John and Lillie Bruns Farm, 1920s.
Ginseng crop grew under cedar cover-boards in place
in this photograph looking northwest.
Blind Island in the mid-right edge.

Click to enlarge.Photo courtesy of the the Bruns family.

One Shaw Island family paid off their farm mortgage with this crop. There is no one raising a commercial crop of ginseng on Shaw Island during the modern time but thought you'd enjoy reading about what islanders raised in the past. I hear that someone was a little confused, there are no ginseng seeds offered for sale at the Gatehouse on Squaw Bay Road.
The Friday Harbor Journal
8 November 1934.
"That the San Juan Islands are an ideal locality and specially adapted in the matter of soil and climate for raising ginseng, is the opinion of John E. and Lillie Bruns, well-known residents of Shaw Island. The Bruns can speak from experience on this subject, as they have been raising ginseng for the past twenty-four years. 
      Starting in a modest way, today [1934] on their Shaw Island farm they have developed a profitable ginseng yard, recognized as one of the most successful in the northwest, with their product free of disease. This fact, Mr. Bruns told a Journal representative, speaks well for the San Juan Islands as a suitable place to engage in this line of endeavor, that in this case has resulted in a good market for disease-free seeds, besides the sale of roots. His yard was developed from wild seed originating in China.
      In the sale of the roots, Mr. Bruns says he has found in his experience, the best time to sell is when the plants are from five to seven years old, although many plants are saleable at the age of three years. It is always a cash crop, and if you have sufficient quantity, buyers come to your door for the product.
      A ginseng yard must be at least 80% shade, which is his case, Mr. Bruns said. It was constructed entirely from forest material from his farm. The well-drained ground is another requirement for a successful yard.
      Ginseng is a Chinese name meaning "that which resembles a man," and is applied to the plant from the peculiar shape of the root which in many cases are exact replicas of the human body. The root is highly valued in China for medicinal purposes; it is in that country that American ginseng raisers find a ready market.
      Mr. Bruns says waiting from three to seven years before realizing a crop may seem too long a time to wait, still, it is less time than it takes to develop a profitable orchard. It is a crop that can be brought into fruitage while ordinary farm operations are in progress. With patience, Mr. Bruns says, the ginseng farmer is rewarded with a cash crop and a market not likely to suffer from over-production."

The Bruns' youngest son, J. "Lee" Bruns (1913-2004), born on Shaw Island, was a helpful correspondent when we were building archival files for the Shaw Island Museum.
      He shared that in one memorable good year his parents were paid $11. per pound for the crop; the yield being enough to pay off the mortgage on the farm. The popular, widely known Captain Charlie Basford cautioned his crew on the ISLANDER to handle the barrels carefully. The dried roots were sold to buyers from Vancouver, BC, and New York. They hired Ed Start from the farm situated on Squaw Bay, to help with the weeding for $3 per hour.

      John also well remembered the family phone ring for the farm in the above photograph––"two shorts" on the crank phone. The Bruns phone line was the first one installed on Shaw Island's cooperative phone system, to hook up with Mrs. Bruns' sister farming on the E. B./ Dorcas Fowler farm on the west side of Blind Bay (present-day Clark farm).

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