Ethnic Is the New Organic

Farmers stand to gain from the growing demand for multi-culti veggies, the AP reports. According to the story,

The explosion of immigrant populations is fueling the growth of ethnic vegetables like cilantro and bok choy, giving farmers new, and potentially more profitable, revenue streams to add to their American staples of corn, sweet peppers and tomatoes. They’ll have less competition for this narrow niche, crops that an ethnic population would have consumed in their home country, now growing in small quantities in the U.S.

These crops, farmers and researchers say, bring premiums of 200 to 300 percent—as much as six times more than most organic products. Agricultural experts at Rutgers are launching a plan to link East Coast growers (in states like Connecticut, New Jersey, Florida, and Georgia) with local buyers for their ethnic eats.

Could this extra cash be the start of what Dan Barber recently called the “green” (as in greenback) revolution, wherein farmers profit from the diversity of their crops instead of being nudged by government farm subsidies into growing monocultures of corn, rice, soybeans, or wheat for processed food?

Perhaps; small producers who specialize in “exotic” veggies certainly would be able to hang on to a large chunk of those premium prices, unlike organic growers. If ethno-farmers don’t go the certified-organic route, they don’t have to pay the government-sanctioned 5 percent surcharge on crop insurance that organic growers do—nor do they need to fallow their land or pay costly certification fees. Nearby specialty-food retailers, farmer’s markets, and ethnic grocery stores alike might demand their fare year-round, which would mean that fewer natural resources would be devoted to shipping and importing the veggies from faraway places.

Of course, there are already plenty of small growers selling cilantro, bok choy, and unusual peppers at the nation’s farmer’s markets. What are some of your favorites?

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