Mad About Saffron: Growing A Valuable Global Seasoning In The Midwest

Project Overview

FNC18-1146
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2018: $14,927.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2020
Grant Recipient: Foraged & Sown
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Rachel Tayse
Harmonious Homestead LLC

Information Products

Saffron Growing Guide (Manual/Guide)
Saffron Rice Recipe Card (Conference/Presentation Material)

Commodities

  • Additional Plants: Edible flower

Practices

  • Crop Production: cover crops, food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, organic certification
  • Sustainable Communities: quality of life, urban agriculture

    Summary:

    In the first year of the Mad About Saffron project, we began exploring how to grow saffron in the Midwest through in-ground and hoop house production. We successfully harvested and processed the stigmas from 758 flowers collected in the field and containers. The three collaborating farmers visited a saffron operation in Ontario Canada in November 2018 to learn directly from another small producer. We sold saffron late in the farmers' market season to begin understanding the market potential of this product. Our 2018 packaging was a simple fold-over paper packet enclosing a sealed plastic sleeve with saffron inside. A info card told customers about the project and ways to cook with saffron.

    The second year of the project began with more education by virtually attending the North American Center for Saffron Research & Development workshop in March. When the ground was finally dry in early summer, we harvested the field corms and noticed significant loss. We planted back the corms in containers, after concluding there was no practical, organic way to manage weeds and water in our field location. We added more purchased corms to additional containers to ensure a second year harvest, collecting 796 flowers in 2019.

    We updated our saffron packaging with new graphics in 2019, sampled saffron rice at a farmers market demo, and created a recipe card for promotion and education. At the end of the 2019 season, we created and published a growing guide for both field and container production. We distributed the guide at an on-farm field day, during a conference presentation, and made it available on the Foraged & Sown website. The conference presentation discussed production methods, yields, customer interest, and a rough enterprise budget.

    Key Findings (more findings and details provided in the research section of this report):

    1. Saffron container production is no more difficult in an organic system than a conventional system. 
    2. Saffron field production is highly suceptible to weather and weed pressures. 
    3. Saffron corms require an average of four seasons to produce daughter corms of a size to harvest from or sell. 
    4. Cost of production is slightly more than potential income in the first years. 
    5. More research is needed to understand and leverage consumer interest in saffron.

    Project objectives:

    1. Document and evaluate ecologically-sensitive weed management, harvesting, and storage practices for in- ground and bench-grown saffron over two growing seasons.
    2. Calculate a potential ‘profit per square foot’ estimate for saffron threads and bulbs grown on Midwestern farms.
    3. Share findings about best ecologically-sensitive growing practices through an online video, print fact sheet, conference presentation, and field day.
    4. Evaluate packaging and marketing methods for harvested saffron
    5. Share reasons to choose and use locally-grown saffron in a customer-targeted online video, print recipe card, and farmers’ market demo.
    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.