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Christopher J. Patton [standing on right with a hat] is the Founder, President and Chairman of MEC’s Board. Separately, he markets River Hills Harvest (RHH) brand premium pure elderberry juice products throughout the USA as River Hills Harvest Marketers, LLC.

The Midwest Elderberry Cooperative (MEC) was formed in 2012, originally as the Minnesota Elderberry Cooperative, under MN Statute 308B to be the organizational vehicle to assist small organic/natural farmers in elderberry production and processing in the Midwest. The Feasibility Study and Business Plan developed by outside, experienced professionals indicate reasonable opportunity to succeed. The Business Plan guided our next steps in organization and development with a name change to Midwest Elderberry Cooperative due to the addition of Wisconsin and Iowa growers to the founding Minnesota farmers. 

The business plan included the adoption of cooperative legal structure designed by Dave Swanson, Partner of Dorsey & Whitney, making MEC the most professionally organized association of elderberry growers in America. As of 2019, membership was opened to commercial elderberry growers across the continental US with the goal of bringing 2,250 acres of acres into profitable elderberry and elderflower production by 2025. 

As a result of over three years attendance at national trade shows, as of the end of 2018 MEC had marketing relationships with a few national/regional fruit brokers. More than four national brand buyers/product developers have expressed some level of interest in substantial and dependable supply of native elderberry ingredients for their product lines and several buyers inquired regarding substantial contracted production of bulk frozen and dried certified organic elderberries in advance of harvest. To insure adequate supply and planning for the River Hills Harvest brand and to enter into advanced contracted sales, MEC needs to greatly increase its aggregation of frozen berry inventory, especially of certified organic native elderberries, which means growth the its geographical reach, membership and service. Eventually every regional hub will have its own centralized frozen storage, but we will start by shifting River Hills Elderberry Producers, LLC elderberry purchase and inventory to MEC for the River Hills Harvest brand. 

As a participating grower cooperative, MEC supports the development of members from planning to harvest. This features the aggregation of harvested berries and flowers, conversion into marketable ingredients, and sale to food and beverage producers. Part of the cooperative advantage lies in small to medium size grower access to shared capital equipment, such as an elderberry destemmer, freezer space, and market access/participation. Through its website and participation in trade shows, MEC develops buyer relationships, manages ingredient supply contracts and provides key intangible resources such as education about the cultivation, harvest and processing practices that meet or exceed federal and state food safety standards. We anticipate an expanding geographical presence as elderberry grows in acceptance and use as a commercial-scale specialty crop.

Elderberry as a Crop

Wild elderberry plants are often found along roadsides, forest edges and abandoned fields. Most sources now agree that the limited consumption of ripe berries raw is probably safe for most people.  Andrew Thomas of the University of Missouri recently completed a three year research project that failed to find any significant presence of potentially harmful glycosides in Native North American Elderberry, Sambucus (nigra) canadensis. Originally, most researchers thought that native elderberry leaves, branches, stems, roots, unripe berries and seeds contained glycosides giving them a bitter taste that discourages pests. The body metabolizes glycosides into toxic cyanides; therefore, proper methods of harvest and processing were developed for European elderberries long ago.

Europeans make syrups and cordials from elderberry flowers as well as the berries. Some even coat stemless flower umbrels with batter and fry them served topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar as desert. In the USA, elderflower production and processing remains in its very early stages with a number of hobbyists and small craft producers making and selling elderflower syrups, cordials or teas, for example.

Until recently, over 95% of all elderberry ingredients were imported. European elderberry extracts, powders and concentrates come from that continent’s native species, Sambucus nigra.  Because European commercial production typically freezes their elderberry harvest unwashed and on the stem, imported elderberry products are by necessity more highly processed to deal with the sanitation and unripe European nigra berry glycoside issues. They may be pasteurized, fermented, or heat processed up to three days in order to make concentrates or extracts. They may also contain added potassium sorbate as a preservative.

Until relatively modern times, elderberry flowers and berries were mostly collected from their wild, natural setting. Small scale elderberry growers have existed for centuries. They used elderberries in a wide variety of traditional products for local consumption. The Internet makes it easy to search out the ancient and modern uses of elderberry plant parts and fruits around the world.

Historically very few farmers grew elderberries as a commercial crop, though they often kept them in hedge rows for personal use. This is changing due to growing consumer demand and shrinking imported supply. The University of Missouri discovered varieties from nature that yield larger and sweeter berries while possessing growth characteristics more suited to commercial cultivation, which was the foundation for the development of growing elderberry for commercial harvest by MEC member and Director Terry Durham of Eridu Farms and the River Hills Harvest brand.

Ingredient Development, Grants & Research

The cooperative’s directors actively seek grants to establish and expand our cooperative’s objectives including the recruiting, education and success of Midwest elderberry growers. Members decide on the acquisition and management of shared agricultural cultivation and harvest equipment, processing and storage facilities. MEC's commercial activities seek to benefit its growers, potential commercial partners and the general public through collective capital formation, aggregation of harvest and access to markets.

The successful development of networked elderberry grower cooperatives is progressing towards increased production and marketing of quality, certified organic ingredient elderberry products such as juice, flowers and frozen berries in various raw material and retail products. With help from Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI), we are exploring a variety of potential ingredient products that MEC can produce and sell to food and beverage producers, kombucha brewers, cheese makers, wineries and craft breweries, for example.  Individual grower specialty product development is encouraged to support and supply local foods.

We reach out to groups of interested potential growers though a variety of formats from farm tours and educational presentations by a variety of professionals to hands-on workshops in the field and in processing. We also actively work to encourage and facilitate scientific research by Midwest universities and institutes on North American elderberry cultivation, processing and neutraceutical potential. In late fall 2015 through a series of meetings, the University of Minnesota has begun serious planning towards the establishment of an Agroforestry focused Extension Program for MN growers as well as identifying various research projects on elderberry in relation to its potential as a specialty crop as well as its potential uses in environmental land and water management. 

Everyone involved would love to see increased academic participation by an increasing number of universities, foundations and institutes in elder berry and flower research. We recognize the University of Missouri’s early leadership on our native varieties of Sambucus canadensis beginning with their very successful horticultural/agroforestry and extension work as well as their research from a medical or health perspective, the latter exemplified by their mouse models and other studies. MEC board members participated in the First International Symposium on Elderberry held at the University of Missouri in Columbia during June of 2013.

Coop History

MEC are committed to enhanced farmer profitability through economies of scale and by managing the supply of regionally produced elderberry products to meet the growing consumer demand. Our goal is to provide easier market access for our increasing number of grower members. We facilitate sales wholesale buyers of berry and flower ingredients, including River Hills Elderberry Producers. River Hills Harvest produces and distributes elderberry products for both the retail and wholesale markets.

Beginning in January 2014, MEC actively recruited growers through their educational outreach on the Internet, at conferences and with hands-on workshops. We help new and existing elderberry growers improve cultivation and harvest efficiency through coordinated university research projects, various government programs and/or private initiatives. An overview of membership categories, benefits and how to become a member of the Midwest Elderberry Cooperative is summarized on our Membership page.

Our website provides content relevant to our cooperative's members and those interested in our mission. We do so within a context of general information about the cultivation and health benefits of North American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis). Our cooperative is made up of growers participating in the growth and development of elderberry cultivation and sale of elderberry products in the upper Midwest.  

The Midwest Elderberry Cooperative is built upon the success of our individual growers. The role of the cooperative is one as an educator in horticultural practice and quality process, research coordinator, product developer, marketer and buyer of convenient resort. In other words our growers decide when to sell their crop to the cooperative, which must, by necessity, often pay a lower price than what a buyer might receive in direct sales to customer/consumer. 

As of July 15, 2016, the members and board of directors voted to change our organization’s name to Midwest Elderberry Cooperative from Minnesota Elderberry Cooperative in order to better reflect the actual/potential geographical presence and operations. We expect to share our progress with those adhering to similar goals and principles in other states. More information is available on the Elderberry America page. 

North American Sambucus nigra canadensis

The "elder" in elderberry comes from Old Saxon "aeldar", which means "fire".  The stunning, aromatic flower clusters and mildly sweet fruit of elderberry have been treasured for thousands of years. The dark purple berries are very high in vitamin C, and they are a great source of Vitamin A - up to ten times more than more popular berries. But elderberry is more noted for its high levels of  antioxidants like flavonoids — mainly anthocyanins, as well as quercetin and rutin, which function as a cellular level anti-inflammatory agents.

More nutrient dense than most other berries, elderberry juice and extracts have been used to treat the common cold, flu, diabetes and even some forms of cancer. Compare some of the US Department of Agriculture’s data displayed on the Photos and Tables page.  

These facts, among others, have encouraged the North American cultivation of various regional varieties in order to provide more nutrients at lower cost. Commercial elderberry cultivation is becoming a vital part of sustainable agriculture in North America, and the number of acres dedicated to elderberry cultivation is growing. While some focus on producing their own versions of traditional elderberry products as sold in European markets, many American growers and elderberry entrepreneurs are focusing on the innovative use of elderflowers and elderberries as ingredients in various foods and beverages, favoring a “less processed is better” approach to elderberry products. 

One example of the growing number of North American food processors exclusively using Sambucus canadensis berries, primarily sourced from the Midwest, is River Hills Harvest. Their juice products are not made from elderberry concentrate but from minimally processed, undiluted juice as an end product or core ingredient. River Hills Harvest cool processes elderberry juice for only about four minutes at 160-180°F, so the sweet neutral juice tastes great, less bitter, and retains more nutrient vitality. River Hills Harvest products are always sustainably grown and plans for a certified organic line of products in the future. Their products are sold through a growing network of local food cooperatives and grocery stores that focus on quality natural or organic, locally grown and processed foods and juice. 

To help maintain this web site and advance the mission of the Midwest Elderberry Cooperative, you may use the PayPal button below to provide financial support without any tax deduction. We are a  growers’ cooperative seeking profitable operation: we are not classified as a federal or state charity. 

How to help support this web site.

Chris Patton-1

About our President

At times referred to by others as a 21st Century “Renaissance Man”, Mr. Patton earned a masters degree in prehistory of the Old World and Archaeology of Israel (The Hebrew University, Jerusalem) as well as an MBA (University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN) with a focus on cross-cultural management. Besides growing and processing elder berries and flowers, his work history include substantial time spent in these professions: archaeologist & college professor; investment broker & planner, Exec VP of a small full service advertising agency; information technologist managing ingredients and research data for major brand R&D food scientists; and 14 years teaching undergraduate and graduate level anthropology, history, business and marketing classes to adults at night as an adjunct for two Midwest universities. He is also president of River Hills Harvest Marketers, LLC, which distributes and markets the River Hills harvest brand of elderberry retail products nationally.

Specialty Food Association’s 2018 Leadership Awards: Business Leadership: Christopher J. Patton, Midwest Elderberry Cooperative and River Hills Harvest Marketers

Announcement Link
Article Link

Awards Ceremony Comments

Updated 1/17/2016

© Midwest Elderberry Cooperative 2018