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New Castle organic herb biz growing wild

Suzie Romig
CMC Small Business Development Center

One whiff of the fresh leaves off a tall lemon basil plant in a greenhouse at Osage Gardens in New Castle, and the smeller knows immediately why it’s named lemon.

Sniff a cutting from the aromatic Thai basil and the mouth waters imagining flavorful Thai food for dinner.

Started almost 12 years ago by husband and wife owners Sarah and Thomas Rumery, Osage Gardens has grown into the largest producer and wholesaler of certified organic culinary herbs in Colorado. Osage produces 20 varieties of herbs, greens or edible flowers.



Osage products with signature bright pink labels can be found in City Market stores from Aspen to Grand Junction as well as Good Health grocery in Glenwood Springs. The products also are sold at various King Soopers, City Markets, Whole Foods and Wild Oats grocery stores as well as other smaller natural food stores across Colorado, Utah, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.

The Rumerys were once in the construction business on the Front Range. They moved west looking for a lifestyle where they could spend flexible time with their three daughters. Thomas always had a green thumb, and a visit to a geothermal geranium greenhouse near Mount Princeton in Colorado led to the inspiration for Osage Gardens.



Sales have risen approximately 20 percent each year since Osage started in January 1992, and the small business now employs up to 20 full- and part-time workers.

Bill Schiano, the produce team leader at Whole Foods Market in Boulder, said Osage herbs sell very well due to their appealing freshness.

“It’s a great business. They do a really good job with their herbs,” Schiano said. “It can be a competitive industry when you get to their level, and they do a great job of maintaining quality standards and reasonable price points.”

Their success along with increasing product demand has led to a company expansion. With savvy financial advice from the Small Business Development Center at Colorado Mountain College, the owners purchased land and have begun construction on an additional 12,000 square feet of greenhouse space.

The current operation includes 23,000 square feet of growing room for everything from Italian basil to rosemary, and arugula to tarragon. Hundreds of pounds of fresh Osage herbs or produce are packaged, refrigerated and trucked to Front Range warehouses year-round.

“All the stores we sell to support Colorado-grown produce and appreciate our locally grown, fresh herbs,” Thomas said.

As of October 2002, organic foods must be certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Organics are produced using sustainable agricultural practices without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

Instead of chemical sprays, the Rumerys use about 800,000 ladybugs annually and strips of wide yellow sticky tape along the growing beds to control insects. Bad fungus is controlled with beneficial fungi.

The plants are fed a rich compost made on site that includes plant clippings, oak chips, horse and chicken manure, and seabed deposits. Solar panels are used in the largest greenhouse to heat the air and hot water for underground piping, which keeps the plant beds warm. Small volcanic rocks are turned into the planting mix to hold moisture and air and to distribute minerals.

Large tomato vines are planted in the greenhouse to help gauge the health of the operation ” sort of a canary-in-a-mine concept, Thomas said.

“They tell us nutritionally what is going wrong,” Sarah said.

The winter season is the busiest time for the labor-intensive gardens. Aromatic rows of sage, rosemary and thyme stand ready for holiday harvesting. The company’s poultry blend and basil are strong sellers for the holidays.

“Everybody wants fresh herbs for their holiday meals,” Sarah said.

For information about Osage Gardens Inc., call 970-984-2040, e-mail tsrosage@sopris.net or visit http://www.osagegardens.com.

For information about the free small business counseling services available through the SBDC, call 970-384-8523, 8 a.m. to noon, or visit http://www.coloradosbdc.com.

Add some pizzazz to recipes

Connoisseurs and cooks of fine food might add Osage Gardens’ thyme on baked salmon or use lemon basil on fish. Adding herbs to meals is an inexpensive way to enhance food quality, flavor and nutrition, Osage owner Sarah Rumery said.

Sarah noted that when Martha Stewart’s television show and magazine feature a good recipe for tarragon chicken, for example, sales of that herb go up. Perhaps Sarah will provide her own local sales boost with her recipe for pesto sauce good for everything from pizza to pasta and for a tasty veggie spaghetti.

PESTO

Ingredients:

3 cups of fresh Osage Gardens Italian basil

1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil

1-2 pearls of whole garlic

1 tsp. salt

1/4 cup walnuts

grated, fresh Parmesan cheese (approx. 1/3 cup)

Blend basil, oil and garlic in blender. Then blend in salt and walnuts. Add Parmesan last. Add hot pasta water, milk or cream to reach desired consistency. The amount of Parmesan and walnuts added also determine consistency.

VEGGIE SPAGHETTI

Ingredients:

1 large onion diced

6 pearls of garlic chopped fine

1 package mushrooms

1/3 cup olive oil

2 medium cans tomato sauce

1 tbsp. each of chopped Osage Gardens thyme, marjoram, oregano

1/3 cup Osage Gardens basil leaves

2 carrots sliced

1 medium zucchini sliced

1 cup diced celery

1/2 cup diced bell pepper

4 ripe tomatoes

grated Parmesan

Lightly saute garlic, onions and mushrooms first. Then add vegetables and saute for five more minutes. Add tomato sauce and herbs. Simmer for 1/2 hour. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy over pasta, and garnish with Parmesan.


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