Chris Patton

Jul 5, 2019
Missouri elderberry workshop well-attended

Dear Elderberry Friends,
This year’s workshop organized by Terry Durham of River HIlls Harvest and held at the Carver Center, Lincoln University, Jefferson City, Missouri was one of, or perhaps the best-attended, in the 13 years it has been held. The University of Missouri Extension is an annual co-sponsor, and the material presented was very interesting and useful.
The main focus was to encourage growers to add more acres to meet demand – especially for certified organic berries. While not the same as attending, I have some of the presentation decks posted here. While I have attended the last 9 years, I highly recommend that you go at least once for the whole 2.5 days, including the new grower day. Repeated attendance is also worth it if farm demands permit.
This year we learned that according to the 2017 USDA Ag census, about 500 acres are used nationally for commercial elderberry production. Of course, not all is reported, but over half the reported farms were under 5 acres. Missouri has about 300 acres in production, and elderberry is now Missouri’s No. 1 berry crop, where there was nothing 20 years ago. Maine was second with 48 acres. I know of about 40 acres in Iowa.
MEC has started preliminary planning to develop two harvest and production hubs. The first in Madison, WI in partnership with The Savannah Institute, and we may yet have a WI field day in 2019 sponsored by the Specialty Crops Division of their state department of agriculture.  The second is in partnership with Veterans Farm Initiative (VFI) in Montrose, MN. Both are nonprofit orgs. Both have started to grow cuttings towards possibly 50 acres each of certified organic elder plants.
Elderberry Production Hubs
Terry Durham’s River Hills Harvest operations already operate as a hub for harvest and production. His years of experience and FDA reviewed procedures have set precedents for all Midwest elderberry growers to follow in order to pack their berries in a safe and saleable manner. That is the main reason why MO has 300 producing acres.
Mark and Verlyn Sneller’s West Branch Elderberry (existing hub) near Orange City, IA have spearheaded MEC’s commercial sales growth with their modified grape destemmer and wash-conveyor process line, cold storage and commercial kitchen with a 700 sf commercial dehydrator inside it. They have been true coop leaders here in the north by sharing their experience with other growers.
The hub concept works, and we need more of them throughout the Midwest. Each of the two new hubs being planned will work towards efficient crop harvest, destemming, packing and frozen storage. Each will evaluate the feasibility of various ingredient production options, and we as participating growers each need to seek out grants and other available assistance as well as these organizations. No hub will be like another one.
A Curious Idea
This past Thursday, VFI hosted a Sustainable Farm Association grazing field day with an emphasis of involving veterans in farming through a number of available educational and internship programs. While I was listening, I remembered talking to an elderberry grower who primarily raised beef cattle. He told me that the cattle love to munch on elder.
I think there is an opportunity for a SARE grant in testing very late season bovine or bison browsing of elder fields towards improved soil health and yield. Once the cattle (or even goats) have grazed through it, then the rest can be flailed to the ground.
Considerations: Paul Otten preferred to see plants go completely dormant before cutting them down, and those who want to sell cuttings could not do this on all their plants, of course. However, significant research shows that even short term ruminant grazing creates huge soil benefits, hence my suggestion. While glycosides in native elder seem to be a non-issue, animal health might be negatively affected by eating so much elderberry at once. I certainly don’t know for sure one way or the other.
All the berry best,
Christopher J. Patton

Natural Kick Farms





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