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Farmer Perspectives on Elderberry

Farmer Profiles: Elderberry in Value-Added Products

Two diversified farms in Northern California harvest elderberry from hedgerows to make value-added products. On both farms, elderberry represents just one component of a varied value-added product mix, but it is one which they each see increasing in the future. Because elderberries bear fruit for several months, the farmers are able to harvest whenever it fits with other aspects of their busy schedules, and by freezing the berries, they can turn the fruit into value-added products during a slower time on the farm.

Good Humus Produce is a 30 acre organic farm growing fruit, vegetables, herbs, flowers, preserved goods and herb mixes – “A little of everything,” says farmer Annie Main, who started the farm in 1976 with her husband Jeff. Good Humus makes elderberry syrup, which Annie sells direct to consumers at the local farmers’ market. “People are buying it for medicine, they’re buying it for pancakes – it’s versatile!” Annie uses a Swedish steamer to process the juice from the berries, then freezes the juice and makes it into syrup whenever she has a window of time away from all the other activities on the farm. The hedgerow from which Annie harvests her elderberries was planted around 20 years ago, in the early days of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP); she hopes to apply for another EQIP grant soon to put in more hedgerows on some new farmland, and incorporate more elderberries. “I do nothing to maintain or manage them!” she says about her existing crop “But I think I could sell more syrup than I currently make – and if I have an elderberry plant or two at my annual plant sale, those always sell.”

The Cloverleaf Farm near Davis, California grows 4 acres of stone fruit, and also harvests elderberries from hedgerows to use in value-added products. They make elderberry syrup, elderberry jelly, elderflower cordial, and are starting to experiment with fruit leathers. The Cloverleaf farmers harvest elderberries by snapping the cymes off the bushes and putting them into bins. “We hardly ever get the ladders out, we just harvest what’s within reach” says farmer Katie Fyhrie. The bins go into the cooler to remove any field heat, then the cymes – berry clusters still attached to their stems – go into plastic trash bags and into the freezer. After the berries are frozen, “we smash the bag around and the berries separate from the stems, then we pour the whole mass out into a big metal bowl and scoop out the stems and leaves by hand” Katie describes. The destemmed berries go into plastic ziplock bags and – now more compact – return to the freezer until it’s time for processing. This method is straightforward but labor intensive, and the farmers are interested in exploring how mechanical destemmers might add efficiency to their system.

“The trees give us a constant supply of berries, so it’s easy to fit into the farm schedule. And usually picking elderberry and elderflowers is every single person’s favorite task on the whole farm. Everybody kind of fights to be able to do it. Being in the hedgerows… you’re walking around, there’s different plants, there’s different bugs… it’s just really fun. We just love elderberry!” - Katie Fyhrie, Cloverleaf Farm