Know your Farmer, Know your Elderberry
We first met Devon Bennett and Ed Mareth at the 2015 Natural Expo East show in Baltimore, MD. They stopped by our booth and we quickly learned that they had more than just a passing interest in elderberry…they were elderberry growers! Devon, Ed and Ed’s daughter Brittany were all members of small family business named Innovative Natural Solutions, and like us, had devoted family land to the American Elderberry. We are always working hard to spread the good word about elderberry so are overjoyed whenever we meet people who share our passion for the elderberry. Since that chance meeting last fall we have purchased thousands of pounds of elderberries from Innovative Natural Solutions and love the quality and consistency of the berries they harvest, clean and freeze for us.
The Making of an Elderberry Farmer
As Devon recalls, it was during a trip through Europe after high school graduation that he first became aware of elderberry. Elderberry is a well-established and well known crop in Europe and one can find elderberry based products in the corner pharmacy and groceries throughout the continent. Growing up in the US, Devon, like almost all of us living in the states, had never heard of elderberry and was intrigued by this much celebrated fruit in Europe. Upon his return back to the states he happened to read an article about the work the University of Missouri was doing to determine the viability of the American Elderberry and with a lightning bolt of inspiration Devon realized that this was meant to be his life’s work.
Devon rented 7 acres from a grape grower going out of business in his home town of Purdy, Missouri and planted it all by hand in 2013. The following year, Devon planted another 6 acres on his dad’s farm, and successfully sold the entire harvest produced by his 2013 planting. Innovative Natural Solutions was begun in 2015 when Brittany and her dad, Ed, founder of Project Genesis, joined forces with Devon and converted an additional 9 acres of her family land to elderberry. They have focused on 4 varieties of elderberry: York, Marge, Wyldewood, and Bob Gordon. Devon and Brittany are really happy with how well the York variety is thriving in their southern Missouri climate, and say that the berries that are produced by the York variety are bigger, juicier and sweeter than the others. They have plans to plant other varieties too as they expand their orchards. They face farming challenges too; in their third year of production some of the fields experienced insect damage for the first time and they are exploring organic and physical controls to reduce the damage and improve the yield.
Local Economic Benefits
Innovative Natural Solutions employs as many as 20 people to help with the picking, cleaning and freezing of the elderberries harvested from the 53 acres they now have dedicated to elderberry production. They have invested in irrigation, built greenhouses and are working on developing a harvesting machine too. Both Devon and Brittany report that they get a lot of support from their neighbors and friends in Purdy. Friends help them develop elderberry based recipes, neighbors scout out products containing elderberry in stores for them and the community has come together to help Innovative Natural Solutions in any way they can. Innovative Natural Solutions in turn gives back a portion of their profits to the town of Purdy to contribute to the town’s economic development efforts.
Norm’s Farms is thrilled to have found Innovative Natural Solutions and their awesome American elderberries. We share the vision of establishing the American elderberry as a viable crop for small family farmers, and we believe its important to know your farmer, know your elderberry. We are working hard to grow our business so that family farmers like Devon and Brittany have an outlet for the great fruit they grow. The next time you enjoy one of our products, raise a glass to the hard work of American family farmers like Devon and Brittany!