer’s Market and Full Circle, a cooperative
that supplies whole foods stores in the Twin Cities. Visit her website
Click here to
see a preview of the
Table of Contents
for Growing and Selling Fresh-Cut Herbs. Click here to see
Herb of the Month pages.
comprehensive revised edition of Growing and Selling Fresh-Cut
Herbs is available from
most internet booksellers, bookstores, and in libraries. It can be
ordered from the distributor,
Independent Publishers Group.
E-mail your questions, tips
I look forward to hearing from you.
Growing and Selling Fresh-Cut Herbs
Herb of the Month |
and Answers |
PO Box 64
Zumbro Falls, MN 55991
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