Hosts Jerry Clark and Evan Henthorne interview Jon Pylypiv, a saffron grower at Bread Basket Farm in Hortonville, WI and Margaret Skinner and Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani, researchers at the University of Vermont North American Center for Saffron Research and Development.
Recorded January 22, 2021
Jerry Clark, Margaret Skinner, Jon Pylpiv, Evan Henthrone, JASON FISCHBACH, Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani
JASON FISCHBACH 00:00
This is a podcast about new crops. You’re gonna love it. Join us on the cutting edge, a podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin.
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 00:10
We check the data. All my saffron we actually import to the United States, we import it to United States. In 2019. we imported more than 70, 7-0 tonnes. That means 70 million grams of saffron to United States.
Jerry Clark 00:46
Welcome to the cutting edge, a podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin. I’m your co host Jerry Clark with the University of Wisconsin Madison division of extension, serving as an agricultural agent in Chippewa County. And joining me as my co host today is Evan Henthorne.
Evan Henthrone 01:04
Yeah, so thanks, Jerry, so much for the invitation to be a part of this. I know I am super excited to learn about our product today. Saffron, originally, when you sent me the invite, I had to do a little little bit of research. But I’m excited to connect today with our presenters, Margaret and Arash and Jonathan, and really dive into learning how we can make this a more common product here in the great state of Wisconsin.
Jerry Clark 01:31
So welcome Margaret, Arash, & John. I really appreciate you guys taking the time today to introduce us to this crop called saffron. And again, Margaret and Raj are researchers at the University of Vermont and in John is local right here in Wisconsin. And we’ll have them introduce themselves here in a minute. So yeah, finding out about saffron. And we’re just going to give this a high level view today as far as what it is and where it’s found and how it grows and those kinds of things. So I’ll just turn. Margaret, do you want to introduce yourself quickly?
Margaret Skinner 02:05
Yes, I’m a research entomologist at the University of Vermont. And you might ask, why would someone who works on entomology, be involved with saffron? And it all gets down to we’re there to address the questions and issues that face growers in Vermont and beyond and develop diversifying production is critical to the small farmers of Vermont. And so that’s why we got involved.
Jerry Clark 02:38
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 02:39
Yeah, sure. First of all, thank you for having us in your program. My name is Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahaniani, as I said, and I’m a research associate, especially work on the saffron research project at the University of Vermont. And yeah, in this program we are going to talk about I will go to talk about details of our project. And saffron developments are from Production Development in the United States.
Jerry Clark 03:10
Great. And john, you’re a farmer from Wisconsin that we’ve connected with over the last couple of weeks setting this program up. So welcome, John.
Jon Pylpiv 03:19
Thank you, I enjoy the opportunity to be here. I appreciate Margaret and the team and Arash in Vermont. It’s been great work. So thank you for inviting me to be part of this. I’ve enjoyed growing saffron started in 2017. And I live in the Fox Cities area, Kimberly. And our small produce farm is in Greenville, which is just outside of the fox, in the fox cities. So appreciate the opportunity. Thank you.
Jerry Clark 03:45
Great. And so um, yeah, just talking to Margaret quickly, what is this crop and you know, how does it grow between in Jonathan as well you can chime in but what what is it? I guess? Saffron, we see it in stores. But you know, what is it and how does it grow?
Margaret Skinner 04:06
Arash you want to start with that?
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 04:08
Sure. Oh, Saffron is well known as the most expensive spice in the world. But what is that technically or actually actually saffron is dehydrated or dry stigmas of flowers of Crocus sativas. Crocus sativas is a fall blooming crocus, that means it produces flowers in fall. So when you pick up the flowers, separate the stigmas and dry them in the oven or whatever that you have the product that you will have or you will get. We call it saffron.
Evan Henthrone 04:48
Perfect. Thank you rush so Arash of kind of moving along here. Margaret, or Arash do you want to like kind of give us a little bit of background of how did you get into this? How did you get into saffron? What what drove you there? Or, you know, was this a path that you knew? Or was it a, like a left field kind of project that you just stumbled upon?
Margaret Skinner 05:08
Well, Arash, Arash’s, his wife was a graduate student here at our laboratory working on insect killing fungi. And he came to finish up his PhD and be with his wife. And he mentioned one day, geez, why don’t you grow saffron here. And initially, I thought, I don’t think that would really work very well in Vermont, because it’s too darn cold. And, um, I had tried growing saffron many years ago, and I planted the corms in the fall, like they said, and then I waited for the spring for them to bloom, because I didn’t realize they were fall blooming. So if they bloomed, I never saw them. And so I assumed, based on my limited experience, that it would not grow well. But then when we started thinking about it more, we thought, well, everybody’s, well, lots of people now are putting up high tunnels in Vermont. And they often grow tomatoes in the summertime and make a lot of money that way, and then they grow winter greens in the fall and winter. And they don’t make very much money on those crops that shoulder crop. And so we started thinking about it. And at that time, we assumed that saffron would not survive outside in cold winter conditions. And so that’s why we started out with the idea of growing them in milk crates. And the theory was, you could pick the milk crates up, take them outside in the springtime, when you want to put the tomatoes in, that was our original premise. We’ve moved on from there. And we realize in fact, that saffron grows quite well outside. And so a lot of our work now is more focused on field production. Though there a lot of people are still growing it in high tunnels or in greenhouses. Home home gardeners seem to like using container grown options, but for the larger, professional commercial producers, I think they’re gonna want to do it in the field.
Evan Henthrone 07:25
Sure, sure. And maybe you mentioned this, when you were doing a little introduction, and I missed it. But can you just say again, how long have you been studying and working with saffron and handling it?
Margaret Skinner 07:37
Well, um, in terms of the research, we started it in 2015.
Evan Henthrone 07:43
Sure, so I mean, that’s, it seems like it’s not that long ago. So you know, pretty new to yourself. So you’re continuously learning and growing with it as well. So sure.
Margaret Skinner 07:54
In fact, the one thing that kind of amazed us in I think it was March 2017, we did a workshop. And we thought, oh, maybe we’ll get 30 or 40 people. And we had over 100 people come and that from all over the country, to little old Vermont. And that’s when we realized that this whole concept had great potential.
Jerry Clark 08:24
So Jonathan, as a producer, as a farmer, when did you did you connect with with the University of Vermont and Margaret and Arash? How did you get involved in Wisconsin after you’ve figured? I think i mean part of what I’ve realized is Vermont’s growing this Wisconsin should be able to grow it. We’re on the same latitude. So that’s where I was coming from. But how did you get involved?
Jon Pylpiv 08:44
Yeah, so I had, you know, my background I grew up til I was eight and in Ukraine, and everyone grew food there, at least in the rural areas. So I came to the US when I was eight. So foods always been, you know, agriculture’s been part of my life and my roots. And then I’m just doing some nonprofit work. And I learned about, you know, just we need more growers, people producing local food. So my wife and I had been looking for some small farm land to purchase. And we were looking at different products. We did some, you know, typical market farm veggies. And then I think it was in maybe 2017. I learned about saffron. And I think it was from Rumi. They’re the one of the largest local or Wisconsin, Wisconsin by national producers, they import product from Afghanistan. And it was started by military veterans. And I served in the military myself for over 12 years. And I thought, Well, hey, if they can grow it in Afghanistan, I want to try to figure out if I can grow it in Wisconsin. So I did and the biggest research that I was able to find was in Vermont, the saffron that Margaret mentioned, it’s just such a wealth of resources. So I thought, well, maybe I’ll try a little batch of you know, in 2017, so I did some of the milk crates. I had a little high tunnel and I purchased about 200 corms and then I planted those harvested them, and to kind of diversified how I grew them. And I had about just under point nine of a gram that I harvested of the stigmas that were dried. And then since then, in 2018, I went to the conference in Vermont, I learned a lot there from people. And then I purchased 2500 corms from Morocco, Saffron. And then, and then I harvested about let’s see here, just under eight grams. And then every year ever since then I’ve been kind of learning and adapting and seeing what works, what doesn’t work. And we’ve been field growing them in our farm, Breadbasket farm in Greenville, Wisconsin. So that’s kind of been my background in starting it. And I just wanted to add it as a value added item and something that’s grown locally. I believe it’s important that kind of food we’re eating. And I think it’d be nice to also know like, Hey, you can get this locally too. And as trying to do it in a way where it’s offers sustainable wage, but also a quality local product. And Wisconsin loves producing home homegrown things, too. So I just wanted to be a part of that as well and learn.
Evan Henthrone 11:06
Ah, awesome. So I think kind of with growing anything, or raising any sort of a product, right, there’s challenges or there’s struggles. So Jonathan, can you just keep that conversation going? Like, what was those? A struggle or a challenge that you kind of faced with growing the saffron crop? Because 2017 I mean, that was only three years ago, as we just started into 2021. So what kind of challenges did you encounter?
Jon Pylpiv 11:31
Oh, it’s, I think there was a, there’s a few different challenges. First is like, well, I asked some of my friends that were organic farmers, we did a nonprofit urban farm, we collaborated on projects together, and I asked them, and they’ve never grown it. They didn’t know anyone else locally that was growing it. So I thought, well, what am I doing? What am I thinking, but I like a challenge. And I also, I think, for me is like just the name like you’re pulling the stigma out of the flower. Like, I just love the symbolism within it and the beauty it offers and the pollinators with the bees. And so I thought, you know what I’m gonna work through this. And some of the original challenges was, we had a raised bed, and we had rabbits, they just came and devoured like had this nice foliage. This is after harvest of the flowers, and that pickle sticking this out, but they devoured the foliage, and it just pretty much put them off to it really set them back. And then I had some other ones that were in crates, and I had those in a high tunnel or a small one. And they end up freezing in the weather, I didn’t insulate them very well. And I had, they all essentially rotted the next year, they didn’t do well, they didn’t grow. So that was the first year. And then I went to this conference. And I kind of learned from other people in Vermont and from all over the country. And I thought you know what, I’m going to grow outdoors, just just like how other people are doing it in all over the Middle East in different, different climates. So then, at that point, we had bought our small produce farm just under four acres. So we field planted them, and we did decent, but weed control is an issue. And then also we had some deer damage initially a little bit, and then just some rodents and some wetness in the fields. But generally, it’s been a low maintenance crop other than the weeds and getting under, you know, ahead of them. So then the crop can grow and multiply and the corns can develop. And then, you know, next year after have a good harvest, ideally.
Margaret Skinner 13:31
You know, one thing when we after our first workshop, I think a lot of people were interested because we were talking about how you could make maybe, I don’t know $100,000 from an acre of saffron, which I think people saw dollar signs. And they thought okay, I’m gonna start a large operation of saffron and in from the very beginning and even now, we encourage growers who are saying I want to try growing saffron, like Jonathan, don’t start with 100,000 corms start small. See if this it’s not even though it’s a low maintenance crop. There’s a two, two or three week period when it is very labor intensive. And so you got to be ready for that you got to be ready to bend over a little bit. And so we have always encouraged any new emerging saffron grower to start small and one of I’m so happy that we did even though it’s not good for business, or it’s, you know, the funding agencies they like to see large acreages of everything, and um when we in Vermont there were big problems with hemp production. Everybody started growing hemp they stopped growing corn and started growing hemp, and they lost gobs of money. And I am so happy that we encouraged growers to be conservative with production initially. Because just like Jonathan said, there are little tweaks, there’s different things, you got to learn how to do to make it work. And if you do it on 100 on a full acre, you are going to lose money. And so you start small, you figure out what works for your situation, and then you move forward and scale up. Just like Jonathan’s doing it. You’re doing it just right, Jonathan.
Jerry Clark 15:36
He’s from Wisconsin, we always do things right.
Margaret Skinner 15:38
Oh, no, no, no. But you learn from Vermont.
Jerry Clark 15:44
So along those lines, then Margaret and a Arash, so you’ve got this crop that has market potential, I think we see that you gave a great example of how, you know, everybody dove in the market crashed those kind of things. But kind of along the lines of the production side of it, you know, where do you get carms? How much does that cost? Can you can you give us just a real high level cost of production or market synopsis of where this crop might go in the future? Or, you know, somewhere along those lines of the marketing and cost of production side?
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 16:20
Okay, let me answer this question is very good question. But before I answer this question, I want to mention one important thing. These projects is pretty much new. It started in 2015. Saffron production, research, but saffron has a deeper root in United States 300 years ago. Some people, Amish and Mennonite families, they brought saffron corms or saffron bulbs, their technically are corms, to some part of United States, especially Pennsylvania. And saffron, as I mentioned, has a deeper root, then these five these five years. So about the marketing, we actually get the saffron corms from at this moment, we get the saffron corms from Netherland for doing the research, and most of the growers that we already have here, they got their saffron corms from Broco saffron or other Dutch companies in Netherlands. So about the market. There is a potential for saffron market here in United States. One way that we started to answer this question were very consumed saffron was like we checked the data, how much saffron we actually import to United States are being imported to the United States. And the data, their most recent data from U.N. Trade Center showed in 2019, we imported more than 70- secen- zero tons. That means 70 million grams of saffron to United States. So there is a market here. There is potential here. And we hope that saffron growers, local growers will step up and find those market and start to work on it.
Margaret Skinner 18:15
Just to give you a sense of what the potential value is. If you go to a health food store, you might be able to buy it for $20 a gram maybe give or take no way of knowing where it came from. Who picked it. Anything you have. It might say it’s from Spain, but there’s really no way of knowing whether it came from Spain, or Afghanistan or anywhere else. There’s, it’s there’s it’s a very murky thing. Um in Vermont now. Um growers and we’re still talking about small areas of production. People are selling it for between 25 to $50 a gram. Now. So Arash how much is that a pound? If you’re talking about a pound.
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 19:15
is around $9,000 to 20 to $22,000.
Margaret Skinner 19:21
Yeah, Holy smokes. Um,
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 19:26
Margaret Skinner 19:27
Right? That’s for sure. That’s, that’s gross, not net. And admittedly, the time it takes right now to pick it and to separate it and dry it that all takes time for sure. But um, sometimes people say, oh, Saffron, it’s so labor intensive. Um, it’s not worth it. And I have contended for a long time that if you grow high tunnel tomatoes, you start growing those In April, or May you put them in the ground, then you need to prune them and do a lot of pest management, and then you finally get around to picking them. And you do it all summer long, a little bit all summer long. This crop is very similar to maple syrup, I’d have to say, it is very intensive, at a period of time, when a lot of growers are finished their field production. If If maple syrup had to be produced in June and July, it would never have taken off. The reason it works is because growers can’t get on the field in February and March and April. Same thing with production of saffron, it’s just in it’s a beautiful shoulder crop. And yes intensive at that one period of time, but then it’s over. Especially if you get the weed management under control, which we’re figuring out ways of dealing with that.
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 21:03
Don’t forget, we need workers for just two or three weeks in fall. So it’s labor intensive, but we are just talking about three weeks in fall. And saffron is a perennial crop. You can keep it for 2, 3, 4, 5 years in the ground. So you don’t need to replant the beds every year.
Jerry Clark 21:25
So yeah, we’re dealing with a perennial here, correct. I mean, it’s.
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 21:29
That’s right. Plant it once and, it’s gonna come back. So Jonathan, is that kind of how you’ve been from the labor? We’ve kind of talked about labor and that investment and that kind of thing? And you’ve got a couple 1000 corms, I think is what you said. So how, how does that straight from a farmer, you know, how’s the management of that come harvest time, and Margaret brought up weed, weed management, and all those kind of things.
Jon Pylpiv 21:53
Yeah, so I think for, you know, like, like arrastra, Margaret said, it’s very labor intensive during that period. And like, I’m going to use this year as a reference in 2012, this past year 2020, we had a lot of growth that kind of starts slower, and then it ramps up. And then and then it’s done. So basically, for us, it was about about the first week of October, and then by the first week of November, we were done, we might have a few stragglers that were growing afterwards or slightly before if you notice them in time. So pretty much every day or every other day, you’re harvesting and picking the purple flower as much intact as possible. And then you’re taking that with you. And then you’re separating the the purple flowers is damaged, that’s the yellow part. And then and then and then the actual the stigma, which is with the spices from and then you’re drying that so we use a dehydrator, small dehydrator, and it just it’s very tedious process, but really dialing in those processes and learning along the way, it’s been helpful for us to kind of minimize the deficiencies and learning just, you know, tricks, I guess, but also really just good practices. And for us, we we intend to be organic certified. So we’ve been following those practices for the last few years. So we don’t use any herbicide or pesticide. We’ve been just trying to do it naturally. And part of that is you start you know, with good soil with good management, we do like a 30 inch bed system. For small market gardeners. It’s a pretty standard size. And then we do five rows every six inches apart. So similar to garlic, as far as spacing, we actually mirrored how we planted the garlic because we also grow garlic in the former spot where garlic was. And we’ve been growing the same spot since. But But yeah, there’s a lot of challenges, especially when the weeds and grasses are growing. And ideally in the summer at spring. You want your foliage to keep growing, because that’s what’s going to allow that photosynthesize and let those corms was mother corner, the daughter corms from the mother corms expand. So if you’re not getting good foliar growth, you’re not going to have probably a good harvest, or even maybe any corns left in the next year, you have to also make sure that you’re not neglecting it through the season. Otherwise, your corms will be gone.
Evan Henthrone 24:16
Yeah. And Jonathan, I just want to follow up. So what kind of size of an operation in the in the terms of workforce you have, you know, is it just you and I think you mentioned your wife or do you hire a couple people for just that kind of fall time? Or you know, can you elaborate a little bit more on that
Jon Pylpiv 24:35
Yeah, so we’re a very small market farm and this isn’t I don’t do this at the farm yet as a full time operation. Because we you know, we’re we live in a different spot than our farmland is. So I do have some nonprofit work and then some technology work but ideally we want to be living on our farm land because we have chickens and ducks it’s a lot of work to go back and forth and things so but we wanted this is like a Margaret said a shoulder crop in this in the end of the year. So our land that we actually grow the saffron is it’s a very small spot, it’s a it’s a bed of about 25 by 50 feet, and then we don’t even have all that planted. And that’s where we have our beds, 30 inch beds and about 18 inches in between. So it is very small, we don’t hire anyone, my wife are in my you know, partner, Breadbasket farm and our six and a half year old son Micah, we harvest them together, it’s a fun thing to do at the end of the year, when everything else is kind of dying, and just like, look at old tomatoes, and it’s like, oh, man, let’s go clean those up. You know, it’s a beautiful addition to have because you have some pretty flowers, and then the bees, they they love them, too. They go and pollinate to get the, you know, get ready for winter themselves. So. So yeah, at this point, we want to start small, and as a complimentary crop. And we’ve really just been researching at this point researching and process improvement until we learn
Jerry Clark 26:00
Picking flowers with your family. Now that that doesn’t sound too, too darn bad. So it sounds like a great option.
Margaret Skinner 26:10
You might ask who who’s growing saffron anyway, in the United States, and I would, we don’t have a total handle on the situation. One reason is, it’s still such an emerging crop that the USDA doesn’t collect data on that kind of thing. But, um, probably there are a lot of home gardeners that are growing relatively small amounts, kind of like what I wanted to do back before I knew what it was. And then there are a lot of part time farmers like Jonathan, and maybe 15% of the people that we are interacting with are actually commercial saffron growers that have fairly large acreages or not probably, maybe an acre of probably generally less than an acre. But the amazing thing is all the different kinds of people that have contacted us that are interested in growing it, and one of the common things is people who maybe are not living in Vermont, so a lot of people maybe have land here. And that has been out of production, and they want to come back when they retire and have something to do. And geez Vermont is the most beautiful place in the world in October, November, who wants to be anywhere else. So you just stay home and you harvest the saffron and make a lot of money that way. So there’s lots of different kinds of people. We also get calls from people from the Midwest who are not making a go of it with their field crops, and they’re looking for a different kind of crop to, to take over from corn or soybeans, etc, etc. Again, it’s all about diversification.
Jerry Clark 28:01
Yeah, and that’s part of why we started this alternative podcast series was to introduce to Wisconsin growers and landowners, and that there’s some alternatives out there. And I think was Arash was with saffron, then is that what kind of yields do I mean, we always talk in yields, and we’re talking grams here. I mean, this is is it so many grams per flower? And maybe Jonathan can pipe into but how does the actual you know, we get the production we planted in the spring, get some product is are we going to get a flower that that first fall, are, you know, kind of explain that process along with you know, how do we, we know we got to pick the flower, but then, you know, what’s our yield? What do we expect? You know, that kind of thing? Sure.
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 28:48
saffron, as other people mentioned, has a special life cycle is a fall blooming crocus actually to produce saffron you have to plant saffron corms in September, August and September, and then in 40-50 days you will see the flowers so very soon. In mid October to mid November is the blooming season is the blooming time is the time that you should harvest the flowers. Usually some somewhere between 250 to 200 Flowers produce a gram saffron for us. So we harvest the saffron flowers then the green leaves will come up all over the winter, we will have the green leaves and in the summer when the weather gets warmer, the plants go to the sleep that we call it dormancy. That means we don’t have any green leaves over the summer underground but we have dormant corns under the ground and they are responsible to or they will be responsible to produce saffron flowers for them in the next fall for us It is a lifecycle of saffron. So about the yield. Initially, we were talking about, can we just produce saffron? Can saffron corm survive in these climate cold climate? After five years trial, I should say the answer of that question is absolutely yes. And the yield was really promising. That was amazing. In one of those research plots that I planted this year, I harvest that equal to 17. One seven pounds per acre. It’s like 345 times more than average of the the yield average, in other saffron producing regions. So that means the yield here is awesome. Why because of the soil is because of the climate. And don’t forget, we are rely on rain fed system, we don’t even put water on the plants here in this climate. So yeah, it is the story about the yield here,
Jon Pylpiv 31:09
and your Oh, my head, this year, we we counted, because trying to get the data is really important to see how we can improve. And we harvested just under 1500 Flowers. So that that’s a lot of counting, you know, so we always every day when we harvested, you pick them, you know, count them as we go and just make sure we don’t mess up our counts. Otherwise, we recount it. But we ended up having about nine grams of dried saffron thread. But there’s people, how do you get those nine grams? So there’s different schools of thought of, you know, What part do you include? We’ve just been doing the entire stigma so that they don’t separate as much. But maybe the purists will say you got to clip any part that’s slightly yellow. So it’s only the dark portion you keep on at this point, we’re just trying to keep the whole thing intact, I think it adds a little bit of weight, not significant but. And then that’s from after having been growing in the soil since 2018, we did end up losing some corms in 2019, we had some weather, snow, and then also some health issues in our family that we just weren’t able to harvest or maintain. So our production, we harvested just under four grams in 2019. So it’s not just like you just said and totally forget it, you have to maintain really intensive. And but we yeah averaged about maybe just under 170 flowers for one gram this year. And I think in 2018, it was very similar, as well.
Evan Henthrone 32:39
So Jonathan, can you just talk about where you sell your saffron product locally? Or here in Wisconsin?
Jon Pylpiv 32:48
Yeah, so Evan, that’s a great question. Because growing this, ideally, I don’t want to just do it as a hobby, or as fun, it is fun. And I do enjoy that benefit of it. We haven’t, we haven’t sold initially, because we didn’t know if we were going to sustain this. Plus, it’s really difficult to try to keep up with those prices if you’re trying to compete on a local scale. And trying to find that price point has been challenging. So we want to research. So at this point, we are selling through camel cooperative, which is a military veteran family cooperative, that we started in the Fox Valley. And then we’re doing direct consumer. And this is meant to be very small income stream for us as a complementary source. And then as we get the process of more refined, we want to be able to have other growers that we collaborate with, ideally, other veteran or producers that are close to us. So we can kind of collaborate that way. We’re not in the point where we want to sell to any wholesale accounts or anything like that, because it is very labor intensive. And we’re trying to command a more premium price because of knowing where it’s from. We grew it following organic practices. But part of it is education, helping people learn about local saffron. And really in Wisconsin with your program, what you’re doing today is super helpful. Because I when I look at anything else for Wisconsin, Saffron, I don’t find anything. So it’s really important the work that Margaret and the team is doing there, but also your podcast bring awareness so people do know that there’s more choices.
Margaret Skinner 34:20
Just to give you an idea. We did a survey last year on saffron, and we got about 24% of the people that answered we’re making between $1,000 & $5000 from their saffron per year. Um 12% made over $10,000 and admittedly that’s gross, that’s not net. And so obviously it comes down quite a bit. There was at least one grower that was making over $50,000. So So there are some large growers now. And so it just shows the potential that’s out there. For, for saffron for the saffron market for the local saffron market to expand, there needs to be, you know, marketing. And some of that is teaching people how to use it. There. I’ve been amazed at how many people know what saffron is, but not a lot of people know what to do with it. And so part of a whole marketing program would it would be to, to get people educated. And to find to let them know why growing was buying local saffron is important. saffron is the most adulterated spice in the world. So when you’re getting what is labeled as saffron, how much of it is really saffron, and how much of it is something else entirely, at least ideally, if you know your producer, because they’re your neighbor, you’re more guaranteed that you’re going to get a good quality product.
Evan Henthrone 36:06
Sure, sure. So my next question, and I think it’s going to be for any one of you three to answer. It’s kind of a two part question. So one, if I understand correctly, is there any regulations or protocols that go into growing saffron? Just because it is going for it can go for human consumption? And then kind of like the second part of that question is, are there any standards to growing it? Right? Like if we think about growing potatoes, sometimes producers want a specific size or a specific color. So is there anything along those lines that that are a standard in the growing of saffron?
Margaret Skinner 36:45
So I can speak to the matter of sort of state regulations. And Arash can talk about some of the quality standards. In Vermont, there are no limitations in terms of people selling saffron, they can sell it in the farmer’s market, they can sell it from their home, they can sell it to the restaurant tours directly or to wholesalers. What we’ve learned, however, is that some states because of the food safety regulations, they’re not allowed to dry saffron in an un-inspected food processing area, they have to they have to go to a food processing, a registered food processing site, and which is quite limiting. I’d have to admit. So the states where that is an issue. It’s it’s a hindrance for sure. And so growers, it would be wise for growers to check with their state ag departments to find out what the regulations are, because it’s so it’s it really depends on the state and we haven’t had the funding that we would need to be able to really investigate that further.
Evan Henthrone 38:08
Margaret Skinner 38:09
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 38:10
About the quality. You know, when you’re talking about the color of saffron or having a standard we technically are talking about chemical components in the saffron, we have three main chemical components in the saffron they are responsible for the taste, smell and color of saffron crosin, Picocrosin, and safronal. So international organization have a standard ISO has a special standard for concentration of those three chemical components and they categorize different class of saffron classes of saffron. So then we have higher concentration of those chemical components that I mentioned. That means we actually have a better stuff, but it’s a difficult and complicated procedure for growers to assess the quality of their products. So is the reason we at the University of Vermont, we are cooperating with the chemistry department to find a better an easy way to assess the quality and categorize our saffron quality and maybe in the future we may we will make a protocol for that issue.
Margaret Skinner 39:22
Or the thing that has been particularly gratifying for me is from the very beginning when we started and we got a lot of interest among growers. Um, you know, some growers or some segments of the agricultural industry tend to be Oh, quite competitive. And sometimes growers don’t want to share their ideas or their information with other growers. And it’s never been like that in the maple syrup industry. I’d have to say I’ve always been amazed at how collaborative that industry has been. And I’m happy to say that the same has been true with saffron, so far. And so when you hear Jonathan talk about how he’s keeping data on how many flowers he picks, and what kind of weight he gets, etc, etc, um, or how he’s dealing with weeds, or rabbits or whatever, that kind of information is being shared broadly, among all the growers on saffron. And it’s just, it’s really lovely to see that people aren’t being competitive, they’re being collaborative. And to me, the success in the long run of the North American saffron industry is going to depend on everyone working together, even though I realized, you know, just like, Vermont produces the best maple syrup in the world. Probably it also produces the best saffron. But despite that, I bet the saffron in Wisconsin could be a close runner up.
Jon Pylpiv 41:16
I would venture to say, I think that Wisconsin saffron may very well be better than Vermont.
Jerry Clark 41:24
That’s our goal.
Jon Pylpiv 41:26
But you have you had a great headstart, or you have a great team, I think that’s part of the research part of this, that surveys, you know, when people on the saffron, I get this, it’s important that we fill those out, and that anyone else has participating, share that information, because others will use it, they might learn that maybe this isn’t something they want to participate in, or you know what, maybe they’ll try it. But that also helps for funding and understanding how we can learn. There’s a lot of, you know, resources available through federal funding and things, but making sure that that those resources are used to help, especially I think, small producers, because, you know, you’re talking about the different regulations and things. Thankfully, there’s a lot of opportunities for direct consumer options, or cottage food laws in different states. And those laws all vary. But I think, you know, all states really need to look at how can they support small growers or small scale farms, because we lacked some of those other resources available to maybe large conglomerate, food producers or companies, which they do get a lot of resources in different ways. So if there’s creative ways to find and support small growers, and this could be a great complementary crop, you know, because you can’t just like the, all your eggs in one basket, if you’re trying to just grow one thing you’re expecting, you’re gonna do really well at it. Well, if you diversify with small crops, or diversity of different crops and be good at it, and you can produce a crop for your community, that’s something to celebrate, and you know, quality food, it’s brings people together in the just the connectivity of it, food is great, and I’m just thankful for to be a part of that. So I hope in the research everyone else is doing, if we can help encourage some of that research and collaboration. That’s, that’s awesome. So thank you.
Margaret Skinner 43:07
Um, I think it’s worth also saying thank you to Arash you know, he’s originally from Iran. And, um, I think we, as North Americans need not, as residents of North America, we’re lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from the part of the world where more saffron is grown than anywhere else, and we can, we can do a good job of it, we will never be Iran. Um, and but it’s lovely to be able to learn from him.
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 43:45
Thank you so much, Margaret, thank you so much. I’m almost crying
Jon Pylpiv 43:48
And you share some of your own recipes. So from your own family, and you know, they you use in the workshops, that’s incredible to have that, like that’s just sharing part of your culture. And that’s a wonderful thing.
Jerry Clark 44:04
Well, as an extension program, I think that that this can just build on itself. I think that’s how these partnerships happen if Vermont and Wisconsin can connect and expand this, and then we can work on how to use it and start with recipes and being able to use it correctly and really expand that demand. I think we’re, this this sounds like a crop that could could definitely fit us. And like Jonathan said, a small, a small acreage, sustainable, environmentally friendly, you know, all of those things that we’re looking to check, check the boxes on in agriculture. Seems like saffron is one of those things to to look into. Anything I just, I’ll just go around the horn or Evan, anything you want. Otherwise, we’ll let our guests kind of give a final final comment or two and then we’ll wrap it up.
Evan Henthrone 44:56
Yeah, I have learned a lot in this 45 minutes that we’ve been chatting and I, I like Jerry, I’ll retweet what he said, I am thankful that you guys were able to join us. And I hope we can keep the conversation going and continue learning. So, Margaret, any final thoughts on where we’re headed?
Margaret Skinner 45:12
Well, we look forward to having future podcasts like this. And we love the fact that people outside of Vermont are interested in what we’re doing and can benefit from what we’re studying.
Jerry Clark 45:29
Arash any final comments?
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 45:32
Oh, yeah. Actually, the thing that we forgot to say saffron is a medicinal plant as well. It has anti depression, anti carcinogenic effects. So when we are thinking about that, we see that pharmaceutical companies and market maybe is has potential in this market technically, for saffron us grown saffron so that was just for growers to be motivated to plant saffron this year.
Jerry Clark 46:00
Yeah, great. And that’s a great, I don’t want to say a teaser for maybe our one of our next segments. But I think the marketing piece of this is great. We could spend an hour on doing that really piqued her interest today. So Jonathan, as our resident Wisconsin farmer, where do you see the potential going with this crop? And you know, how can how can we support one another to maybe make this take off a little bit? Yeah,
Jon Pylpiv 46:25
I think, you know, what Arash had said. That is the medicinal potential aspects and the research of it. And I forgot to mention this earlier, one of the reasons why we didn’t start growing it, my wife has she suffers from endometriosis for many years, and a adenomeiosis. And that was one of the things that kind of drew us to it, knowing that it can help alleviate some of that, some of the pain for endometriosis sufferers, and some of the health benefits potentially, for depression and other things. And I just think it’s not only for medicinall for growing for farmers, but I think there’s a lot more research opportunities here too for what those values can be and you know, UW Wisconsin, huge research school, so maybe they could do more research on it. But for me, we want to just keep this as a small, diversified crop. There are there are some challenges and opportunities with it too. But boy, that research from the University of Vermont, it’s incredible, great people, and I’m just thankful that I’ve learned so much from them. I’m looking forward to helping any way I can. Thank you.
Jerry Clark 47:30
Yeah. And there was a couple of resources. I think that were mentioned, Margaret, and we’ll we’ll put more of these on our podcast website. But those resources again, you said there’s a website or some things that people can go to to learn more.
Margaret Skinner 47:43
Yep. There’s our website. And you’ll, I guess, put that on your, on your website. And saffron net, which is a free email listserv with over 750 people from all over the US, Europe and Iran and Afghanistan. So it shows a broad spectrum of individuals, growers, researchers, marketers, everything.
Jerry Clark 48:13
Great. Well, I appreciate it. Evan, any final comments?
Evan Henthrone 48:17
I think we’re good, Jerry.
Jerry Clark 48:19
Appreciate that. Well, again, thank you, Margaret, Arash, and John, for taking your time today on the cutting edge podcast. Once again, we will probably be discussing this crop in the future, as as our guests return if they’re open to that and this hasn’t been too painful for them. So we appreciate your time and we will talk to you down the road.
JASON FISCHBACH 48:51
Brought to you by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension.