As Ann mentioned in her recent blog post, Where Are the Domestic Herbs?, we created this survey to better understand the domestic herb market and the key issues involved from the perspectives of both growers and buyers. Thirty-one growers/farmers and 35 herbalists/practitioners responded…not a huge response, but enough to recognize several common themes. The following is an outline of the themes that emerged. We will continue to explore these themes and see how the Sustainable Herbs Project might best support local and regional links between herb growers and practitioners/herbalists.
Theme #1: Buyers want to purchase their herbs from local sources. Farmers prefer to sell locally in small quantities.
While most respondents prefer to purchase their herbs locally (or grow/wildcraft their own), nearly all must supplement their inventory with purchases from large companies, such as Mountain Rose Herbs or Frontier. The reasons for lack of availability from local sources vary, including climate, quality, or limited supply. As one survey respondent commented, “I would like to buy and sell herbs that are domestically grown, but I have to start with steady supply and quality.”
Theme #2: Farmers are using organic farming methods but are not pursuing certification. Buyers want organically grown herbs, but lack of certification is not a disqualifier.
Whether it is the expense or the daunting amount of paperwork involved, most survey respondents choose not to pursue organic certification. The lack of certification does not deter buyers, as long as there is trust between the farmer and buyer. Transparency of growing methods, including farm tours or the willingness to interact personally with buyers fosters a sense of trust. Buyers value this sense of trust more than a certification. One survey respondent commented that her biggest challenge when choosing an herb source is, “Transparency! Meeting customer demand with high quality herbs grown and harvested with integrity in all phases of production. I often let jars of bulk herbs go empty rather than fill with poor quality or questionably sourced plant material.”
Theme #3: Buyers are willing to pay more for high quality domestically grown herbs.
All survey participants are willing to pay more for domestically grown herbs; most respondents stated they would pay up to 10% more, and a few would be willing to pay as much as 20-30% more.
Theme #4: Marketing/advertising is farmers’ biggest struggle.
Marketing/advertising is the biggest struggle faced by farmers, followed closely by financial struggles, and finally labor.
It seems that farmers and buyers ultimately want the same things. The question then becomes, “How do we nurture a domestic marketplace?” How do we connect buyers with local farmers, backyard growers, and wildcrafters? The answer will require a multifaceted approach, including ongoing education and outreach.