Grower SPOTLIGHT

DAN KRUEGER: 3RD GENERATION GINSeNG GROWER

There’s no denying that one of the key ingredients to producing the world’s best American Ginseng is the passed-down knowledge, hands-on skill and lifelong passion of the small grower community in Central Wisconsin. Meet Dan Krueger, a Wisconsin native and experienced ginseng grower, who is currently serving in his 2nd volunteer session as a member of the Wisconsin Ginseng board.

A: I’m the 6th generation operator on our family’s farm and a 3rd generation ginseng grower. Our family originally started in dairy. Then in 1969 before I was born, they started their first ginseng garden. It went well and by 1976 they sold off the cows and dedicated all their effort toward ginseng. Growing up on a farm, you begin learning as a young child. So it’s fair to say I can remember picking ginseng berries and harvesting roots as a really young kid. 

continuing in agriculture

Q: What made you choose to continue in agriculture, and specifically as a ginseng grower?

A: I worked for a firm that did heavy highway construction and came back to the farm when it was a time for generational change. It felt important to continue the legacy of being the 6th generation on our farm, so it was either plant crops, or a for sale sign. I continued growing ginseng because it’s a multi-year investment. My father had gardens that were under way, so I needed to continue where he left off. That was 2015, today as a full-time grower I’m currently planting 4-6 acres of American ginseng per year.

Q: How are the techniques of Central Wisconsin Growers different from those of large agricultural farms in China?

A: American Ginseng from Wisconsin is more sought after because anything from the United States demands a higher value in most Asian markets. The dealers there know our products are better and their customers recognize that the minerals in Central Wisconsin soil are what creates the signature bittersweet flavor of our roots.

We also have the EPA and USDA guidelines on safe farming practices. China can’t claim that. Additionally the Wisconsin Ginseng Board tests for quality. Any crops that do not meet their limits will not be issued a Wisconsin Ginseng Board Seal. These quality assurance programs at the federal, state, and industry level ensure proper farming methods, but also support the brand and reputation of Wisconsin Ginseng as incomparable when it comes to quality.

Wisconsin Ginseng Held in two hands

Now and then

Q: What’s one thing that has not changed in your lifetime as an American Ginseng Grower?

A: Ginseng creates calloused hands. We try to bring in more machinery but the tech isn’t there for many steps, including picking berries or sorting roots. So to this day, it still requires the same amount of hard work, dedication, and hands-on physical labor that my grandfather put in.

Q: What’s one thing that is done differently?

It used to be that when we were done drying the roots, we’d put everything in the barrel. It was all shipped as one product… “Wisconsin Ginseng”. Today we cruze it, which means running it through a screen that removes root fibers from the main root, then we run it down a quality control line where people hand inspect and remove any blemished roots. This higher level of quality control is one more way we can make sure Wisconsin Ginseng is the finest American Ginseng in the world.

Q: What makes Wisconsin Ginseng farmers different from other farmers?

A: The first thing is ginseng farmers call themselves growers. They work in gardens not fields. The grower vs. farmer distinction comes from the multiple years it takes to grow a single harvestable crop. We work in small plots or gardens that are planted under canopies, vs large scale, easily mechanized fields. 

 The other big difference about Wisconsin Ginseng growers is that our product is nothing like other agricultural commodities. Our products can’t just be sold by the bushel. Ginseng has different values in different global markets. The price can change based on color, shape, size, and taste. As a result, we have a variably priced product depending on the year.

LIVE BOLDER

Q: What bold choices do Wisconsin Ginseng growers have to make?

All agriculture is a tough business. But ginseng is about the toughest. If I wanted to grow something easy, I’d grow corn or soybeans. Ginseng growers have to be brave, bold, and a bit crazy. It’s definitely not for everyone. To start with it takes three to five years from the time we plant to the time we harvest. So we never know how the markets may change and if we’re going to make a profit. Three to five years is a very long time to gamble on your ability to keep a very fragile and difficult plant alive.

I call cultivated ginseng a suicidal crop. That’s because it simply doesn’t want to stay alive. It’s a labor intensive fight to keep it healthy every day. Hot humid days in August and September will cause the leaves to wilt and die from blight. Slugs like to eat the stems. Worse, skunks and raccoons burrow looking for slugs cause havoc with the plants. Deer like to bed down in the gardens, and as they step on the beds, their hooves create small concentrated areas for water to soak in which causes rot. 

Farming is a seasonal gamble. Ginseng growing is a three to five year gamble – and mother nature is betting against you every step of the way.

“If I wanted to grow something easy, I’d grow corn or soybeans”

Q: How would you describe the bold, bittersweet flavor that’s made Wisconsin Ginseng so prized all over the world?

A: I think it’s an acquired taste. I like it because I’ve been around it my entire life. I’d describe it as earthy, strong, and bitter. It hits you right away like an Altoid. 

 Q: Do you use your own product? Tell us how. 

A: I enjoy American Ginseng tea. I prefer it over coffee because it gives me extended energy, without the crash.

Q: Would you share a favorite recipe that uses Wisconsin-grown American Ginseng?

A: Sure. Tea is my daily go to. And it’s not complicated. I just put some root fibers and water in a saucepan and let it simmer for 15 minutes, Then I strain it, to remove all the fibers. A lot of people enjoy it with honey, but I like to drink it straight.