Chinese Medicinal Herbs: Enormous Potential, Patience Required.

Building any new agricultural industry has its challenges. Chinese medicinal herbs, which are a $30 million import market in New York State alone, is no exception. Jean Giblette of the High Falls Foundation and a newly established network of 32 growers across the State are determined to provide a locally grown option to the market.

This article was developed for the 2016 NYFVI annual report. More information can be found at High Falls Garden.

One of the challenges? Many of these herbs are perennial plants and production quantities of seeds and starts are in limited supply. With prior NYFVI funding, Giblette established a network of 32 growers across the state.

Her current project is educating the grower network helping them to scale up their propagation materials. The long-term goal of the work is to have 50 different species of medicinal herbs available for sale to the more than 3,000 licensed practitioners of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in New York.

Giblette has a three pronged approach to develop the capacity of the industry. First, she is working with individual growers to implement farm plans, including propagation and planting of most of the perennial species. The wide array is required to attract customers who compound 8-15 herbs in traditional, individualized formulas. Commercial quantities of seed and starts are required to expand the network in future years and the hope is this first group will be able to supply others with propagation materials to build state-wide capacity.

The second prong is to integrate production knowledge into NY’s ag service community to help build the growers network. The first step is an online horticultural training program for CCE personnel, assembling study materials based on more than two decades of experience including species descriptions and observations of adaptability to NY climate zones, photos and reference materials. Cornell horticulturalist Marvin Pritts advised on the curriculum and CCE vegetable and fruit specialist Laura McDermott supported the webinar development. Three webinars have already been conducted and an additional one is scheduled for winter 2017, ensuring that CCE’s base of horticultural knowledge in these plants will grow.

2016 Grower Network for Chinese Medicinal Herbs

The third component of the plan is continued development of demonstration sites including Quail Hill farm in Amagansett, the Finger Lakes School of A&OM and the Cornell Agroforestry Resource Center at Acra. These sites are supported by interns overseen by Giblette.

In the next stage of her work, Giblette hopes to help the growers identify and develop a collective business model to begin moving product to market.  She has been collaborating with a similar organization in Virginia and is exploring opportunities to approach the market together.

At Farm Viability, we’re hoping that this patience will pay off, and that this market will be purchasing Chinese Medicinal herbs, grown by New York farmers!