The world’s most expensive spice grows on a farm in North Plains
A spendy spice has roots in Oregon! Which do you think it is?
In the green, rolling hills of North Plains, where established family farms increasingly share the land with multimillion-dollar estates, inside two nondescript greenhouses, the world’s most expensive spice is being grown
You see, there’s gold in them there hills.
Saffron, also known as red gold, in part because it has historically cost more per ounce than actual gold, is a highly coveted ingredient in cooking. So coveted it frequently sells for upward of $5,000 a pound.
And while Oregon might be the last place someone thinks of when considering where to grow saffron, it’s here that Tanya Golden, a skateboarder-turned-herbalist-turned-saffron-farmer, launched Golden Tradition Saffron in 2018. Albeit, with a lot of hard work and more than a little help.
“If it wasn’t for friends, community and my mom and my aunt,” she said, “I wouldn’t be here.”
Even when she was skateboarding at Burnside Skatepark in the ‘90s, Golden always felt a connection to the land.
Her grandmothers — one of Cherokee descent, the other of Grand Ronde — had always grown food. For Golden, it wasn’t a question of if she’d farm, but rather a question of what she’d grow.
And it came to her while she was in the NAYA (Native American Youth Association) Microenterprise Program for small business development.
As in, it was handed to her.
A skateboarding friend had emailed her from Israel, where he was designing skateboard parks, asking what he should bring home for his wife. Golden suggested rose essential oil and saffron.
By the time of the class, the wife, who was also a fellow student with Golden, had no use for the saffron and gave it to her the same day her instructor asked her what she planned to grow.
Golden, who had recently read an article about saffron and previously wasn’t sure what she wanted to produce, was suddenly positive. But there remained much to do to bring her dream to life.
“It’s been a lot of hard work,” she said, both to get the saffron in the ground and the business off the ground.
NAYA provided a matching-funds grant, Golden landed two grants from the USDA (one for conventional farming, one for organic) and she took out what she calls a “ginormous loan” she has since paid off.
She put in the two 30-foot-by-95-foot greenhouses on her parents’ property to grow the plants, which start as corms (similar to bulbs), is paying her aunt for use of her truck and has a network of friends who help her with the meticulous hand harvest of the saffron threads.