US: More and more small organic farms starting to grow young ginger

Asian countries, such as India, China and Nepal, produce much of the world's ginger. Steamy Hawaii is the only American state with real commercial cultivation of this coveted culinary and medicinal crop, though a bacterial soil disease and extreme wet weather has caused a significant decline in the harvest there.

So small, mostly organic, farms around the country are stepping up to fill the void by offering this delicacy — the juicy, mild, swollen ginger instead of those old fibrous roots — that's early-harvested come fall, in temperate states, just before the real chill sets in. Several intrepid farmers in Maine are tending this young ginger in heated greenhouses and plastic high tunnels, with pretty decent results.

Continental U.S. farmers harvest young ginger from mid-September into early November, just as those cranberries come on. North Carolina-based East Branch Ginger distributes its organic ginger seed (pieces of the rhizome wintered over in a heated greenhouse until mature) to about 40 states and into Canada, scrambling to keep up with the demand.

"Baby ginger can't be grown that far afield and shipped many miles without it damaging or growing mold," says East Branch's Susan Anderson, who first tested ginger for Johnny's Selected Seeds in Maine. "That's why you don't see baby ginger in the supermarket. It really has to be grown in a local radius to be marketed very soon after harvest."

This perishable ginger emerges about 6 months after planting, while grocery store ginger hardens in the ground for almost a year. Digging up a shock of rhizome growth branching off of an old "mother" root, Sparrow says growing ginger is similar to growing potatoes. They both grow from seed pieces of the mature crop, which farmers pre-sprout before planting, then hill up with soil whenever fresh growth appears. Like new potatoes, young ginger has that almost translucent skin that rubs right off. It's less fiery and fibrous than gnarled roots—and easier to cook with—since no peeling is required. It's mild enough to even eat raw. The whole root freezes well, for grating into soups and stews throughout the winter.


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