Greetings to our colleagues and friends of Elderberry Wisdom Farm! We have been missing in action on the internet, but we’ve been busy on the farm. The past few months have been productively spent planning and providing our Native Agriculture Biodiversity Accelerator which was funded in July by US Department of Agriculture. For the next year, we will be training cohorts of Native American adults who are interested in becoming owners/operators of their own microenterprise in agriculture or horticulture here in the mid-Willamette Valley.
In September, we successfully completed a feasibility study and business/marketing plan for our first business, Blue Elderberry Farm LLC. Blue Elderberry Farm will serve as an experiential working model for other Native American microenterprise owners who will develop food or health and wellness products in an extended line of organic, locally sourced products by Native American producers.
As some of you may know, Blue Elderberry Farm (BEF) has been established as a social and economic enterprise, with future profits from the business to be invested in Elderberry Wisdom Farm, the 501(c)(3) Native American nonprofit organization that is providing horticultural and agricultural workforce training to Native American and other students of color. We have several partnerships that make this possible including with Rich Schwartz at Alder Street Consulting who led the team to produce the feasibility study followed by the business and marketing plan. We are also continuing our partnership with Chemeketa Community College’s Agriculture Science and Technology Program.
There are many products on the market that feature elderberry as a key ingredient, including medicinal products such as syrups, gummies, lozenges, tonics, and tinctures as well as food and beverage products. Market demand for these products has been rapidly increasing nationwide for more than a decade. Demand spiked even further at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Market researchers attribute elderberry’s market growth to its high value as an antioxidant and source of vitamin C and other vitamin content that boosts the immune system.
Three subspecies of elderberry produce edible flowers and berries, with the most popular being European (black) Elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. nigra), which is imported from eastern Europe. Some processors are beginning to use American Elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis) which is grown in the Midwest and other parts of the country.
Blue Elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea) is less frequently used, but it is native to much of western North America from Mexico to British Columbia and has a long history of use by Native people for medicinal and ceremonial purposes. Few commercially available products use blue elderberry, but
being native to our local ecosystem, it is our plant of choice. Reasons for this include the fact that horticulturalists have not been able to create a reliable blue elderberry cultivar, and the growth habits of blue elderberry are less suited to commercial production than black or American elderberry.
This winter we will receive an additional 275 plant starts that will be potted for a year and then planted on a one-acre plot at our Aurora farm next fall when the rainy season begins. We are using indigenous planting techniques, including inter-planting native species with agricultural crops, dry farming supplemented by smart irrigation technology, and other methods that have been used by Native American and indigenous farmers. We will be using low-till and no-till after we have removed invasive roots from the soil and strengthened its biodiversity. None of this would be possible without the friendship and support from David House at Vahid Farms who has generously offered a long-term lease on his organic farm to our future farmers.
Despite the dearth of existing commercial blue elderberry operations, Blue Elderberry Farm intends to cultivate a one-acre plot of blue elderberry plants on a farm in Aurora, Oregon using indigenous traditional ecological knowledge (ITEK) combined with modern scientific approaches. In 2022 BEF will prepare the ground in anticipation of receiving 250 blue elderberry starts from Scholls Valley Native Nursery in early winter 2023. In addition to the Aurora orchard, Blue Elderberry Farm has a patch of several dozen blue elderberry bushes that were planted at its farm in Salem in 2021. The first two years, the black tail deer who walk through our property every day, kept nibbling until they were not more than just stubs. But this year they have grown and we enjoyed a few blossoms and berries.
Blue elderberry plants require seven to ten years to reach full maturity, though the flower harvest can begin in year two and the berry harvest in year three. BEF intends to seek USDA Organic and Salmon Safe certifications for its orchard. The flagship product will be an elderberry “syrup” intended for medicinal purposes. The product will have only three ingredients: organic blue elderberries, vegetable glycerin, and distilled water. The berries will be sourced from the BEF orchards in Salem and Aurora. The vegetable glycerin will be of the highest quality available, manufactured from sustainably grown inputs such as coconut, flax or corn. From an FDA classification perspective, the product will be sold as a “dietary supplement”, rather than as a food. The product will be packaged in 16oz (1 pint) glass bottles and is expected to retail for $20 per bottle.
Blue Elderberry Farm plans to sell its elderberry syrup throughout Oregon’s Willamette Valley via a variety of channels, and to a wider customer base through online sales. Primary channels will begin with farmers markets, the company website, and naturopathic clinics and other healthcare providers, and then expand to include established online eCommerce platforms, and small retail stores.
Blue Elderberry Farm intends to grow its business slowly. There are three primary reasons for this strategic decision: 1) the supply of elderberries available for manufacturing will start small and increase slowly over time as the orchard matures; 2) BEF doesn’t want to expand beyond the capacity of the founders, who will be working in the business part-time; and 3) the founders do not want to take on debt to fund the business, instead using the reinvestment of sales revenues to support business growth.