What can my friend grow instead of marijuana for profit?
March 24, 2014 7:39 AM   Subscribe

The legal situation surrounding my friends growing operation changed so it is looking like he can't grow marijuana this year. What (legal) alternate crop can he grow and sell that might be synergistic or an easy transition? Crops that might need a lot of care but have a high sale value. Thoughts have included specialty vegetables for Bay Area restaurants, or wormwood for absinthe makers, although we have no idea if those are viable ideas. He is based in Chico, CA.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe Wasabi? Real Wasabi is still pretty rare and expensive in North America vs. the dyed green paste stuff.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:43 AM on March 24, 2014

May not be right for your friend, but I knew a guy who started growing special "gourmet" mushrooms (I can't recall the varieties or I would tell you) and selling them to local restaurants.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:47 AM on March 24, 2014

Ginger? It was starting to get buzz by high tunnel market growers, but there were only two suppliers of rhizomes in the (mainland) US and that turned out to be only one actual supplier, so folks haven't had a chance to grow as much of it as they want, and it fetches a good price at market. If your friend can source some rhizomes from Hawaii or elsewhere and sell to other growers he could fill a gap in the market.
posted by annathea at 7:47 AM on March 24, 2014

Other medicinal plants? I've read that ginseng is profitable if you have the land and time.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:54 AM on March 24, 2014

Ginseng? Someone on ask-me-fi a few months ago mentioned how much money you can make off it... provided people don't steal your stash dude.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:58 AM on March 24, 2014

Does he grow under lights? If so maybe specie orchids.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 7:58 AM on March 24, 2014

One crop that is pretty easy to grow, and also has a quick turnover is 'microgreens' - you know, those little salad varieties that restaurants use.

Wasabi is very labor intensive (ask me how I know;), and ginger takes about a year before you can begin to reliably harvest without 'harm' to the mother plant. Ginseng, AFAIK, does not do all that well in a greenhouse situation, and in the wild require pretty damn specific conditions.
posted by PlantGoddess at 8:06 AM on March 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Heirloom varieties of hops might be interesting...and attractive to microbrewers who want to source local ingredients.
posted by neroli at 8:17 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

...wormwood for absinthe makers...

This is what I would track with, but I'd expand the search towards herbs, roots and other botanicals that would work well in the production of bitters and other cocktail mixins. I would contact some of the folks at some of the specialty cocktail mixer joints, or even distilleries. Alton brown just did a really interesting interview with the owner of Jack Rudy that might give you some ideas, or even a couple people to contact.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:21 AM on March 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

He should check with the local extension office. The ones in CA are run by the University of California. The website for his local county office is here.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:34 AM on March 24, 2014

Information about trending botanicals ? American Botanical Council.
posted by hortense at 8:50 AM on March 24, 2014

Just a note of caution, but it is extremely important that your friend determines a specific market for his "exotic" produce before he jumps in. Wormwood may be a highly profitable (or not) product, but only if you can sell it. People who already are using it, or other niche products, are already obtaining it. Will he offer a "local" or price or quality benefit that lets him replace those sources or does he need to develop other outlets.

Perishable products, especially those that require significant up-front investment of time and effort, are truly challenging. Farmed products are even more daunting because you want to try to secure your markets but you are subject to many variables in terms of crop output, so you need to be very careful in contracting for sales.

Your friend may want to look at doing value-added products, e.g. berries to jams, and/or direct to consumer sales, e.g. farmers markets. This takes more and different work but can help a relatively small grower be economically successful.
posted by uncaken at 8:55 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hops would be cool, but you'd have to grow alot of them to make much $/meet a demand of any sizable amount.
posted by edgeways at 9:59 AM on March 24, 2014

How much 'processing' is he willing to do? Basil + pine nuts + garlic + parmesan + olive oil = pesto, which sells for pretty good money per weight. Could he make specialty pesto by combining other herbs?
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 10:11 AM on March 24, 2014

Also Hops and wormwood would take a year to get established before you would get much of a harvest. I suspect that you would need quite a large plot of land as well. If they're expecting to be able to grow weed in a year it wouldn't be worthwhile to even bother with planting a perennial crop. Berries and other fruits would be even worse as from sapling to fruiting tree is going to be like 3-4 years. You want high value annuals so the exotic salads and microgreens will be your best bet. Fresh herbs from seed could also be a possibility, especially if they are willing to put in some time to dry some to sell at a farmers market at $1 a bag. Still not going to be anything like weed profitability but maybe better than nothing.
posted by koolkat at 10:13 AM on March 24, 2014

The last time I ran the numbers on this question, microgreens were the only answer. I'm assuming an indoor grow op, of course - sunk costs in lights and et cetera. The returns on microgreens were between a half and a third of what you'd get for weed, per square foot. Nothing else came even close.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 12:54 PM on March 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well, the first thing to do is to go to local farmer's markets and ask around about cash crops. Then a fair amount depends on his set-up — an indoor grow op is often repurposed tomato hydroponics, for example. But an outdoor setup would mean looking at other plants that aren't as finicky. He probably won't be able to get organic certified, but he might think about going as organic as possible to up the price. (Honestly, if he's outdoors, he might think about laying chickens instead — there's an egg shortage at the moment.)

Talking to other farms in the area will give a lot better info than just asking us civilians — I've known people to make decent money with herbs for essential oils, tobacco, microgreens and flowers.
posted by klangklangston at 1:14 PM on March 24, 2014

Ask a farm-to-table restauranteur what ingredients they wish they could get.
posted by grateful at 3:18 PM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

How about wasabi rhizomes? Fresh wasabi root can fetch up to about $150 per pound. The reason it is so expensive is because it needs to be consumed quickly for optimum flavor and freshness, and also because it requires very specific growing conditions (mild climate, fresh flowing water, etc.) and can be hard to grow. Plus it's freakin' delicious! But if your friend had the financial wherewithal to start up a marijuana operation, it might not be too difficult to fund a wasabi operation instead. Some specialty hydroponic lettuces and mushrooms would fit in with the operation pretty well too. (Both of those like shade and mist).
posted by lettuce dance at 5:56 PM on March 24, 2014

The most expensive spices I buy are cardamom seeds and saffron.
posted by waving at 6:46 PM on March 24, 2014

Mushrooms require a great deal of specialized infrastructure that's very different from field or greenhouse crops.
posted by jocelmeow at 8:24 AM on March 25, 2014

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