Chapter 15. Michigan Mint Farm.
Very few people know that the largest Mint farm in the world is owned and operated by an unassuming Michigan man named A. M. Todd, says Special Crops. His career is interesting. Born on a farm near St. Joseph, Mich., he early developed an idea that money was to be made in the growing of Peppermint. At that time the Mint oil industry was small and in a state of crudeness in America, for Europe was supposed to be the stronghold of the industry. To Europe went Mr. Todd to see about it. He returned filled with plans and enthusiasm.
Some Details of the Business.
The details are long, but the main facts can be briefly told. Eventually, while still a very young man, Mr. Todd purchased 1,400 acres of wild, swampy land in Allegan County, Mich. The purchase price was $25,000. He proceeded to hire a force of men to clear and ditch the new mint farm. That was 20 or more years ago.
Now, let us take a look at that farm as it is today. First we come to the main farm, called Campania, and comprising just 1,640 acres. Here are huge barns, comfortable houses for employer and employees, warehouses, ice houses, windmills, library, club rooms and bathrooms for use of employees; 17 miles of wide, deep, open drainage ditches; stills for distilling Peppermint oil; roadways, telephones and all the system and comfort of a little village founded and maintained by one thoughtful man.
Not far away is a second farm, recently purchased where somewhat similar improvements are now going on. This farm is named Mentha, and consists of 2,000 acres.
Then, farther north, a third farm completes the Todd domain. This place contains 7,000 acres and is known as Sylvania Range. The three farms, with a total acreage of 10,640 acres, are under one management and they form together the largest Mint farm in all the world. Starting with $100.00 capital, Mr. Todd's plant today is worth several hundred thousand dollars.
Distiller as Well as Grower
But Mr. Todd is more than a Mint grower. With his distilleries he turns the crop into crude Peppermint oil; with his refineries he turns the crude oil into the refined products that find a ready market in the form of menthol, or as a flavoring essence for drinks, confectionery and chewing gum, or for use in medicine. Furthermore, he has been shrewd enough to figure out a method of utilizing, profitably, the by-products of the business, Mint hay. In other words, after the oil is extracted from a mass of Mint plants in a distillery vat, the resulting cake of leaves and stems is dried and fed to cattle. And, oddly enough, the animals greatly relish it and thrive upon it.
Raises Shorthorns on Mint Hay.
During the summer Mr. Todd has 500 Shorthorns grazing on his 7000-acre range, where they require no human attention during the season when his men are busy planting, cultivating and harvesting the first crop. Later, these same Shorthorns are driven from pasture to the big Campania barns, where the men care for them and feed them Mint hay from Mr. Todd's distilleries at a season when such workmen have little else to do. In this way the by-product is utilized and the regular force of men is kept employed all the year around.
The growing of Mint is simple, yet there are some peculiar features about it. For instance, the land is so shaky at some seasons of the year that horses can not work on it unless they wear special, broad wooden shoes.
This Mint soil, indeed, is something like the muck found in typical celery fields, being black, damp and loose. But it is less firm and more damp than the celery land at Kalamazoo.
Setting New Mint Fields.
The Mint root is perennial. Once in two or three years, however, the fields are renewed to improve the crop. When setting a new field the land is plowed and harrowed in the usual way. It is then marked out in shallow furrows into which the sets are evenly dropped by skilled planters who cover each dropped root by shoveling dirt over it with the foot. The rows are about 2 ½ feet apart and the planting is done in early spring. The sets are obtained by digging up and separating the runners and roots from old plants.
The planted rows soon send up shoots above ground and the new plants rapidly run or spread, necessitating hoeing and cultivating only until late July, at which time the field should be densely covered with a rank growth of waving green plants that forbid further cultural work.
Harvesting the Mint.
In August or September the field is mowed, raked and bunched; in fact, handled quite similarly to a clover hay field. After allowing the plants to dry a short time, the crop is loaded onto hay wagons and carted to the stills, where the essential oil is extracted by means of a system of steam distillation.
The second year's crop is obtained by the simple method of plowing under the plants in the fall. The roots send up new shoots next season, while weeds are temporarily discouraged. No cultivation is attempted the second year, altho the hand pulling of weeds may sometimes prove desirable.
We think the growing of Mint should not be attempted except on a large scale. We have had many queries touching the plant and manner of cultivation that we have taken this means to answer them. In boyhood days we were well acquainted with this industry in all its branches and can not advise the average Ginseng grower to undertake its culture for the reason that there is not money enough in it to be profitable on small areas of land.