By Lisa Rathke, The Associated Press
BURLINGTON — As spring crocus blooms approach, some growers have visions of a fall-flowering crocus that produces saffron, the world’s most valuable spice.
University of Vermont researchers have been raising the exotic spice now grown primarily in Iran and are encouraging growers to tap into what they hope will be a cash crop.
It’s not a hard sell, particularly in the short growing season of the Northeast. A crop harvested in the late fall, when other crops have died off, that tolerates extreme climates and yields an average of $19 per gram.
“Is this the red gold we’ve been looking for?” said Patricia Fontaine, of Palmer Farm in Little Compton, Rhode Island. She, her mother and brother attended a sold-out workshop this month on growing saffron hosted by the University of Vermont that drew growers from New England and as far away as Indiana and California.
The family had been searching for a crop to grow in their high tunnel, a greenhouse-like structure without heat like one UVM also used to raise the spice.
“We were like looking into everything and then all of a sudden this came up, and we were like, ‘This can’t be real,'” said Fontaine’s brother Ryan Golembeske.
UVM researchers said the yields amounted to $4.03 a square foot, compared to $3.51 a square foot for tomatoes, and $1.81 a square foot for winter leafy greens.
They estimate an acre of saffron grown in high tunnels could bring in $100,000 a season.
The seasoning comes from the dried red threads, or stigmas, of the plant’s purple flower, enhancing dishes like paella, bouillabaisse and risotto. It’s also…
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