Some growers can’t raise enough radicchio for their customers. An hour’s drive away, others are still explaining what it is.
Such are the circumstances growers of the purple chicory face as they decide what a Pacific Northwest Radicchio Association might look like.
“Lots of people have spoken really eloquently over the years about the deeper promise of Northwest radicchio as a year-round crop, as something that substitutes for California-grown salad during the winter,” Duvall, Wash., farmer Siri Erickson-Brown said. “It goes really deep, and it’s brought us all together in a way that I think is very unusual for a vegetable.”
Erickson-Brown and her husband, Jason Salvo, are grower-leaders in forming the association.
Growers held their first meeting on Zoom March 27. About 25 people attended, including farmers from Canada, Michigan and South Carolina.
“There is a lot of radicchio action going on,” said Lane Selman, founder of the Culinary Breeding Network and an Oregon State University professor of practice, providing a recap of efforts to boost the crop so far, in the region and internationally.
The meeting was a casual and open discussion to get farmer feedback. The actual form of the association is still to be determined, Erickson-Brown said.
“We get to decide,” she said.
The biggest needs include continued education for growers through events and field days about varieties, timing and seed dates.
“It sounds like we know what we need — we need help with selling, we need help with growing,” Erickson-Brown said.
An association’s duties could include marketing radicchio to local customers and stores, and to restaurants on the East Coast.
“We’ve got this amazing cult of radicchio here in the Northwest, but we have a skewed perspective,” Erickson-Brown said. “What would it look like in the United States if the same amount of radicchio love was present all over the place?”
A coordinated effort could brand Northwest radicchio as a premier option, similar to the advertising campaign for California raisins, she said.
Another consideration could be indoor growing facilities or practices to raise it year-round.
“How many of us wish we could sell more radicchio?” Erickson-Brown asked. “If suddenly a market just appeared, would you expand production? How much more radicchio are people interested in growing?”
The organizers discussed continued sponsorship of an annual Seattle event, Sagra del Radicchio, with participating growers and restaurants. Smaller events are in the works for Bellingham, Walla Walla and Spokane.
The current effort uses funding from a $250,000 USDA specialty crop block grant through the Washington State Department of Agriculture, designed to increase awareness and consumption of radicchio.
Selman plans to pursue other grants.
Erickson-Brown welcomes feedback from growers, and those interested in getting involved in a steering committee for the association. Another meeting is slated for the fall.
“This is really the phase where we’re envisioning and exploring needs, possibilities and opportunities,” she said. “We’re experiencing a radicchio renaissance. Everybody loves radicchio in the Northwest ... It’s very exciting.”