Life Changes for Ann and Rodger, Founders of Norm’s Farms.

Life Changes for Ann and Rodger, Founders of Norm’s Farms.
Elderberries on the Farm
Rodger and I have been chasing our elderberry dreams for over a decade. It all began in 2007 when, Norm, Rodger’s dad, and we decided to quit growing corn and soybean on our small family farm in Hartsburg, Missouri. Norm had just turned 80 years old and wanted us to manage the farm after his death and preserve it for future generations. Our family had become passionate about restoration agriculture and preserving farm land for food production, so after much research we bet big on the perennial crop of elderberry in the hopes that would make the preservation of our family farm possible.

So much has happened since those days! We partnered with a local organic farmer to be our farm manager and business partner in 2008 and we harvested our first crop in 2011. The winery to whom we thought we had it sold backed out, so we learned how to make our own products from our farm raised elderberries. We started making our products under a completely different brand name in 2012 and then switched to Norm’s Farms in 2013. Norm passed away later that same year and then our farm manager went his own separate way in 2013 too.

We somehow managed to run the farm and the business in 2014 without Norm or our farm manager, although it about killed us! We hired another farm manager in 2015 and unfortunately, we lost that farm manager and our entire crop that year. We met Devon and Brittany at Natural Products Expo East that same year, and just in time too, as we needed another source of American elderberries in order to keep up with Norm’s Farms’ growth. We began buying berries from Devon and Brittany in 2016. And then, wonderfully, we joined forces with Devon and Brittany in 2017 to become the first vertically integrated, three family owned business in the US dedicated to the American elderberry. Devon and Brittany came on board at Norm’s Farms just in time too. Sales at Norm’s Farms grew by more than 200% in 2018 and we are posting an impressive growth rate for 2019, too. Our partnership has brought Norm’s Farms the resources we needed to hire people to help us and to manage the growth in a smart way. We now have three people dedicated to sales, a whole team dedicated to farming, another team dedicated to production, and another team, including Rodger and me, dedicated to marketing. Rodger and I have been enjoying the pleasure of being able to focus on just one thing in the company instead of having to manage everything as we did for so long. The best part of our partnership with Devon and Brittany is knowing that these young, smart entrepreneurs will take our baby, Norm’s Farms, well into the future beyond our ability to manage and care for it.

We always envisioned our partnership in two phases. The first phase, now complete, involved teaching our new partners about everything “Norm’s Farms”, and hiring folks to help us grow and manage the business. The second phase, just now begun, sets the stage for Ann and Rodger to retire. Rodger will be 62 this year and I will turn 60. We recognize how blessed we are to have lived this long and to still have our health. We find ourselves wanting to create room in our lives to get back to the family farm as there is still much to do in order to secure it for our children and nephew and their future children. We also want to spend much more time with our adult kids, friends and extended families. And we feel really drawn towards volunteering for organizations that are working on solutions for the difficulties that climate change presents to all of us.

The amazing support we have received from Brittany and Devon and all the people that now work for Norm’s Farms makes it possible for Rodger and me to take baby steps towards eventual retirement. One not-so-little step just completed is that Rodger and I have both dropped to part time. We intend to park there for a while and do what we can to contribute to Norm’s Farms on the marketing front. Working part time makes room for a long stay at the farm this summer so that we can attend to the work that needs to be done there. One of our ponds has developed a leak, the Korean lespedeza threatens to take over the pastures, the farm house needs repair, the cabin needs work, and we need to recommit ourselves to ensuring that the family farm continues to produce healthy food well into the future, beyond our lives, in honor of Norm’s dreams. The farm may or may not grow elderberries in the future, but it will grow good food and we need to figure that out in partnership with our kids. Looking back on our journey to build Norm’s Farms fills us with so many wonderful memories! There were times when we wondered if our little business would make it and there were times when we wondered if we’d have the strength and stamina to continue working 80-100 hours a week. The one constant that kept us going through the challenges was the incredible support we received from our friends (got to give a big shout out to Erik and Rachel here), our customers, and our partners, like the NC Department of Agriculture, our designer, Julie Nelson, and so many others. Like life, the history of Norm’s Farms is filled with ups and downs and the amazing people that helped us every step of the way. To all of you we give our heart-felt thanks! We couldn’t have done it without you, and while we are now less busy at Norm’s Farms than we have been in the past, we remain passionate and excited to be working with our amazing team in our new roles!
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