By Stephanie Syson, Lead Grower & Owner of Biodynamic Botanicals
The United States is a large consumer of medicinal herbs, mainly in the form of value-added products such as dietary supplements, teas, personal care products, cosmetics, and other nutraceuticals. However, many of the herbs used to make these products are imported from foreign markets. In Colorado, for instance, there are fewer than 10 farms growing medicinal herbs, and even fewer with a surplus for sale. At the same time, there are hundreds of Colorado businesses currently purchasing medicinal herbs.
The overwhelming demand for medicinal herbs has created a market opportunity for certified organic specialty crop growers in the U.S. Medicinal herbs can serve as a secondary cash crop, increasing farm diversity, marketability, and seasonality while also reducing risk of loss from hail, insects, spoilage, and frost. Additionally, many medicinal herbs can be grown on marginal farmland not suitable for vegetable production and, by increasing on-farm biodiversity, offer pollination services and wildlife habitat.
While the production of medicinal herbs generally requires fewer inputs than vegetable farming, it does require specialized knowledge and post-harvest processing, as well as the ability to be competitive in a highly regulated market that demands high quality.
Following examination of their own production systems, marketing, and sales efforts, and after consideration of several options, the Colorado Herb Cooperative (CHC) committee hypothesized that small-scale growers could benefit from a growers cooperative. This would allow farmers to focus more on growing than on marketing and distributing, give them access to reliable wholesale markets, and allow them to collectively navigate issues specific to the industry.
Stephanie Syson lives in Basalt, CO where she is the lead grower for her company Biodynamic Botanicals. She is a certified permaculture designer and an educator in the fields of greenhouse management, permaculture, seed saving and herbalism.