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The Business of Berries: Buehler Organics, Elder Farms making a splash in elderberry industry

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It took a pandemic for many people to realize a natural health wonder right under their noses: elderberries.

David Buehler, co-owner of Buehler Organics LLC and Elder Farms LLC in Mount Vernon, said the industry for the dark purple immunity-boosting berries exploded after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the National Institutes of Health, elderberry supplement sales more than doubled during this time.

Long before the popularity of elderberries grew in the public’s eye, however, Buehler Organics was hard at work. Eight years ago, the Buehler family converted its nearly 400-acre farm, established in 1899, from a traditional dairy farm to the nutraceutical farm it is today.

“We feel like agriculture is at a crossroads,” Buehler said, “and farmers are barely hanging on right now with what they’re doing.”

One of the major goals of Buehler Organics is to help other farmers grow their own sustainable elderberry crops. To that end, the business offers free educational tours, and it sells elderberry plants, cuttings, destemming equipment and custom plantings.

Beyond the scope of individual farms, Buehler Organics aims to increase overall elderberry production in the United States. Currently, 95% of elderberries purchased in the nation are imported from Europe, according to Buehler.

Shay Tunink, who handles Buehler Organics’ social media marketing, said the berries from Europe are dried to transport them. They also contain less antioxidants.

Right now, the U.S. lays claim to about 1,500 acres of elderberries, according to Buehler Organics’ website. Missouri is home to 500 acres, and Buehler Organics operates close to 150 acres – nearly 10% of the national market for elderberry farms. The U.S. needs some 22,000 acres for the elderberry supply to meet the domestic demand.

“Because we need so much of this crop grown in the United States in order to make it an American-grown product, we have to cooperate and build that education with other farmers,” Tunink said.

Coming to fruition
On the Buehler family farm, an old dairy barn is stamped with a bright purple “Elder Farms” logo. It houses manufacturing of the brand’s elderberry products – and signifies the intentional shift from the dairy industry to this more sustainable form of farming. There are no dairy cattle in sight.

The family’s two companies work in tandem: Buehler Organics provides the ingredients for Elder Farms’ portfolio of products. The lineup includes elderberry honey, immune shots, syrups and salves. Everything from the berries to the leaves and flowers are used in production.

The benefits promoted by the elderberry products are numerous, as they contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants known to prevent sickness, promote recovery and ease aches and pains.

In addition to elderberries, Elder Farms’ products include hemp as an ingredient, which Buehler Organics also grows. Tunink said Elder Farms is a pioneer in combining elderberries and CBD – they started four years ago, and now Tunink said competitors are making similar products. 

One of Elder Farms’ most recent endeavors is a hemp-infused cold brew coffee. The brand created the product in tandem with KeenBean Coffee Roasters LLC, another Mount Vernon-based company. It’s a business partnership and small-town friendship when the two companies work together.

Tracy Bradshaw, part owner and operator of KeenBean Coffee, said she grew up with Buehler. Combining Elder Farms’ CBD with KeenBean’s cold brew was talked about casually multiple times before the two businesses decided to make it a reality.

Bradshaw said the CBD counteracts the effects of the caffeine buzz some people get when drinking coffee, but it tastes the same as normal cold brew coffee – maybe a little sweeter. KeenBean and Elder Farms landed on Common Bond as the name for the product line. Chilled bottles of the drink rest in a cooler at the coffee shop, nearby other Elder Farms products.

“We believe in quality products and friendships,” Bradshaw said, “and sticking with and supporting the people that you love.”

The Elder Farms influence is spreading beyond Mount Vernon. In the early days, its products appeared at farmers markets. Today, elderberry goods from Elder Farms are on the shelves of Springfield grocery and health food stores, like MaMa Jean’s Natural Foods Market, and even retailers Staxx and Harem & Co. Shops in Kansas and Oklahoma carry the products, too, as do CBD stores.

“I tell people all the time, we’re in a health and wellness revolution,” Buehler said. 

 Old plant, new spin
The elderberry farming industry doesn’t have any signs of slowing down. The University of Missouri Research Center, also located in Mount Vernon, has plans to grow the industry with a newly acquired $5.3 million grant. Buehler said half of the grant will go toward mechanical harvesting and the rest toward research.

As for Buehler Organics and Elder Farms, stretching their reach through education, developing new products and, of course, growing more elderberries are all on the docket. The company currently harvests over 42,000 pounds of elderberries each year, according to BuehlerOrganics.com, and provides supplies to Spring Branch Kombucha and Springfield Brewing Co.

Buehler said he thinks the elderberry industry is about to experience another explosion.

“The demand still way outnumbers our supply, and I think it’s going to be like that for quite a few years,” Buehler said.

While the industry is ever-changing, the everyday farm operations steadily persist. Tasks on the farm depend on the season. During this time of the year, many of Buehler Organics’ 10 employees spend time preparing cuttings to sell and plant. It’s a new season that will eventually bring about new crops, but the elderberry planting process has been the same for ages. 

“What we do is nothing new,” Buehler said. “We’re taking an old plant and giving it a new spin.” 

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