MEC Field Day in Wisconsin
Christopher J. Patton [on right with a hat] - Founder, President and Chairman of MEC’s Board.

The Midwest Elderberry Cooperative (MEC) was formed in 2012, originally as the Minnesota Elderberry Cooperative, under Minnesota Statute 308B to be the organizational vehicle to assist small organic/natural farmers in elderberry production and processing in the Midwest. Our growing membership presently includes farmers from coast-to-coast as we develop a horizontal organization based on regional hubs that are coordinated by an integrated marketing effort to meet national demand regionally whenever possible. 

MEC is governed by a board of directors elected by its members. Its primary funding comes from sales of elder berry and flower ingredients along with some grants. Most grants are awarded to MEC members due to the structure of most USDA and state programs and importantly, in accordance with the principle that the farmers must profit first or there is no reason for a cooperative. David Swanson of Dorsey & Whitney, LLC is MEC’s attorney. 

Because they Taste Better!
Elderberries have higher levels of antioxidants anti-inflammatory nutrients than cranberries and tart cherries - very close in total ORACS to aronia / chokeberries. But they taste better being sweet-neutral with about half the natural sugar as grapes. Native North American Sambucus canadensis berries also taste better than their European cousins, Sambucus nigra. Farmers along the west coast of the USA also grow the tree-formed blue elderberry (Sambucus cerulea), which can be sweeter. In the US Southwest they are also referred to as Sambucus nigra mexicana. 

Wild canadensis elderberry plants are woody shrubs often found along roadsides, forest edges and abandoned fields. Their native range spans most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. 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. 

European elder (Sambucus nigra) is grown commercially on that continent (today about 30,000 acres) going all the way back to Hippocrates, who wrote an entire book on the plant and its uses in healing. To supply what is needed for a variety of traditional healing practices, 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 early stages.

Elderberry as a Commercial Crop
Presently, about 95% of all elderberry ingredients are imported, which means that almost all American made elderberry products use imported ingredients. Wild collected berries are considered certified organic by the European Union, which presents an economic challenge to American growers who must invest much more in their organic crops. Many of the imported certified organic European elderberries are wild collected, which usually have lower levels of nutrients than the farmed ones.

Along with the imported frozen and dried berries, 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 usually 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 in America, elderberry flowers and berries were mostly collected from their wild, natural setting, but small scale elderberry growers have existed for centuries. They used elderberries in a wide variety of products following European traditions 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.

Sustainable & Regenerative Agriculture
All of our members practice sustainable agriculture and many of them are unabashedly regenerative in how they farm. Each farm and region is different, requiring different approaches to uphold these operational principles. Learn more about sustainable agriculture from this short SARE/USDA produced video.

About our Founder & President

Christopher J. Patton is the founder, present chairman and president of MEC. You may reach him first by email - info@midwest-elderberry.coop, or by phone at 612-418-4624.

 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 Award: Business Leadership: Christopher J. Patton, Midwest Elderberry Cooperative and River Hills Harvest Marketers, LLC.

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