Running a family farm had been a lifelong dream of Polk County residents Dave and Katie Bridges.
After finally making it happen about three years ago, the couple is turning to an exotic spice to take their dream to the next level.
Katie Bridges was reading an article in a farming magazine about saffron. She showed the article to her husband who didn’t seem overly impressed with the idea of growing flowers.
“No, you’re missing the point. It’s a spice,” she responded.
Completely intrigued, Katie took it on herself to do extensive research which led the couple to eventually buy 100 bulbs from a supplier in the Netherlands. Saffron is a bulb plant, much like the European country’s famous tulips.
The bulbs arrived last August and they were planted in milk crates, in mushroom compost which is high in humic acid. The first flowers bloomed in late October and the couple was finished harvesting by Thanksgiving.
“You embrace your inner three-year-old and you pull the tops off the flowers,” Katie said.
You have to remove the stigma and the stamen from the flowers and then you have the petals laid out on a screen for about seven days.
The stigma is the spice while the stamen, the yellow portion of the flower, is used in clothing dye.
There are actually four different paths of revenue from saffron, the spice, the dye and the petals which are used in potpourri and the sale of bulbs. Each bulb will produce anywhere from another two to eight bulbs the following year.
“According to the University of Vermont, a full acre with those four pathways of revenue could generate half a million dollars,” Katie said.
At the retail level, Saffron is marketed anywhere from $80 an ounce up to $300 an ounce.
“The grain and quality make a big difference,” Katie said.
Katie said her research led her to believe she would get a gram of spice per 100 bulbs. While that doesn’t sound like much, she said you need so little of it to season items that a gram will go a long way.
“I’ve spoken with other chefs who went to culinary school and said the saffron was actually under lock and key because of its value,” she said.
Her first harvest netted 0.9 of a gram of saffron.
Armed with the knowledge that they can grow the flowers successfully, they have ordered 1,000 bulbs. That’s a long way from a full acre, but the couple doesn’t have the manpower or space to plant that kind of crop.
That first almost gram of spice is still on the shelf at their Chewy’s Backyard Farm south of Cedartown. The farm is named for the miniature Schnauzer, who Katie describes as the lap dog-in-charge. Katie is seeking a Georgia Grown program chef to donate the saffron to, to show Georgians what they can do with the spice.
“As soon as we can get these relationships created (remember their farm is just three years old) the visibility of it will become greater,” she said.
A lot of people use saffron on rice. A lot of it is used in Middle Eastern and Indian recipes.
Right now. visitors to the Ridge Ferry farmers market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings will have to settle for Chewy’s Backyard Farm crooked neck squash, green zucchini, tomatoes, okra, cucumbers, hot peppers, purple bell peppers and other produce. They also have a hydroponic system set up that allows them to grow and sell lettuce.
As of this Saturday, the couple is for the first time, accepting SNAP/EBT cards. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a federally-funded program that provides monthly benefits to low-income households to help pay for the cost of food. It provides benefits to almost 20% of the residents of Floyd County.
“No family should choose between eating food with an unknown origin and eating quality food, locally grown,” Katie said.