Medicinal Herbs for Commerce began in March of 2004 in response to the question—Can medicinal herbs become a viable commodity for North Carolina farmers? Seventeen growers from across the state participated in the project that first year, growing Echinacea purpurea, valerian, dandelion, and California poppy. These crops were chosen due to their compatibility with existing cultivation
equipment which minimized initial costs and to meet specific buyers' demands.
Regional buyers of herbs play a critical role in this project by offering invaluable advice to the
growers and purchasing the crops produced. The experiences of growers and buyers involved in the project thus far has been overwhelmingly positive. In 2005, our second anniversary, 40 growers signed on. Additionally, 13 of the original 17
growers continued the project for our second year, expanding the acreage planted as well as herbs grown.
Medicinal Herbs for Commerce works closely with the NC Natural Products Association, a
non-profit education and research organization supporting NC’s natural products community.
We envision an
agricultural-based, sustainable natural products industry for North Carolina. Some of our hopes for this project are:
- Giving farmers the tools they need to succeed in growing and marketing medicinal herbs
- Creating a reputation for North Carolina growers producing high quality medicinal herbs to attract industry investment
- Promotion of organic methods of cultivation to encourage sustainable agricultural practices
- Conservation of endangered medicinal herbs such as ginseng, black cohosh, and wild yam as a result of cultivating rather than wild-harvesting them
- Empowering small family farms to be financially able to continue farming for generations
We work with farmers to ensure quality in their harvest. The increasing demand for
organic herbs by the natural products industry requires all growers participating in our program to follow the National Organic Program standards.
detailed records of their production
part of the
cultivation, drying, and post-harvest handling techniques are top priorities so the medicinal properties of the harvested material and total crop yield are maximized.
Grower Profile: Justin Dillingham
Justin Dillingham isn’t typical among Medicinal Herbs for Commerce growers for one primary reason: he’s only 19 years old. Nonetheless, he plays a vital role in his family’s farming operation, and as a young farmer in western North Carolina, he offers a unique perspective.
The primary obligation of this young farmer is to run the tobacco, cattle, and hay businesses at his family’s farm in the mountains, where his grandfather has been farming all his life. He also helps with his father’s new vineyard, where the family just picked their first wine grapes this year. In 2006, Justin will continue learning about new crops by growing skullcap. He’s hopeful about this new venture. As he said, “I really think there’s a potential for it. Western North Carolina has more biodiversity than most places in the world, and I think growing medicinal herbs will really capitalize on that.” He does foresee some challenges, however. He knows that his skullcap will be a more labor intensive crop than he’s used to, and not knowing signs of disease in a new crop will mean a steep learning curve. Justin is also aware of general challenges facing him and NC farming in general. “With the land market as it is in this area, buying more land can be difficult. That’s the main challenge for me,” he said. Justin cited pressure from non-farming interests as one of the main challenges to agriculture in North Carolina, but he sees a unique situation for the western part of the state. He reflected that, “Our main challenge is it’s just so much different farming river bottoms and pasturing hillsides than it is farming thousands of acres. Our terrain is somewhat of a hardship to us, but at the same time, it may give us an advantage in niche markets. We can’t compete with the Midwest, but we can do a lot of things they can’t.”
Despite the challenges ahead, Justin’s vision is to continue the farming tradition of his family and expand on what he’s already got by bringing several crops together in a successful overall operation. His vision and dedication to sustaining viable agriculture in our state is inspiring.
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