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Herbivores for Health

Lakeville, Minn. — If someone isn’t doing it, then do it yourself, Renne Soberg decided. Since the mid 1980s, he had been interested in medicinal herbs. But Soberg was surprised by the lack of information on growing nontraditional varieties. So he decided to fill in the blanks and helped organize the Organic Herb Cooperative two and a half years ago.

The co-op’s six members “want to focus on processing and getting herbs ready for bulk markets,” Soberg says. Since its beginning, the Organic Herb Cooperative has seen markets opening up and more growers are contacting the co-op for information. “It’s really starting to work,” Soberg says.

Search for the ‘right’ herbs

One challenge is knowing exactly what to grow. “Many grow a variety of herbs but don’t know which to expand on,” Soberg says. The co-op has been investigating a variety of industries, including cosmetic oils and traditional Chinese medicinal herbs. Members have been conducting growth trials on such herbs as Chinese mint, white sage, wild yam and chrysanthemum. They recently studied 20 lavender varieties for the cosmetic industry.

“AURI is helping them identify markets for medicinal herbs and discover which ones can actually be grown in Minnesota.” says Lisa Gjersvik, AURI’s project director in Waseca.

The Organic Herb Cooperative grew out of the Medicinal Herb Network. Founded by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Alternative Plant and Animal Products and the Center for Spirituality and Healing, the network is comprised of herbalist health-care practitioners and medicinal herb growers who meet once a month to discuss herb production and use.

A few Medicinal Herb Network participants saw a need to work together to build production methods and a market for medicinal herbs. They formed the Organic Herb Cooperative and have kept in touch through meetings, phone and e-mail. “We’re seeing a lot of dialog between members,” Soberg says.

Sign up quality people

To encourage medicinal herb growers, the co-op holds two field days a year. Soberg also speaks at conferences to get the word out, but the co-op doesn’t advertise; growth has come mainly by word of mouth, Soberg says. “We’re not interested in the number of members so much as the quality. We would like more established growers.” From the original six, the co-op now numbers 13 growers from Minnesota and Wisconsin.

For more information on the Organic Herb Cooperative, call Renne Soberg at (952) 469-2527 or e-mail