By Katie Martin, Savannah Morning News
Documented in Savannah’s earliest years by Salzburger Philip von Reck, the community’s ginger growing roots date back to 1736, but Verdant Kitchen is helping to usher them into the 21st century.
What started quietly in 2012 as an agricultural experiment at Savannah businessman Howard Morrison’s Lebanon Plantation in West Chatham County has grown into a thriving company built on thousands of years of history and culture.
“We’re here talking about business and entrepreneurs, but (ginger and turmeric) built empires. Fortunes were made, wars were fought over these. People fell in love with these spices, and people fell out of love with these spices,” Verdant Kitchen CEO Ross Harding said on Wednesday during the Business in Savannah Luncheon held in the Savannah Morning News auditorium.
From their Ginger Mint Green Tea and Chocolate Coated Ginger to Ginger Sauce, Harding touts the deliciousness of the products along with the wellness benefits. Between the two of them ginger and turmeric offer numerous health benefits, including reducing inflammation, motion sickness, improving circulation and reducing nausea.
“We didn’t invent these things, we didn’t invent ginger and turmeric, we didn’t invent what they do. What we’re trying to do is find a way to present these products that bring joy and wellness,” he said.
“These products have been used for food and wellness for millenniums, and there’s a reason why and it’s because they work and they’re delicious.”
The company, which began sampling products to regional farmers markets in 2014 and wholesaling in early 2015, now sells about 20 different products, but things really took off after their Ginger Infused Honey and Ginger Syrup landed on Oprah Winfrey’s “Favorite Things” 2015 gift guide.
“Above the waterline you try to look really serene, but below the waterline you’re thrashing around like crazy,” Harding said of landing a spot in “O, the Oprah Magazine.”
In the weeks leading up to the release of the “O” list on Amazon and “People” magazine, Harding said, the company prepared the best they could for what they expected to be an influx of orders, but for a very short while nothing happened.
“I was so sad for about 15 minutes. I was so sad even ginger wouldn’t have helped. We had about five people on the site, then 15, then 500 and then 1,000,” he said.
“We’ve been very blessed, and we’ve got great friends in Savannah. That’s where our roots are. I think we’ve got a great future and a great team.”
Now with a large presence on Amazon, a new website and the products making their way around the country, Harding said, it’s been a challenge to find the balance between being a small local business and a thriving company.
“There’s a valley of despair that you have to go through. You’re too large to be doing things on a craft basis and you’re too small to do things on a very large basis and navigating through that is the hardest thing to do,” he said.
“At some level you have to say, it’s going to work because I’m going to make it work, and I’m going to do what it takes to make it work.”
Harding is optimistic about the future and hopes to seize the many opportunities that have come with the company’s sudden fame, including expansion.
“I think we’ll continue to grow the business,” he said.
“We’re just starting. We’re just little, and there is a global market out there.”