By Nissa Pierson
In the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving, organic herb distributors see an average increase of 65-85 percent on most organic herbs sales, with spikes reaching 200 percent above normal on traditional herbs: rosemary, thyme, parsley and marjoram. Culinary herb favorite organic sage tops the charts, with an average increase of between 300-500 percent in supplies during the holiday period.
Due to the perishable nature of organic fresh herbs, they can only be packed into retail packages a few days before shipping. Combined with extraordinary labor needed to address heavy demand in a short time period, satisfying America’s appetite for organic fresh herbs for Thanksgiving poses numerous challenges for the industry.
“This time of year, every square inch of the warehouse is utilized. Temporary labor is brought in, and getting new staff up to speed is always a priority. It’s an enormous and pressure-filled undertaking. But we’ve been an herb grower/packer/shipper for over 20 years, so we know how to deal with Thanksgiving,” said Sarah Barber, Director of Demand Planning of Jacobs Farm, growing organic herbs in both Mexico and California.
A large portion of organic herbs are imported from outside the USA, including the Caribbean, Mexico, South America, Israel and Palestine. The number of USA-bound organic herb growers has been declining and depressing supplies, in part from the tightening of USDA and APHIS restrictions, as well as a stricter organic industry compliance.
According to Charlie Coiner, founder of Rock Garden Herbs and vice president of Coosemans DC, the downy mildew epidemic is one of the greatest threats to global and domestic organic basil production and impacts the production of other herbs. Organic basil, has seen significant production decrease as the crop is more expensive to produce with lower yields to match.
Earlier this year, Hurricane Irma added increased pressure on overall supply as it pummeled farming communities. Many organic herb farmers in Miami-Dade County suffered devastation of Thanksgiving and holiday perennial crops in greenhouses and shade structures.
Organic herb supply production from Mexico vary by producer. Vida Fresh, growing fresh herbs for near 30 years in Baja California, expects organic supplies to be steady, with potential for increased organic basil supplies. According to Vida Fresh CEO Andrew Walsh increased diligence and discipline in coping with downy mildew has helped to improve supplies.
Organic sage, which is prohibited from entry into the USA from South America and the Caribbean, is primarily supplied by domestic and Mexican sources. Despite sufficient ground supplies in Baja from growers like Vida Fresh and Jacobs Farm, availability will be challenging from Mexico this season. Additionally, a recent surge in USDA/APHIS border holds and rejections on organic sage, will provide additional challenges for Thanksgiving availability.
In the USA, favorable fall weather has given California organic herb growers a leg up on market conditions. An October heat wave throughout much of the state gave sage, rosemary, and thyme a last-minute growth spurt that should last through the December holidays.