More than one farmer having trouble keeping ahead of his bills has called on amaranth, arrowroot, cipolines, daikon and manzano.
They're not bankruptcy lawyers. They're exotic vegetables, fruits and seeds.These and others, from fava beans to purple potatoes, are being grown by "gourmet farmers" to meet an increasing demand for specialty foods. In some cases, they are more profitable than conventional crops.
Frieda Caplan, owner of Frieda's Finest Produce Specialties Inc., a Los Angeles-based company that markets unusual fruits and vegetables to stores nationwide, said her sales had increased by nearly 20 percent a year for the last four years to $15 million currently.
"There has been an explosion in unusual foods," she said. "One reason is the increased interest in health. Markets are allocating more space to fresh produce. Smart retailers are putting in a great deal of variety. They want the consumer to know they have everything they want."
Some farmers, she said, are getting into specialty crops because they are not making a living on the big conventional crops like wheat, alfalfa and cotton.
"They're looking to find more profitable items to be grown," she said. "They're beginning to learn that bigness does not necessarily mean profitability. Sometimes you make more by growing less."
George B. Holcomb, an official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said people today have higher living standards and want more variety in their food.
He said there is a growing demand for ethnic vegetables in most of the larger cities. Exotic foods are being brought to this country by immigrants from the Pacific Basin, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe.
This is not to say that Kansas won't be corny in August anymore.
After Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis suggested crop diversification and mentioned potentially lucrative Belgian endive, a farmers group, the American Agriculture Movement, surveyed 800 people around the country and found two-thirds had never heard of it.
So, some definitions:
Amaranth is a seed with a mild nutty flavor that can be ground into flour, popped like popcorn or sprinkled on cereals and ice cream.
Arrowroot is a Chinese potato.
Cipolines are baby round onions.
Daikon is a giant white oriental radish.
A manzano is a small banana.
Fava beans come in large pods and are tastier than lima beans.
And purple potatoes? Cook them, and they just get purpler.