It could be one of the finest sensory experiences in the world; pungent, sharp, sweet and intoxicating.
Ginger. Sure you cook with it, and just the experience of chopping it is an exotic experience. Reza Rafie, PhD, EdD, a Horticulture Extension Specialist and researcher at Virginia State University at Randolph Farm, is experimenting with growing ginger in Virginia.
“VSU grew the ginger for us the first year,” said Charlie Maloney, owner of Day Springs Farm, “We had a good crop and it was profitable for us.”
Just as the chickpea, which the local dip manufacturer Sabra uses in humus, white ginger doesn’t grow naturally in the U.S. It most assuredly is not a natural growing crop in Virginia.
After tobacco waned and much of the market went overseas, local farmer had to find another crop to take its place. That’s when the VSU horticulturists took on the job of creating green thumbs for farmers who depended on tobacco as a cash crop.
Mr. Maloney fertilizes with hog manure in the off season, which is pretty short. It takes seven months for a ginger plant to go from rhizome (cut up pieces of ginger from the former year) to a full, ready to harvest plant.
“The first year I grew 140 plants and lost only 15,” Maloney said. “I will say it is a very pleasant activity. It smells very great.”
White ginger is grown, due to Virginia weather, in a high-tunnel greenhouse, which looks like a clear-plastic Quonset hut.
Maloney grows white ginger, with no brown skin. There is no peeling or preparing before chopping or juicing and it has a sweeter flavor than the mature ginger. Ginger grows underground, much like a potato and the mature root is cut up for next year’s crop.
“You can also charge more for baby [or white] ginger,” Maloney said.
He grew 1,500 pounds last season, but marketing has been a problem because it is harvested so late in the year. Farmer’s markets or most are closed, which limits sales to restaurants, produce stores and some distributors.
Bill and India Cox, who own Castlemonte Farm, are all-organic growers. Bill said he moves from one organic crop ready to harvest to the next, keeping him busy all year round. Chester’s Richard Nunnally, of Virginia Home Grown, featured Castlemonte on a recent episode.
According to the Castlemonte Farm’s website, the farm is “focused on delivering safe, nutritious, great-tasting produce and fruit to our customers. That starts with fertile, organic soil, but doesn’t end there. Bill and India couple old technologies, such forest-grown Shiitakes, with current technologies, such as high tunnels and specialty agricultural fabrics.”
Bill is always educating himself on the best methods of growing organic.
“We have been down to Virginia State University quite a bit,” he said.
Castlemonte grows everything from organic asparagus in the spring to heirloom tomatoes and Shiitake mushrooms among about 20 more organic crops.
According to Dr. Rafie the tropical plant that grows three to four feet tall is now grown primarily in China and India, and these countries have no competition for growing the spice that smells great and has medicinal value as well, although Hawaii was a competitor until a bacteria called ginger wilt virtually wiped out the crop between 1997 and 2008.
“China produces ginger, but this is not competition for India, which is the biggest producer,” said Rafie in a recent seminar on the spicy herb. “Hawaii grew the best quality until it disappeared due to bad practices, such as not cleaning their knife after cutting up the roots for production the following year.
Ginger is not only the aromatic, wonderful smelling herb that we have come to know, but it also has a number of medicinal uses. Some have been medically proven to have medicinal value while others work with official recognition. The George Mateljan Foundation has published results of research on the on the spicy herb.
Alleviates symptoms of gastrointestinal distress; anti-vomiting action, has been shown to be very useful in reducing the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy.
Those with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis experience reductions in their pain levels and improvements in their mobility when they consume ginger regularly.
Gingerols, the main active components in ginger and the ones responsible for its distinctive flavor, may also inhibit the growth of human colorectal cancer cells.
Ginger has both antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor effects on cells.
Ginger induces cell death in ovarian cancer cells.
It can help promote healthy sweating, which is often helpful during colds and flu.
Bill Cox said, “We love our ginger so much, we hug it every day.”