Rhode Island Farmers Finding Success with Saffron

By: Tim Studebaker

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LITTLE COMPTON, R.I. (WLNE) – Researchers at URI have found that the flower that produces the world’s most expensive spice, saffron, grows well here in Rhode Island.  On top of that, they say it could supplement farmers’ income.

After we heard that, we wanted to know if any Rhode Island farmers are trying it out.  That brought us to Palmer Farm in Little Compton.

Paul Golembeske, Owner of Palmer Farm, says, “We’re a small farm.  We’re trying to stay organic.  We were looking for something to grow, something to do with the greenhouse.”

They’re experimenting with different growing methods.

Tricia Fontaine, Vice President of Palmer Farm, says, “We did them inside the high tunnel.  We did them in raised beds, outside, and we also did them just in the ground outside.  So far, what we found is that just outside naturally has been doing the best.”

While the flower itself is relatively easy to grow, the harvesting process is pretty labor intensive.  It took three people, three hours a day, for 15 days to harvest a total for the season of just 50 grams.

Just keep in mind, saffron retails for thousands of dollars a pound.  For now, they’ve been distributing to restaurants, where demand is high.  They hope to ramp up production soon.

Golembeske says, “One of our goals is to get it into the solar field.  There’s two acres of solar fields fenced in back there, so that keeps the predators away.”

As the seasons go on, they’ll be able to get a better gauge on how much money it might bring in.

Golembeske says, “We’re not going to be a corporate America and grow hundreds of acres of this all across the state of Rhode Island, but we’re going to try to grow enough to make a living off of.”

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