- Fruits: general small fruits
- Production Systems: general crop production
Small mountain farms need premium specialty crops to be economically viable enterprises. Often, they are located on challenging terrain where conventional farming practices are difficult, if not impossible. Just as often, their holdings contain the headwaters of our river basins, which confers them with a special responsibility for water quality. Finding crops which are economically rewarding, can be grown without heavy equipment, and are compatible with, and complimentary to the stewardship of our water resources is a challenge. Wasabi, a crop that depends on clear, cool, mountain springs for cultivation is such a crop. Though native to Japan-- it-- like many other plants shared by the two regions-- is well suited to growing conditions in Western North Carolina. Though the early efforts of Pacific Wasabi in Oregon and Real Wasabi here in western NC, raw, grated-at-the-table wasabi is beginning to make inroads into some of the finer restaurants and tables in the U.S. It appears to be an emerging market with room for more growers to meet increasing demand without significantly impacting current pricing. Many attempts to grow it --hydroponic systems, enclosed systems, raised and watered beds--outside of a natural habitat have failed. None of those systems are as successful as the systems built in natural settings which rely on natural springs, so the areas for cultivation are limited. . While information varies from source to source, wasabi has a three to five year maturity from seed and takes one to two years from division. Because of the time it takes to reach maturity, its experimental nature in the upper mountains and relatively high start up costs, it is currently cost prohibitive to small farmers to explore independently. Additionally, regulations overseeing the importation of agricultural products, make it very difficult, if not impossible, to import root stock from Japan. Domestic availability is very limited. That produced domestically is generally reserved for culinary sales where it brings $99 a pound, so starter stock for interested growers is in very short supply and is expensive. It appears to be a specialty crop with great potential. The problem is: Not enough research is widely available on how to grow it and propagate it, and starter stock is difficult to acquire. . Our answer is pretty simple--to set up traditional Japanese wasabi beds in existing springs and follow its reproductive cycle for two years...both the seed set and the production of rootlets for divisions--to take photos, take notes and figure out how to produce additional starter stock and a saleable commodity --and share that information with other local growers through a workshop, publications and a blog. With increased supplies of starter stock and adequate information on growing and propagation, it could become an economically significant specialty crop.