Category Archives: business ideas

Hardy Perennial Plant Suggestions for your Acreage or Small Farm

There is a very remarkable nursery in Northeastern Nebraska, near the farm where I grew up, called HH Wild Plums Inc. It was founded by the famous (but not as famous as he should be) horticulturalist plant finder, Harlan Hamernik. He passed away tragically in 2012, and I wrote up a brief tribute to him here.

Though Hamernik introduced many new plants to the gardeners across the U.S. over his lifetime, he focused in his later years on neutraceuticals, or, healthy edibles and medicinals, some of which were used by Native Plains Indians. Especially, this interest was from those sources which were in the form of perennials, shrubs, and trees – something the Midwest is not known for in our current day and age, but were key to the health of the nomadic tribes which preceded us.

Today, I interviewed Tammy Melcher of “HH Wild Plums” to get an update on this nursery which was founded by Harlan Hamernik for the purpose of promoting sales and the popularity of these hardy edible plants which he studied and discovered. She and plant propagator-grower, Lori Pfeifer, are instrumental in their small operation.

My impression of Harlan from personal experience, was that he was an incredibly intuitive plantsman, so readers, pay attention.

First, I asked Tammy to list five plants and a couple of trees that she would recommend to farmers/landowners who would like to incorporate edible or medicinal perennials into their farm, either as a hobby, or as a value-added crop or food product. Note that this list works in Nebraska, but most of these plants are extremely hardy and would grow well in much of the U.S., especially the Midwest and Upper Midwest.

Here is her list:
1. Aronia (8-10′ shrub)
2. Crandall’s Clove Currant (6×6′ shrub)
3. Redleaf Rose (7×7′ shrub)
4. Elderberry (7×7′ shrub)
5. Serviceberry (10×10′ shrub)
6. Tree: American Hazelnut (18′ tall)
7. Tree: Dwarf Chinkapin Oak (10-15′ tall)

There was no doubt that Tammy was most enthused about the Aronia plant which produces the common named “chokeberry”. She’d just returned from an Aronia conference in Omaha, and the awareness of this plant is catching on a bit, but, she said, “ninety percent of the public doesn’t know about it.” In general, the dark blue, purple and black berries contain high levels of antioxidants, making them superberries, or superfoods. We all know that blueberries are a superfood, but, according to Tammy, the Aronia berry contains three times the amount of antioxidants that blueberries do. (Note there is a current question about the benefits of antioxidants in this past year’s news and studies.) Indians used these berries as an ingredient in Pemmican. High tannin levels make these berries tart, thus the name “chokeberry”. The bright side of this is that birds tend to leave them alone, as opposed to other berries which you need to cover with netting, or pick before the birds do.

Incidentally, Tammy was not aware of sending Aronia plants to Colorado, and thought they would do very well here on the front range, so Colorado readers take note.

Three varieties of Aronia which Tammy recommends are Black Aronias: Aronia melanocarpa ‘Galicjanka’; Aronia melanocarpa ‘Viking’; and, Aronia melanocarpa ‘McKenzie’. ‘Galicjanka’ is a cultivar from Poland which tolerates drier soil conditions; ‘Viking’ is from Scandinavia and produces very large fruits; and, ‘McKenzie’ was produced at North Dakota State which has extra-large berries, and is drought and cold tolerant. These shrubs need chill hours so don’t grow in the South. They are drought tolerant once established, and they produce beautiful fall color.

Aronia berries are used in smoothies, salsas, jellies, breads and muffins, and for wine. A supplement form is available which uses a powder to create an extract. A company in Omaha, named “Superberries” owned by Kenny Sailors, uses Aronia berries to make products such as gummy chews, frozen berries, and concentrate. Also, according to Tammy, the Black Squirrel Winery in Council Bluffs, Iowa, makes a great wine using Aronia berries.

The next shrub on Tammy’s list is Crandall’s Clove Currant, or Ribes odoratum ‘Crandall’. This shrub also produces a black medicinal berry which is high in antioxidants and polyphenols. This grows in rich well-drained clay soil to plant hardiness zone 4.

The Redleaf rose is a beautiful hardy shrub rose producing a hip rich in Vitamin C. I have personally grown this in my yard and love the iridescent blue-green sheen to its leaves. If you grow it, as an added bonus you will occasionally have a volunteer pop up in your yard. Also, Rosa Pomifera, or the apple rose, is a good hardy choice which produces good fruit. One can make tea from the rose hips of either plant.

Elderberries, or Sambucus species, are another hardy shrub which produces a black berry that is high in Vitamin C and antioxidants. These grew wild when I was a child and I used to help my grandmother pick them to make jelly. I’ve personally picked them from road ditches to make a pretty darn good pie, if you don’t mind the seeds. Even better, you can make a combination berry pie such as elderberry-cherry. Elderberries grow across the U.S., but are less drought-tolerant.

The Serviceberry, or Amelanchier canadensis, produces large black berries that are loved by both humans and birds. They make delicious jams and pies. A good variety is alnifolia ‘Parkhill’ which is a dwarf.

Next, the two trees on Tammy’s list.

The American Hazlenut is formally named Corylus Americana. It is a small tree which produces an edible nut. It likes afternoon shade and requires two trees for nut production.

The Dwarf Chinkapin Oak is a great native shrub oak. By 3-4 years of age, it produces a nut which is valued by wildlife. These nut producers are about 15-18 feet tall, but can be trained shorter. Hamernik would collect this tree’s seeds from the wild, as is true of many of the plants which Wild Plums sells.

HH Wild Plums Inc. has a great catalogue online plus, they will be happy to send you a nice spiral bound hardcopy, such as the one I have lying next to my computer as I type this. There are many, many more varieties of trees and shrubs, along with unusual varieties of perennials, annuals, and vines available from their nursery.

If you have a favorite hardy native edible, please let us know about it in the comments.

Photo credit: Purple Aronia berries, by Konjica.

U.S. Organic Statistics and Trade: We Need More Organic Field Crop Producers

The latest issue of the USDA’s Amber Waves publication contains an interesting piece about the growth of organic crop production here in the U.S., and includes trade statistics, too.

Earlier this year, I covered an eye-opening WSJ article which informed us that we import organic soybeans from China these days due to a lack of production here, and the statistics in this USDA article help bear that out. I have been able to verify this, because occasionally, I buy dry roasted wasabi-flavored edamame beans to snack on, and when I’ve checked the package label, sure enough, the bean’s origin is China. (Note that edamame beans are immature soybeans.) I’ve also checked the organic frozen edamame bean packages at my favorite grocer, and they also originate from China.

Though U.S. organic food sales have grown from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $28 billion in 2012, still only 1 percent of U.S. farms are organic, and about 70 percent of them are in the Northwest or Pacific regions. Organic food sales were up 11 percent in 2012, from 2011, which would suggest we are in a period of rapid growth for this producer sector.

The following chart lists 2011 cropland acreages for specific organic crops such as corn and soybeans versus the respective total crop acreage. Note that in 2011, certified organic cropland made up only 0.7 percent of U.S. cropland, at 3.1 million acres. For field crops, only 0.3 percent of corn, 0.2 percent of soybeans, and 0.6 percent of wheat were grown as certified organic.

The top two organic food sellers in this country are fruit and vegetable produce, at 43 percent of total organic sales, and dairy, at 15 percent of total organic sales. Although fruit and vegetable fresh produce amounted to 43 percent of sales in 2011, this category used only 16 percent of the certified organic cropland.

The organic meat, fish, and poultry category sales have gained most over the last decade, but still only amount to 3 percent of total organic sales.

The two organic foods which we import with the greatest value, bananas and coffee, are tropical/subtropical crops which we aren’t able to grow here.

Of all the organic product imports, soybeans showed the biggest jump in value from 2011 to 2012, more than doubling to $90.2 million, and imports of organic rice, wheat, and other U.S. staple crops also grew. This would suggest a good opportunity for American farmers to supply these niche markets. Because I’d much rather snack on some dry roasted organic wasabi-flavored edamame beans that are grown, processed, and packaged in Iowa.

To learn more, please go to the source for additional charts and statistics.

Nabhan’s New Drier Land Book

There is a good new agricultural book out, titled “Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land: Lessons from Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty” by Gary Paul Nabhan. I discovered it last weekend in the Boulder Bookstore, the day before it hit the big time via his Opinion piece for the NYTs. The article was one of the NYTs top 10 most E-mailed articles for a number of days thereafter.

I met Nabhan when he spoke to a group of people on an organic farm here in Boulder County two years ago. See: “Gary Nabhan in Boulder at Abbondanza and the Importance of Seed Diversity.” He loves everything about chili peppers and heritage seeds, is a first generation Lebanese-American, and the author of multiple books. Nabhan wants to better the world by sharing what he has observed through his own desert farming experiences, and that which he’s learned from indigenous people. Living in Arizona, he knows how to maximize what you can grow with little water.

When Nabhan spoke here, I took note of his statement “I don’t feel comfortable being around people who share all the same values that I do.” If everyone had that attitude, wouldn’t this world be a better place?

This subject is one of my favorites, as I put much effort into my series of 35 water saving technologies for use in agriculture, which I posted on this site in February of this year:

● 35 Water Conservation Methods for Agriculture, Farming, and Gardening. Part 1.
● 35 Water Conservation Methods for Agriculture, Farming, and Gardening. Part 2.
● 35 Water Conservation Methods for Agriculture, Farming, and Gardening. Part 3.
● 35 Water Conservation Methods for Agriculture, Farming, and Gardening. Part 4.

Many of the technologies on my list are discussed in Nabhan’s book, but he also goes into his characteristic earthy, real life farming narratives about the desert, and he is a wonderful voice for agriculture in the face of a drier Southwestern U.S. and other regions of the world.

One of the methods on both my list and in Nabhan’s new book, is the use of ollas as a source of water for garden plants. On an interesting note, this spring I decided to try to incorporate a few ollas into our own vegetable garden here in Boulder. This is not so easy to do because I was unable to find any, not even in Santa Fe, much to my surprise and amazement.

Ollas, used by desert food growers for many centuries, are porous terra cotta water storage pots in many sizes and shapes, which are buried in the ground in the garden. Vegetables such as tomatoes can then be planted around the olla and the roots gravitate towards it to take advantage of slowly seeping water. Then, the gardener refills the olla every few days and places a loose cover over the top to keep it clean and prevent evaporation.

It seems to me that making ollas regionally in areas such as Boulder, Denver, Pueblo, Santa Fe, or anywhere else in the dry Southwestern U.S. would be a good start-up business idea for someone looking for a business idea. They might be very popular items at farmers markets and garden supply stores, if they were available. When I couldn’t find any in the whole city of Santa Fe this spring, it really made me wonder why. Though the city is filled with imported clay pots from Mexico, I suppose there are not enough local food growers to create demand for them. If any readers here know where ollas are sold, please leave a comment.

Pot: A Growing Field in U.S. Agriculture

Might Colorado become the Napa Valley of Pot?

Growing cannabis is now a big, lucrative business in Colorado, and a growing tax revenue generator, too. The state legalized it for medical use back in 2000, and then in 2009, a comprehensive code establishing guidelines for medical marijuana was passed, which led to a proliferation of new shops “on every street corner”.

Pot shop owners are extremely creative, which is obvious when one sees the names and appearances of the stores and their products.

To give you an example of some of our local Boulder shop names, there is The Dandelion, Boulder Wellness Center, Mountain Medicine Group, MMJ-America-Boulder, Boulder Botanics, Lotus Medical II, Fresh Baked Dispensary, The Farm, and so on. The owners have invested a lot of energy, creativity, and money into these little start-ups. They’ve provided a business opportunity for some individuals who needed a business opportunity during a recession. But, since the initial mania of the multitudes of newly sprouted shops, many have since been “weeded” out.

Colorado’s Amendment 64, legalizing marijuana for those over the age of 21 for recreational use, passed late last year.

Not only is growing cannabis a big, new, legalized agricultural business, it has opened up other business opportunities, too, such as in the publishing industry. Hydroponics store suppliers have also exploded as most growing is done indoors.

The other day I was passing by one of those freebie-news stands that are so popular here in Boulder and I picked up an issue of “THC: The Hemp Connoisseur – Colorado’s Premier Guide to Hemp Culture. (All of the photos in this post are from that publication.)

Since legalization of marijuana is still young in America, there are numerous legal problems yet to be worked out for those in the industry. One big problem is that pot shop owners are not allowed to have a business bank account because marijuana possession is still a federal crime. So, while Amendment 64 opens the door to sell recreational marijuana, store operators can’t get loans or take credit cards from customers. Successful cash businesses such as these face all sorts of issues, including safety, and they are targets for burglaries.

Using the data of vendors who paid state taxes in 2011, the industry was worth $186 million, and predictions for the future recreational pot sales market in Colorado in its first year are as high as $600 million, though that is as yet unknown, but might mean a hefty $130 million in tax revenue for Colorado.

A number of pot magazines are now being published here. Another interesting legal development was that in response to some concerned parents, Colorado passed a law to treat these publications like porn magazines, to be hidden behind the counter. That law was challenged for unconstitutionality.

3 Picks: 3D Printed Food, Netafim, Organic Valley

Below, is a roundup of agricultural-related news from around the Web.

1) 3-D Printed Food by Christopher Mims: Mechanical engineer, Anjan Contractor, is being funded by NASA for his food printing project. Able to use pulverized insects as a protein source, for example, and also provide personalized nutrition, “He sees a day when every kitchen has a 3D printer, and the earth’s 12 billion people feed themselves customized, nutritionally-appropriate meals synthesized one layer at a time, from cartridges of powder and oils they buy at the corner grocery store. Contractor’s vision would mean the end of food waste, because the powder his system will use is shelf-stable for up to 30 years, so that each cartridge, whether it contains sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein or some other basic building block, would be fully exhausted before being returned to the store.” This venture makes more sense than any of us might care to admit, as it looks like the ultimate end point for processed food innovation.

2) The company Netafim is a water-saving technology leader: “Drip- and micro-irrigation company Netafim’s technology that halves water use compared to other irrigation solutions while increasing crop yields has won the firm the 2013 Stockholm Industry Water Award. The Israel-based company provides equipment and services in more than 110 countries and says more than 10 million hectares of farmland are irrigated with drip irrigation, a technology Netafim pioneered.”

3) A local newspaper updates us on Organic Valley’s contribution to rural Wisconsin by Chris Hubbuch and Allison Geyer: In only a decade, the farm cooperative, “Organic Valley”, located in La Farge, Wisconsin (pop. 774), has grown into a co-op with annual sales approaching $1 billion. The company’s mission is to create sustainable rural communities. The company’s payroll is $30 million a year, and member farmers received an organic premium last year of $180 million. Might more communities and states be wise to create their own co-op model such as this?

Written and compiled by K. McDonald.