Walk into the Gracia family’s sprawling four-booth stand at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, and you’ll see herb varieties from around the world: Thai basil, Lebanese mint, Mexican tarragon.
They’re a far cry from the parsley and Italian basil that Bessie Gracia convinced her parents, Dolores and Jack, to stock back in the 1980s.
“People were watching all these cooking shows and came in asking for them,” Gracia recalls.
She already had a proven record as a trend spotter. In the 1970s, she noticed hanging baskets appearing around Ann Arbor and got her parents’ permission to make up fifty. Today, the Gracias sell up to 5,000 a year at markets around metro Detroit.
Gracia still keeps a close eye on what people are buying. She says that geraniums are fading in popularity, because they require so much upkeep, from deadheading spent flowers to constant watering. Instead, they’re growing more coleus, known for their colorful foliage, and drought-tolerant succulents.
Herbs now fill half a greenhouse at the Gracias’ Belleville farm. Many of the specialty plants will sell out by the end of June, but for the moment these include six types of basil–two red-leafed varieties, two Italian varieties, Thai basil, and a bushy kind called spicy globe–and multiple varieties of thyme, oregano, and mint.
This summer, Gracia is gauging basil sales, wondering whether market shoppers really want all the varieties they’re selling. “I’m watching spicy globe,” she says, a bit ominously.