Producing and Marketing Saffron in Rhode Island

Progress report for SNE20-012-RI

Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $61,500.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2023
Grant Recipient: University of Rhode Island
Region: Northeast
State: Rhode Island
State Coordinators:
Heather Faubert
University of Rhode Island
Co-Coordinators:
Heather Faubert
University of Rhode Island
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Project Information

Summary:

Problem and Justification: Rhode Island farmers are always looking for new crops to diversify their farming operations. A University of Rhode Island researcher in the Plant Sciences Department has been researching saffron production at URI's Agronomy Farm since 2017. After twelve years of growing saffron in Iran and four years of saffron production in Rhode Island, he is ready to teach local farmers and Agricultural Service Providers (ASP) about growing, harvesting, processing, and marketing saffron. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world and could fit into the cropping cycle of many existing vegetable farms in RI. Small acreage is needed to grow saffron, so saffron could easily be grown on urban farms. Much interest has been generated by farmers and the general public about growing saffron in Rhode Island. Since Rhode Island farmers will be growing saffron starting in 2020, these farmers will need ASP to assist in their efforts.

Growing saffron is very different than growing most crops. Corms are planted in the summer, flower stigmas are harvested October to November, leaves continue growing until June, then plants are dormant through the summer until October. Plants are perennial and flowers can be harvested for up to six seasons. Growing saffron is much different than introducing a new type of vegetable or fruit to a farming operation.

Solution and Approach: A University researcher has science-based knowledge that needs extending into the farming community and to ASP. That's what Extension is all about. Ag Service Providers and farmers will learn how to grow, harvest, process, and market saffron in Rhode Island by attending 2 workshops, one conference, and visiting saffron fields at URI and commercial farms in RI. There are not many ASP in RI since it is so small (50 miles by 35 miles) so it's easy to communicate with all of Rhode Island's ASP. To get ASP to the saffron education opportunities, they will receive email notifications about workshops and the conference, and also get personal invitations by phone and separate, personal emails. Saffron production in Rhode Island has received a lot of media attention and ASP needs to learn about this new crop.

Performance Target:

Six Agricultural Service providers will educate 25 growers in production practices, harvesting, processing, and selling saffron locally.

Introduction:

Agricultural Need:
Many RI farmers are interested in crop diversification to manage risk. Rhode Island's climate is well suited for producing saffron, the world's most expensive spice. Saffron sells wholesale for $5000 per pound and retail for $11,000 per pound. The US imports 37 tons of saffron per year, mostly from the Middle East, and the Northeast US is a major market for saffron. More than 100 Vermont growers have been growing saffron over the last several years, and more growers are experimenting with saffron each year. Vermont growers easily sell their saffron at farmers markets and farm stands. Rhode Islanders are expected to embrace locally produced saffron too.

A researcher at the University of Rhode Island, with 16 years of experience growing saffron in Iran and RI, wants to share his knowledge with farmers in RI. He has been successfully growing saffron in RI since 2017 and now is ready to introduce saffron production to RI farmers. The farming and general public has been notified about the possibility of producing saffron in RI at a 2018 URI vegetable twilight meeting with 35 growers in attendance, a 2019 article in the Providence Journal, and a 2019 Plant Pro segment on local television news that reaches 10,000 viewers. There is also an article in the Spring 2020 edition of the URI Alumni Magazine about saffron research at URI.

Saffron outreach has already generated interest in growing saffron locally. After the Providence Journal article, 18 people contacted URI wanting information on growing saffron. One Rhode Island farm has planted saffron corms and another farmer plans to plant corms in 2020. Once more publicity about saffron production reaches farmers and the general public we expect even more interest in producing saffron. New saffron growers will need technical assistance from ASP and currently no Rhode Island ASP know how to grow, harvest, process, or market saffron.

Proposed Solution:
To educate ASP about saffron production, they will attend half-day workshops and a full-day conference in RI on saffron over the three years of this project. Year one of the project will focus on growing saffron; year two will focus on harvesting and processing; and year three will focus on marketing saffron. Ag Service Providers will also visit URI's saffron fields at least once each year of the project. Ag Service Providers will also accompany URI Extension in visiting commercial fields of saffron recently planted in Rhode Island in year 2 and 3 of the project. A potential barrier to saffron production in Rhode Island is the intense need for labor during four crucial weeks in late October into November. Saffron flowers need to be harvested daily for 3-4 weeks and stigmas must be separated from flowers within 48 hours of harvesting. We will make farmers aware of this intense labor need and demonstrate that growing saffron can fit into their field production cycle. Many growers do not use season-extending high tunnels so their field production is finished by mid-October. Growing saffron can also help keep their staff employed for more weeks of the year.

Agricultural Service Provider Interest:
At a preliminary saffron meeting at URI in February, 2020, three Ag Service Providers expressed interest in attending workshops and conference about saffron production. Additional ASP will be recruited from URI, RI Farm Service Agency, NRCS, and Southside Community Land Trust, a non-profit organization in Providence, RI that owns or directly manages 21 urban community farms and gardens. Since a relatively small amount of acreage is needed to grow saffron, saffron production on urban farms is very appealing.

Advisors/Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. Rahmatallah Gheshm
  • Andrew Radin (Educator)
  • Kathan Teepe - Producer
  • Dr. Rebecca Brown

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

Recruitment

Saffron is a very different crop than other vegetables and herbs currently grown in Rhode Island. Perennial saffron corms are planted in August, bloom October to November when stigmas are harvested, and continue growing leaves through the winter and into June when corms enter dormancy. Saffron fields can remain in production for up to six years. Since saffron is a new crop for Rhode Island ASP do not know how to grow saffron.

Agricultural Service Providers will be recruited from URI Cooperative Extension, RI USDA Farm Service Agency, and the non-profit organization Southside Community Landtrust. Farmers and ASP will hear about saffron production at the yearly Vegetable Twilight Meeting at URI's Agronomy Farm in September 2020, usually attended by 35 farmers and ASP. Agricultural Service Providers will also be recruited to participate in the project through workshop/conference promotional emails. Promotional emails will be followed up by personal phone calls or in person conversations, inviting ASP to the workshops and conference. Participating ASP will also be invited to visit the saffron plots at the URI Agronomy Farm. One Rhode Island farmer plans to plant saffron corms in 2020. Agricultural Service Providers will be invited to visit this commercial saffron field at various times during the three year project and also to any other farm that starts growing saffron in RI. A cohort of ASP are expected to participate for the entire project.

Education

Through this three year saffron project, ASP will participate in yearly farmer trainings provided by URI, accompany URI Extension workers to URI's saffron fields, and visit at least one commercial saffron grower's farm. Agricultural Service Providers will increase their knowledge on growing, harvesting, processing, and marketing saffron locally. With this new knowledge, ASP will be able offer technical assistance to RI saffron growers, or know where to turn to obtain proper technical assistance. Saffron is a new crop for Rhode Island, and ASP will need to be able to answer questions posed to them by established farmers, urban farmers, and beginning farmers.

During year one, a half-day classroom workshop will include an overview of saffron harvesting, processing, and marketing saffron, and focus primarily on growing saffron. Dr. Gheshm, from URI, has been conducting field research on saffron, exploring the use of low tunnels and corm planting densities. Dr. Gheshm will share his experience and research with farmers and ASP about various growing techniques at the Year 1 workshop. Attendees will be given a new fact sheet on growing saffron written for this SARE project. Workshop attendees will be encouraged to visit the URI saffron plot informally and as part of the yearly September URI twilight meeting.

The second year of the project will also be a half-day classroom workshop focusing on harvesting and processing of saffron. Dr. Gheshm has been harvesting and processing saffron from his URI saffron field and will be the main speaker at the Year 2 workshop. At this workshop, harvesting and processing will be thoroughly covered along with an update on growing techniques. A second fact sheet on harvesting and processing saffron will be given to workshop attendees, and the fact sheets from year 1 and year 2 will be available on the URI Cooperative Extension website. Workshop attendees will be encouraged to visit the URI saffron plot informally and as part of the yearly September URI twilight meeting. By year 2, there should be at least one RI farmer growing saffron. Agricultural Service Providers will be invited to accompany Heather Faubert and Dr. Gheshm to the commercial saffron field.

The third year of the project will culminate in an all-day conference held at URI or a nearby facility. A major focus of this conference will be marketing locally grown saffron. Local chefs and retailers will be invited to the conference along with farmers and ASP. Growing, harvesting, and processing will also be covered during the conference. Experts from the University of Vermont's North American Center for Saffron Research and Development have agreed to speak at URI's saffron conference. A third fact sheet on marketing saffron will be available at the conference and on the URI Cooperative Extension website.

An educational video will also be produced and housed on the URI website. This will be filmed by Heather Faubert and edited by experienced URI students.

Verification

Following each workshop and conference, attendees will be surveyed immediately after and 6 months later to learn whether or not they have planted saffron, if they intend to plant saffron, how many corms have been planted, amount of saffron harvested and processed, and number of farmers assisted by ASP about saffron production. If insufficient information is collected via survey, ASP will be contacted  by phone or email. Survey questions will also inquire about the need for additional saffron information not covered so far in trainings.

Depending on survey responses, topics covered during future workshops and the conference will be reconsidered and appropriate changes made.

The number of times URI saffron fact sheets are downloaded and the number of times the URI saffron video is viewed will be reported.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

450 Ag Service Providers and farmers will receive notification about half-day workshop about growing saffron in Rhode Island.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
435
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
15
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
92
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
8
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

 

Ag Service Providers, farmers, and gardeners were invited to participate in the March 2nd webinar. Personal emails were sent to 9 RI Ag Service Providers and 20 people who had contacted URI in the past 2 years about growing saffron. Information about the webinar was advertised on Andy Radin's newsletter (circulation of 450) and also the RI DEM Produce Safety newsletter (circulation 269). It was also mentioned to members of the Saffronnet listserve, which reached 700 people interested in growing saffron in New England and throughout the US.  Five days before the event it was advertised to URI Master Gardeners and other people on the Cooperative Extension email list.

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Ag Service Providers and farmers will gain knowledge on growing saffron in Rhode Island at a half-day workshop held at the University of Rhode Island. New factsheet on producing saffron will be available at this workshop.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
25
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
6
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
92
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
8
Proposed Completion Date:
June 30, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Due to the pandemic, we held a virtual workshop on growing saffron on March 2, 2021. This was the first of a series of one hour webinars that will take place in 2021. A recording of the webinar can be viewed at https://youtu.be/mXLF2-A6FGA

A fact sheet on growing saffron was written in January, 2021 and available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1mCVjIXpsoujplr_pRvIHzEdt2InkYs7X/view

 

 

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Workshop attendees will be surveyed at the completion of the workshop and again 6 months later. Survey questions will include number of farmers each Ag Service Provider assisted with saffron production, number of farmers that have planted saffron, and number of corms planted.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
8
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
6
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Ag Service Providers will visit the URI saffron field at the University of Rhode Island at least once over the year.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
5
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
4
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Ag Service Providers and farmers will receive notification about 2nd saffron workshop at the University of Rhode Island. This workshop will focus on harvesting and processing saffron and will update participants on saffron growing techniques.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
435
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
15
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Ag Service Providers and farmers will gain knowledge about harvesting and processing saffron at a half-day workshop at the University of Rhode Island. Second fact sheet on harvesting and processing saffron, plus the production fact sheet produced in year 1, will be available at the workshop.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
25
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
6
Proposed Completion Date:
June 30, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #7 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Workshop attendees will be surveyed at the completion of the workshop and again 6 months later. Survey questions will include number of farmers each Ag Service Provider assisted with saffron production, number of farmers that have planted saffron, number of corms planted, amount of saffron harvested and processed.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
15
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
6
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #8 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Ag Service Providers will visit the saffron field at the University of Rhode Island or a commercial saffron field at least once over the year.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
8
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
6
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #9 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Ag Service Providers and farmers will receive notification about day-long saffron conference at the University of Rhode Island or nearby venue. Conference will cover saffron production, harvest, processing, and marketing.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
435
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
15
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #10 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Ag Service Providers and farmers will attend all-day conference and will gain knowledge on producing, harvest, processing, and marketing saffron. The third fact sheet on marketing saffron will be available at the conference, as well as the two previously produced fact sheets.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
45
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
6
Proposed Completion Date:
June 30, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #11 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Conference attendees will be surveyed at the completion of the conference and again 3 months later. Survey questions will include number of farmers each Ag Service Provider assisted with saffron production, number of farmers that have planted saffron, number of corms planted, amount of saffron harvested and processed, and where saffron has been sold or planned to be sold. Saffron video made during the 3 year project will be available on the URI YouTube website in time for the 3 month followup survey.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
25
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
6
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #12 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Ag Service Providers will visit the saffron field at the University of Rhode Island or a commercial saffron field at least once by the end of the project.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
10
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
6
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2023
Status:
In Progress

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers

SARE Outreach

Outreach about SARE:

The RI Professional Development Program (PDP) State Coordinator will promote SARE grant programs (Farmer Grants, Graduate Student Grants, Partnership Grants,Research and Education Grants, Research and Novel Approaches Grants, and Professional Development Grants) and SARE educational materials at every opportunity.

The State Coordinator or representative will attend agricultural organization meetings such as the annual meetings of RI Farm Bureau in November, RI Raised Livestock Association in April, RI Fruit Growers Association in March, RI Nursery and Landscape Association in January, and the RI Women in Agriculture Conference March 2022. Actual dates for these events have not been selected.

Whenever possible, State Coordinator will explain SARE’s programs and have a table top display providing literature and information. SARE programs will also be promoted at all events sponsored by SARE RI or tri-state PDP grants by including the SARE logo on all printed materials and explicitly crediting SARE with funding the experience. A display will also be present wherever appropriate such as the URI Spring Festival in May and the Washington County Fair in August. Any additional opportunities to educate ASP, farmers and researchers about SARE programs will be pursued throughout the grant period.

The RI state coordinator will participate in the joint CT/MA/RI project as detailed in the plan submitted by UConn.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.