The world’s most expensive spice grows in a greenhouse in North Plains, Oregon

In the green, rolling hills of North Plains, where established family farms increasingly share the land with multimillion-dollar estates, the world’s most expensive spice is being grown inside two nondescript greenhouses.

Saffron, also known as red gold, in part because it costs more per ounce than actual gold, is a highly coveted ingredient in cooking. In fact, it is so coveted it frequently sells for upward of $5,000 a pound.

While Oregon might be the last place someone thinks of when considering where to grow saffron, it is here that Tanya Golden, a skateboarder-turned-herbalist-turned-saffron-farmer, launched Golden Tradition Saffron in 2018.

“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 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.

One reason saffron is so expensive while the plant itself, crocus sativus, remains relatively cheap, is that harvesting requires such a time-consuming, intricate, non-mechanized process, and to make the harvest a little more challenging, it all must be done in roughly a 20-day window: Golden grows about 400,000 plants.

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