Specialty Food Magazine


Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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Page 42 of 139

PHOTO: MIDWEST ELDERBERRY COOPERATIVE AND RIVER HILLS HARVEST MARKETERS, LLC 40 ❘ SPECIALTY FOOD MAGAZINE specialtyfood.com P omegranates, make room for another superfood: American- grown elderberries. The market is miniscule so far, but the potential is colossal. Meet Christopher Patton, who recently founded a cooperative of commercial elderberry growers in the Midwest. His previous jobs included teaching, advertising, and public relations, plus five years in Israel training as an archeologist that included paleoenvironmental studies in his minor, a path that circuitously led him to the specialty food industry. "A key component in archeology is tracking societies and food culture over time, a high overview of the rise and fall of civilizations, the ups and downs of trade," Patton says. He's applying that knowl- edge to explore the myriad applications and benefits of the elderberry, a f lowering plant extolled in the 4th century BC as a healing remedy by Hippocrates, the Greek father of medicine. In 2011, Patton began a grower development, marketing and distribution partnership with Terry Durham, an organic farmer in Missouri and the founder of the River Hills Harvest brand. Pure Premium ElderBerry Juice is currently sold nationally under the brand in about 500 stores. As ancient as the elderberry is, Patton, 67, sees it as the food of the future. "In studies with mice, it's reversed damage from dementia, heart attacks and strokes," he says, adding that it has at least twice the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) value—which mea- sures antioxidants—of most of the more popular superfoods. "It has tremendous potential for the consumer and for small- and medium-size growers as a cash crop. The expansive root sys- tem helps control soil erosion, and in the wild, it supports over 60 native pollinators," he says. Currently, 95 percent of elderberry products are imported from Europe, which he estimates is a nearly $1 billion industry there. Patton, a Minneapolis resident, is attempting to change the ratio, and invested $40,000 of his retirement savings to compete with the European market. He recruited 18 farmers in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin, where growing conditions are favorable, to form the Midwest Elderberry Collective. "My grandfather was a naturopath in the 1930s, so I've always had this thing of taking care of yourself and the environment," Patton says. "There's a lot more that we can do to get these healthy foods into the mainstream of people's diets to reduce the incidence of high-cost health care problems. I want to leave the world a better place." Christopher J. Patton Midwest Elderberry Cooperative and River Hills Harvest Marketers, LLC highlights 1997 Organic farmer Terry Durham begins participating with Missouri horticultural researchers on the Elderberry Selection Project. 2006 Durham harvests enough commercially planted berries for the first pure premium juice production, River Hills Harvest ElderBerry Juice. 2011 Patton and Durham team up. 2016 Minnesota Elderberry Cooperative becomes Midwest Elderberry Cooperative with grower members in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. ElderBerry Juice is sold in 500 stores. 2015 Receives grants to purchase elderberry processing equipment and elderflower ingredient plans develop. 2014 Patton converts his elderberry marketing business to River Hills Harvest Marketers, LLC and expands availability to more than 200 stores. 2012 Patton partners with Paul Otten, a berry grower and nurseryman in Minnesota, to establish an elderberry plantation in Scandia, Minn. BUSINESS LEADERSHIP

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