Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is a heat-loving vegetable in the Hibiscus family. It is particularly popular in the South, where the immature pods are used as an ingredient and thickening agent in soups, stews, and gumbos. Okra can also be boiled, fried or pickled.
Okra is a minor commercial vegetable in Kentucky. Most commercial okra in Kentucky is grown for farmers markets or community supported agriculture (CSA) sales. Kentucky growers have in the past shipped limited amounts of okra to commercial wholesale market channels. Wholesale market demand for okra is relatively low, and growers should have a marketing plan in place before planting large acreages. Okra may be sold directly to local restaurants, where chefs are often willing to pay a premium for smaller-sized okra. Growers should consider approaching restaurants specializing in Southern, Creole and/or Cajun dishes. Restaurants specializing in ethnic cuisines are also possibilities for wholesaling okra; these restaurants may have varying preferences for variety, maturity and size.
Okra cultivars differ in maximum plant height, days to maturity, and yield potential. Fruit (pods) may be smooth or ridged while shape can be fat or slender. Pod color may be green, red, or nearly white. Some cultivars produce pods that remain tender to a larger size. Spineless cultivars lack spines on the pods, making them less irritating to harvest. Consider consumer preferences, regional as well as cultural, and whether to grow hybrids and/or heirloom cultivars. Growers should select only adapted varieties that have the qualities required by the intended market.