Horseradish, the zesty root that graces prime rib and adds a kick to many sauces, is complex to grow, harvest and process. The Huntsinger family of the Eau Claire region has figured out the best ways to take advantage of Wisconsin’s soil and climate: they are the largest grower and processor of horseradish in the world, while still taking a farm-to-table approach when it comes to quality and freshness.
Silver Spring Foods, a subsidiary of Huntsinger Farms, has grown to offer more than 100 products, from prepared farm-fresh horseradish to locally milled mustards to many other sauces and mayonnaise-based products.
“We view ourselves as a condiments company that helps you bring excitement and flavor to your food,” says Eric Rygg, president of Silver Spring Foods and fourth-generation member of the family. “We want our products to help your food taste better, and horseradish certainly does give food zing.”
Getting to the Root of the Business
Horseradish is a plant that is related to mustard, wasabi and radishes. The Huntsinger family began cultivating horseradish in 1929, when Ellis Huntsinger discovered, over successive seasons, that Wisconsin was an ideal place to grow it.
“Horseradish likes the cold weather. In some of the more southern regions, a lot of the plant’s energy goes to the big broad leaves, but we want big roots under the soil,” Rygg says. “We joke that the roots ‘bulk up’ for the winter.”
In their 90 years of operation, they’ve learned everything from appropriate spacing to the right crop rotations to the temperatures for ideal cold storage of the root, and even the flavors that result from coarse and fine horseradish grinding. They’re truly horseradish experts.
Producing Horseradish at Scale
The family business cultivates hundreds of acres of horseradish per harvest, planting one crop in the spring and a second in the fall, with the plants staying in the ground for a year. With large-scale production comes technology updates to take advantage of good-weather days and keep yields high. For instance, they’ve customized their harvesting equipment to gently but completely remove the roots.
Get the recipe: Horseradish Chicken Tacos
Horseradish is still a very hands-on product, from seeding all the way to some elements of processing.
“We are always trying to be innovative in equipment, to help us speed up the process given the challenges of the weather. Taking into account the labor-intensive nature of the product, our experience helps us to be successful,” Rygg says.
Sharing Is Caring
Eau Claire County’s bid was chosen to host 2020 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days (postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19), a farm trade show that combines exhibitions of the latest agricultural innovations in Wisconsin with farm-related education and family exhibits. Huntsinger Farms/Silver Spring Foods emerged as a great location for the event.
“We will be in a unique situation to be on a horseradish farm where they have a lot of new technology they are using,” says Matthew Glewen, general manager of Wisconsin Farm Technology Days. “Extension specialists and educators will have displays and active learning booths where people can learn about new technologies in agriculture; we will also have a whole youth area with lots of stations and booths about agricultural careers.”
The team at Silver Spring Foods is all excited to learn and to share their agricultural legacy with others in the ag community.
“It’s a fascinating, diverse and eclectic ag industry in Wisconsin,” Rygg says. “The more time I spend here, the more fascinated I am by the scale of some of the companies. I’m glad we’ll be able to get people out to the show who are proud to learn more about these local producers and their stories.”