While there are a multitude of books on farming, few if any discuss medicinal herbs. Peg Shafer’s The Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm (Chelsea Green, 2011) was one of the first to do so in great detail.
The Carpenters however, can set their tome – The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer – next to it with the confidence they have created a new classic in the same realm.
In it they cover medicinal plants native to the Americas and beyond, while offering extensive information on all aspects of building a successful farm business. Medicinals remain a relatively new arena, but one with great potential for experienced and novice farmers alike.
Most people, the Carpenters write, understand the idea of local food, but local medicine remains revolutionary. They aim to change that while improving the economic, environmental and physical health of farming communities.
Existing farmers are encouraged to take advantage of a new market that would diversify their crops and incorporate perennials which don’t need to be replanted regularly and that attract a wide variety of beneficials.
Beginning farmers will discover not only the information they need but also the kinds of questions they need to pose in order to get off to a good start.
The book is broken into two parts: the growing and processing of herbs, followed by which herbs to grow. It sounds simple enough, but the Carpenters manage to press between these two covers everything from choosing land, creating a business plan, setting seeds and the machinery needed to do so, right through growing, harvest and final packaging before shipping.
Marketing is also included. All of that is couched in discussion of current and possibly changing regulations, how to ride market fluctuations and labor costs. The Carpenters share mistakes, successes, and what they would do differently if they could. Trained on Melanie’s mother’s medicinal farm, they keep meticulous records, a habit which paid off ten-fold. They quickly learned which cover crops were most effective, how much weeding costs in terms of time and labor, and which plants thrived in a wild setting versus a shade house.
Like any good farmer, they are as thoughtful in the business office as they are in the field. Lists of questions every grower, whether established or beginning, should ask dot the pages as do tables illustrating examples of records or plants to pair. Stunning photographs of their farm, equipment, fields and staff at work further illustrate their points.
The list of 50 herbs at the end offers basic plant information including life cycles, planting considerations, growing conditions, propagation, medicinal uses, harvest specifications, pests and diseases, post harvest considerations, yields and pricing.
The plants listed here are those the authors find a steady demand for in the market. For growers looking to diversify their income stream, add perennial crops that would also attract beneficials, or create a local medicinal movement, The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer will surely prove an indispensable tool for years to come.
Joan Bailey writes about food, farming and farmers’ markets in Japan www.japanfarmersmarkets.com
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