Ginseng: Hsu’s Ginseng Farm
Paul Hsu, 80, a native of Taiwan whose family were farmers there, started the farm in Wisconsin as a mail-order business in 1974. His son Will, 46, graduated from college in 2000, earned an MBA from Harvard and then went to work for General Mills.
“There wasn’t much reason to come home,” Will says. “I had a good job. The market for ginseng was horrible. And there’s nothing that’s especially fun about picking rocks or managing pests.”
But when Paul was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, Will, his oldest son, came home, and over the next five years the farm’s management slowly shifted to him. “I knew the farm was where I needed to be,” Will says.
Today, with Will at the helm, the 1,000-acre farm is a global operation, producing more than 200,000 pounds of ginseng annually.
With new management came new ways of doing things: “I used to dig posts and pick rocks by hand,” recalls Paul. “Now we have mechanical harvesters and post pounders that line everything up perfectly, using GPS.”
Still, Paul keeps his hand in. “I focus on the part of the business I love, which is spending time in the woods. It can take 10 years for the roots to fully mature, but it’s nice to see them coming in. It makes me so hopeful about the future.” —David Hochman
Helena James chats with her daughter, Lissa.
Oysters: Hama Hama Oyster Farm
Set on Washington’s stunning Hood Canal and the clear, cold Hamma Hamma River, the farm began as a timber business in 1922. Third-generation owner Bart Robbins, who died in 2021, sold shrimp on the side to make ends meet. Soon he added oysters, developing a devoted Seattle following. Bart’s son, Dave, 71, and daughter, Helena James, 74, are retired after decades in the business. But Helena’s son Adam, 44, and her daughter, Lissa James Monberg, 41, run the oyster farm. (Their brother, Tom, 46, and his wife, Kendra, 44, head the company.)
Adam James harvesting oysters.
Adam and Lissa both left home for college, travel and other jobs but later came back. “I was in middle school when I realized that I was one of the luckiest people on the planet, to be in the woods here, and especially on the water,” Lissa says. The family’s retail business was low-key for decades. But ever since Lissa took that over in 2005 and started online sales, then opened the Oyster Saloon in 2014, business has boomed.
“I wonder what my grandparents would think,” Helena marvels. “Could they ever have imagined us selling oysters on the internet?”
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