Hello, and welcome to the site where I’ve shared everything I’ve done with Thelesperma megapotamicum, called greenthread, Navajo tea, Hopi tea, or cota. I have concluded this project as of late 2012, but I invite you to peruse the posts, links, and information here on the site. I’ll keep it alive as long as it is needed, so just let me know that you find it useful with a comment here or there. Thanks!
After rototilling the entire greenthread field to a depth of 3 inches this spring I did get the results I intended: greenthread plants multiplying by thousands to fill in the 24″ wide level beds as shown below. The unexpected result is that the plants are investing much more time re-establishing roots and are slow to add top growth. Looks like there will be no mid-summer harvest, but I do expect a good harvest in September this year and a strong field for years to come.
These beds were blind cultivated regularly with the Williams Tool System spring tine cultivator to keep the annual weeds from sprouting between the perennial crop plants.
Joanie Quinn, Organic Advisor of the NMDA Organic Program, emailed me afterward to thank me for presenting: “I keep hearing raves about it. It’s probably the toughest topic on the agenda—congratulations on a fantastic job tackling it.”
Thanks to Joanie Quinn for the kind words presented at the New Mexico Organic Farming Conference and the kind consideration that led to presenting me with the Good Earth Award in 2012.
The Good Earth Award is presented every year to an organic farmer who has recently transitioned to organic production and has done so in a way that shows exemplary stewardship of the land, a deep understanding of the principles of organic agriculture, and who serves as an inspiration for us all. One of the less understood principles of organic production is to grow crops and varieties that are appropriate for the ecosystem within which the farming is taking place. Steve Heil of Farm Wonder outside Gallup took this principle to heart and decided to cultivate a native herb, Greenthread, or Cota for tea. Steve is not only a certified organic greenthread farmer, but is also certified as a processor to bag and package the tea. Steve was the recipient of a 2009 SARE Farmer/Rancher grant to investigate organic weed control methods in Greenthread cultivation comparing the Williams Tool System, backpack flaming, and corn gluten meal; last year hosted an IPM Farm Walk; and at the conference this year took on the challenge of discussing how to get certified organic. Steve does all of this and more while supporting his farming habit with a job teaching and raising two kids. Steve is a farmer who embodies the generosity to share his knowledge with fellow farmers, the curiosity to investigate best practices, the audacity to do something a little different, and the tenacity to stick with his vision. Join me in congratulating Steve Heil our 2012 recipient of the Good Earth Award.
I liked this interview and article by Jen Garbee, blogger, author of the book Secret Suppers: Rogue Chefs and Underground Restaurants in Warehouses, Townhouses, Open Fields, and Everywhere in Between, and food reviewer for the LA Weekly. She pulled everything into perspective in this one article. I’ve been living this project for a decade now and she asked all the right questions and put it all together into one post on her blog at the LA Weekly.
Here’s an excerpt:
Steve Heil isn’t the sort of guy you’d expect to be making — growing, harvesting and commercially packaging — greenthread herbal tea, also known as Navajo tea or cota. For starters, Heil isn’t Navajo. He is an elementary school teacher, a darn good one, who happened upon the herbal tea fifteen years ago when he began teaching art classes in Gallup, New Mexico, a small town bordering Navajo and Zuni reservations. “People were saying someone should grow this tea again, it is very traditional and it was disappearing,” he says of the sustainable perennial herb that is native to the Colorado Plateau that he sells under the label PlaTEAu.
Small problem: Heil had all of zero farming experience, so he had to figure out how to farm the herb from scratch (he received several grants to help navigate the process), then develop a product identity/market, publicize and sell the organic tisane. He has documented the process, from germination to harvest, on his blog so other farmers might follow his greenthread lead.
And here’s a photo Jen took of the products I sent her this winter:
My friends from Work in Beauty, Inc. and I spent a couple of days answering questions and encouraging others to grow greenthread at the New Mexico Organic Grower’s Conference in Albuquerque this weekend. I offered many visitors free seed to start their own field this summer. Now I am directing anyone interested to send me a self-addressed, stamped, USPS small priority mail box and I will return it full of greenthread seed.
This is uncleaned seed and it does have some other plant parts and perhaps a little sand in it. I do not guarantee viability, but it is from 2010 season and has been stored well since harvest. It is from my organic farm, but it is not on my official list of certified organic products. If anyone out there needs documentation about the seed’s origin, pease let me know: My address is 204 E Hill Ave., Gallup, NM 87301.
Use one USPS Priority Mail Small Flat Rate Box (8-5/8″ x 5-3/8″ x 1-5/8″) and send it flat to me in a large postal envelope. I will fill it with Thelesperma megapotamicum seed. You can check back here for ways to do a germination test and sow in your garden or field.
Risk Management Education is the buzz in agriculture. The assumption is that any new crop is a greater risk than crops we are familiar with. No doubt about it. There are safety nets in place to support farmers growing the crops we call commodities, like corn, soybeans, and wheat. These systems reduce risk of growing such things, so why would anyone grow anything else?
This is not the post for me to get reflective or philosophical about why I take the risk to grow a little-known herb crop organically in a marginal agricultural region. Instead I’d like to take this moment to invite further discussion in person at the Southwest Medicinal Herbs Production and Marketing Seminar in Albuquerque March 4 & 5, 2011. This is a Risk Management Education seminar focusing on medicinal herbs in New Mexico. Charles Martin, formerly with the Alcalde, NM Science Center, who has advised me on my Western SARE project in the past, will be back in New Mexico for this event. Kevin Lombard, Assistant Professor of Horticulture at the Ag Science Center in Farmington, NM, is organizing the event.
I will be presenting on the production system I have in place as well as the value-added product I sell. Plateau™ may well be the only small-farmer-owned tea label in the world. Kinda risky? Yes.
I kind of expected a big harvest this year. I projected 1100 lbs dry, though I’ve never seen what half a ton of dry greenthread looks like before. I don’t think anyone in the world has seen a half a ton of dried greenthread ever in history. Well, even with my irrigation system down for nearly 8 months, dependent on a shared pump and a busy, expensive electric service company that seems to require a modest bribe to get things done, the harvest this year topped 900 lbs dry. Amazing! Here’s what that bountiful second harvest looked like while it was still converting the fall sunshine into my favorite native herb.
Gardens and farms everywhere are experiencing this end of the summer rush of growth. Here are some photos of the greenthread crop as it goes for broke before the fall weather sets in.