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Elderberry Growers Cooperate To Grow
The Minnesota Elderberry Cooperative (MEC) is laying the groundwork for a new farm business they hope will spread. Their goal is to encourage similar cooperatives in other states to grow, process and promote elderberry products. Elderberry products are growing in demand for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as claims of benefits to the immune system and brain function.
  “Most elderberry products today are imported from Europe,” explains Chris Patton, MEC. “They freeze entire clumps of berries with twigs and other materials and unripe berries. Our berries are cleaner and processed to 180°F. Most European product is dried or concentrated with the juice pasteurized. As a result, our products are better tasting with greater purity."
  Patton wears multiple hats, including founding director and board chair of MEC, elderberry grower with his son Philip at Natural Kick Farms, and marketer for River Hills Harvest (RHH), processor of their elderberries.
  RHH was founded in Missouri by long-time elderberry grower, promoter and processor Terry Dunham. While Dunham markets RHH products in that state, Patton markets them through a growing number of retailers in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, as well as online. Patton knows a bigger supply will be needed, but he and other growers are concerned about maintaining quality.
  "We want to set up quality standards for growing, picking, processing and marketing," says Patton. "We want industry-wide standards established that document processes and maintain quality."
  The MEC is waiting for a feasibility study by the Cooperative Development Service before soliciting new members. "It has to make economic sense, and so far the study indicates it does," says Patton. "With that in hand, we will kick off recruitment in Minnesota and develop a business plan for members to follow."
  Another goal of the MEC is to identify the best cultivars of elderberries. The University of Missouri is working in this area, and Patton hopes to see other universities do so. While some varietals are available from nurseries, most growers use cuttings from wild elderberries. Patton expects varietals will be identified and developed for different uses.
  As demand grows, he expects the MEC may use elderberries from other states. However, the long-term goal is to encourage similar co-ops in states with farmer-growers.
  "We will be glad to share our experience in setting up the cooperative," he says. "Once set up, they will be able to purchase access to the feasibility study and business plan. We are very focused on local distribution that parallels local grower production."
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Christopher Patton (ph 612 418-4624; info@minnesota-elderberry.coop; www.minnesota-elderberry.coop).

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2013 - Volume #37, Issue #6