The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer: The Ultimate Guide to Producing High-Quality Herbs on a Market Scale by Jeff Carpenter and Melanie Carpenter. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing; 2015. Softcover, 416 pages. ISBN: 978-1603585736. $39.95.
The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer by Melanie and Jeff Carpenter is one of the most complete step-by-step guides that I have read on what it takes to operate a functioning farm that grows and sells medicinal herbs. From the very beginning, I could almost see the dirt between the lines on the pages, which proved to me it was written by authors and other contributors with firsthand experience.
Each chapter in Part One of this book takes on topics that anyone who wants to start a farm growing medicinal botanicals needs to read and consider. Most people have a general idea of what farming is, but even farmers with experience in other crops will glean new and vital information about medicinal herb farming after reading this book. The authors guide readers through the entire process of medicinal herb farming from the decision to start growing botanicals to the sale of the final product. They discuss the proper scale to lay out a farm, which crops to grow, and all the ins and outs of postharvest handling, processing, and marketing. Each topic is well-covered and explored in enough depth for the reader to understand the choices and steps required to make their farming efforts fruitful.
From calculating the size of a manageable operation to recommending the proper plant propagation techniques, the authors throroughly answer the question posed in Chapter 1 (“Why Grow Medicinal Herbs?”) and provide readers with information to make the best choices when getting started. It will help readers to better understand the parameters for making choices and how each decision will affect them later. Some of the topics covered are not glamorous, but they are essential. For example, weed control is the number-one topic and a universal problem that farmers and growers around the world face on a daily basis during growing seasons. More often than not, weed control is also one of the larger expenses that farms have, yet is too often overlooked. Whether hiring family members, day laborers, or piecemeal or contract workers, labor expenses can also become a significant part of a farm’s budget.
The chapter on postharvest processing is filled with helpful information that is crucial to the success of producing and selling a medicinal herb crop, whether fresh or dried. I often see farmers grow a beautiful crop but then reduce the dollar value because of poor postharvest handling and processing techniques. The section of this chapter that was contributed by Alexander Otto is in-depth, and includes charts and graphs filled with information about the technical aspects of drying a botanical correctly to produce a high-value crop for customers.
Throughout the book, there are relevant pictures taken from the beginning of the farm to the building of the drying shed. Each picture is captioned with the details of its subject matter, which is very helpful.
Another great section of this book is Part Two, titled “Herbs to Consider Growing for Market,” which contains 50 individual plant profiles. Each profile lists information about the plant species, including the life cycle, growing conditions, propagation techniques, harvest timing and other specifications, postharvest and drying, pests and diseases, anticipated yields, and pricing. To me, this detailed information is essential to getting a good start and having success with the chosen species.
I commend the Carpenters for both the creation of Zack Woods Herb Farm and the time and effort they have put into this book to help others who want to start or improve their medicinal farming operations. This will be one of the books I keep within reach on my top shelf from now on. It is a resource to which I will refer every person who calls me wanting to start a medicinal herb farm.
—Edward J. Fletcher
Quality and Sustainability Herbal Ingenuity
Wilkesboro, North Carolina