Dandelions come full circle

Kevin Yarr
by Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca

Maybe you already know that dandelions are an alien invader species in North America, brought here centuries ago on purpose by early European settlers who coveted them as a food source. I have known this for some time, but I still get annoyed thinking about it.

But I was reminded this week how clouds have silver linings when a joint federal-provincial commission on the future of agriculture on P.E.I. released its first report. This report is a snapshot of the current state of the industry; recommendations will come later this year.

P.E.I. agriculture off-course: report

It came as no surprise to anyone paying even casual attention of the state of things that the situation is bleak.
The report did contain some interesting numbers to underline just how bad things are. The industry has not had a profitable year since 2003, and eat-local campaigns, while somewhat helpful, could at best consume only seven per cent of what is produced on this small Island.

So what does this have to do with dandelions?

While still not making recommendations, the commission did begin to suggest the industry needs to radically change direction. Little P.E.I. cannot compete on the food commodities market, so it needs to find ways to set itself apart, and suggested taking advantage of the Island's pastoral landscapes to differentiate itself in the market.

And this brings me back to dandelions, and a farmer named Raymond Loo.

Loo, seen here with a specialized dandelion planter, is selling the flower's roots on the back of Anne of Green Gables (CBC)

Loo has been making connections in Japan over the last few years, working to tie together two of P.E.I.'s most successful industries: agriculture and Anne of Green Gables. He believes he may have hit on a winner with dandelions.

Loo has a contract with a Japanese company to provide about 1,400 kg of dried dandelion root, which the company will roast and grind to make a coffee-like beverage that is popular in Japan. The sale is possible because the company will be able to market the drink as coming from the land of Anne, who is an extremely popular character in Japan.

Farmer markets dandelions to Japan

P.E.I. will need a lot more creative thinking like this to turn the farming industry around, and there is no guarantee of success. The Island's hog processing plant recently closed down after a failed effort to focus on "natural" pork, as produced on pastoral P.E.I.

Owners walk away from hog plant

But no matter how you slice your french fries, it seems the days of 100,000+ acres of P.E.I. potatoes are over.