The other day I received an email from Jim Irwin, a gentleman in California who has quietly been growing hoodia gordonii plants since 2005. I had heard of only one hoodia farmer who had hoodia plants for sale in the U.S. so naturally I was intrigued. I replied to Jim’s email and requested a phone interview. He was quick to oblige and had a fascinating story to tell. His experience growing hoodia plants dispelled many myths about the difficulty of growing and selling hoodia plants in the U.S.
Jim is a full-fledged hoodia farmer now and sells hoodia plants, seeds, and powder through his website, www.HoodiasUSA.com. Jim started his operations back in 1999 selling various cactus and succulents on eBay. He didn’t even know hoodia was an appetite suppressant until 2003 when the BBC hoodia documentary aired. After he heard about the documentary, he ran into a nursery in the area that was successfully growing hundreds of hoodia plants. Jim purchased several of them to sell on eBay. He also bought several hoodia seeds from the nursery to sell on eBay as well.
Jim had no idea the 60 Minutes hoodia report was about to air just 3 weeks after he made his purchase. It was the 60 Minutes report that put hoodia on the map and launched it into diet supplement fame. Needlessly to say, Jim made several thousand dollars on eBay in just 4 weeks selling the small supply of hoodia plants and seeds he had just purchased! He knew he was unto to something big. He decided to keep the remaining 10 hoodia plants he had left to start his own crop of hoodia. Jim was going to become a hoodia farmer.
From just those 10 plants, Jim had roughly 20,000 seeds that he planted in 2005. In 2006 he planted 60,000 seeds, and in 2007 he planted 100,000 seeds. Today in 2008, he has over 200,000 hoodia gordonii plants in production! With each plant flowering and producing hundreds of seeds every year, you can imagine just how big his farming operation can get if Jim chooses to keep expanding.
After talking to Jim he dispelled 5 myths of growing the hoodia gordonii plant in the U.S. Here are those myths and what Jim had to say about each:
Myth 1: The Hoodia Gordonii Plant Can Only Be Grown In South Africa
This myth had actually been dispelled when I ran across Frank Fletcher’s story back in 2007. He was the Arizona hoodia farmer who had hoodia plants for sale. Franks’ success along with Jim’s success of growing the plant just adds more evidence that the plant can be grown in the U.S. And let’s not forget, Jim purchased his initial 10 hoodia plants from a California nursery who had hundreds of plants for sale. That’s three businesses now that have grown hoodia with great success in the U.S.
The reason it was believed that hoodia could only be grown in South Africa was because of the sandy soils and weather conditions. While South Africa is certainly an ideal place for hoodia to grow, and remains the main source of hoodia today, it is clearly not the only place it can grow well. Both Arizona and California have sandy soils and ideal weather conditions (lots of warm, sunny days).
Myth 2: The Hoodia Plant Is Susceptible to Mysterious Diseases & Tends To Die Easily
Jim had never heard of this before. He did acknowledge that hoodia is very susceptible to root rot, but with good soil conditions and with a controlled environment, it is actually quite hardy. According to Jim, approximately 90-95% of the seeds he plants grow successfully. If he plants 100 seeds, 90-95 of them will grow to full maturity without any problems. The way Jim described the hardiness of the hoodia gordonii plant, you would have thought he was talking about a common house plant. It actually sounded quite difficult to kill.
Myth 3: Growing Hoodia Is Extremely Difficult Due To Its Unique Pollination Process
When the hoodia plant blooms, it produces flowers that give off a scent that has been described as burning flesh or rotting meat. The scent attracts flies which pollinate the plant. I asked Jim about that and he said it is all true, but that it wasn’t as bad as it sounds.
He said that while the flowers constantly bloom for a 2-3 month period, they only bloom for about a week. Second, the plants are outside so unless you’re “downwind” from them or right on top of them, the scent isn’t that bad. And having been around them now for three years, he has gotten used to the smell – and the flies that come with the pollination process.
One quick side not about the challenges of growing hoodia, it is still extremely difficult for the average Joe to grow hoodia – for individual consumption or on a mass scale. Unless you live in the West or Southwest states where warm weather and plenty of sun are the norm, you’re going to find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to grow hoodia. Jim acknowledges this but his main point was that his success and others like his proves that it is not impossible to grow hoodia in the U.S. if the soil conditions and environment are ideal.
Myth 4: Hoodia Needs To Grow For At Least 3 Years For Maximum Potency
I told Jim about the current debate within the hoodia industry regarding wild hoodia vs. cultivated hoodia. I explained to him that some believe wild hoodia is more potent because it has been left to grow longer before it is harvested. As a result, it has the highest levels of P57, the active ingredient in the plant responsible for its appetite suppressant qualities. I told him that some believe the plant should be left to mature for at least 3 years for maximum potency before it is harvested.
Jim hadn’t heard of this and he didn’t agree. He said his plants were harvested within 18-24 months and at that point were about 16 inches in height. His belief was that if hoodia was left to grow on its own, then it might need more time because it’s not in a controlled environment. However, his hoodia plants are all carefully controlled and monitored. The soil conditions are absolutely ideal because he prepares the soil before he plants and he makes sure the plants get the optimal amount of sun and water.
Jim’s philosophy is that as long as the plant is mature and healthy, it shouldn’t be any less potent then hoodia left to grow for several years. He’s had hundreds of satisfied customers over the years so he doesn’t believe his stock is any less potent than plants left to grow for more than two years.
Myth 5: Hoodia Gordonii Is Scarce
I didn’t actually talk to Jim about this one, but after hearing Jim’s story and after talking to other hoodia insiders the past few months, there is no doubt that the supply of hoodia is quickly catching up to the demand. While it’s true the demand is still greater than the overall worldwide supply of hoodia, I don’t think that will be the case for much longer.
If you consider the success of just this one U.S. hoodia farmer, who currently has 200,000 plants in production and continues to expand, imagine how many plants could be planted in the U.S. alone? Now throw in other countries that already have hoodia plants in production such as South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe and you can easily see that the supply over the next few years is going to explode. I think the whole “hoodia is scarce” mantra is going to be a thing of the past in the very near future.
If you’d like to learn more about Jim and his operations, or would like to buy a hoodia plant or some seeds, visit his website at www.HoodiasUSA.com.