As many midwestern farm families struggle to make a living off the land, the Jones family of Afton, Iowa, has found a new source of revenue growing in their pastures. For two summers, the family has been picking the flowers off the ragweed plants that flourish in their fields and corrals.
The flowers are ground up, sifted, and eventually reduced to pure pollen before being sold to pharmaceutical companies as far away as Sweden. The pollen is used in allergy testing products and in shots used to treat allergy sufferers.
By late summer, the ragweed plants in southern Iowa are often 6 feet tall and heavy with pollen. Using ordinary yard clippers, the family makes quick work of filling their five-gallon buckets. Last year, the Jones family made $2,600 to supplement their annual income.
Pollen collectors are at work in at least a dozen states, harvesting pollen from a variety of trees, grasses, and weeds. The Jones family and others in the area became involved in this unusual enterprise after an official from the local Resource, Conservation and Development District asked the Allegron pharmaceutical company to give a workshop on pollen collection. "We’re always looking for alternative means of keeping people on the farm," says Paul Kelley, president of the Afton RCDD.