Growers association membership falls from 10 to one
By TIM HEARDEN
In the little valley that surrounds tiny Tulelake, Calif., horseradish used to be king.
Many of the homesteaders who settled in this high-desert region near the Oregon state line after World War II began farming the peculiar root.
The Tulelake Horseradish Growers Association once had 10 members, but now it is down to one -- DuVal Family Farms, which is one of only three horseradish farms left in the valley.
While some of the growers have died, others switched to potatoes or alfalfa, said Lynn Tanner, the association's business manager.
"People move on to different crops or sell the land," Tanner said. "Horseradish is a specialty crop and there's not a huge market for it. You've got to find your market and work at it."
One of those working at it is Randy DuVal, who is continuing the business his father started some 50 years ago. DuVal has used online marketing and other contacts to cultivate customers, and his farm recently shipped 80,000 pounds of horseradish to a buyer in Europe -- the first such shipment there from the Tulelake region.
"We've been in the business a long time," DuVal said. "Just like with anything else, you're going to work at it. It's not easy money."
In the U.S., about 24 million pounds of horseradish roots are ground and processed each year to produce about 6 million gallons of prepared horseradish, according to the Atlanta, Ga.-based Horseradish Information Council.
Commercial cultivation in America was started in the mid-1850s by immigrants who settled in the Midwest, then later began appearing in other areas of the country. The hearty perennial is harvested in the spring and fall.
A popular flavoring for beef, chicken and other foods, horseradish is also used as a bitter herb for Passover seders.
"I get a lot of phone calls around the holidays - Passover and Hanukkah especially," said Donna Smith, a staff associate for the horseradish council.
DuVal Farms grows exclusively horseradish on its 85 acres. Its fields are organic, and the business has consulted with a rabbi to make sure its facilities are kosher, said Tanner, who is also the farm's business manager.
As with many commodities, sales of horseradish have declined during the recession, but there is "a certain stable market out there that's going to be there regardless," DuVal said.
"Our thing is we're about as competitive as anybody," he said. "We can produce it. We're doing what we have to do to move it, to reach out globally and sell, and we think we can be as competitive as anybody."
Horseradish Information Council: http://www.horseradish.org/homepage.html