Scaling up on-farm drying equipment for Elderflower and other perennial herbs in the Upper Midwest.

Progress report for FNC20-1242

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $17,726.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Main Street Project Research and Demonstration Farm, LLC
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Wyatt Parks
Main Street Project Research and Demonstration Farm, LLC
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Sharing Our Roots Farm (formally Main Street Project) is roughly 100 acres of diversified perennials, grazing systems and high value specialty crops. Crops include: Elderberry and Elderflower, dried Botanical herbs, garlic, asparagus, hazelnuts, fruit and hay. Before receiving this grant we implemented sustainable practices such as cover cropping, perennial ground cover, multi-species rotational grazing, and an overall perennial based farm design.

Summary:

Our innovative plan to scale forced drying equipment in order to meet our crop yield and local demand expands market opportunity for farmers through value added on-farm processing, access to local food and beverage markets, increases production efficiency and product quality, and meanwhile offers a strategy to reduce Spotted Wing Drosophila prevalence in Elderberry.

The U.S. currently imports elderberry and elderflower from Europe. At the same time, Midwestern farmers are adding elderberry to their diversified operations. An appropriate scale of forced drying equipment suited for mid sized elderberry and elderflower producers does not currently exist. There has been little effort to develop this type of on-farm processing equipment in our region.

Food and beverage companies, and retail health food stores, are interested in sourcing dried elderflower (and other herbs) locally instead of from large-scale herb distributors. Currently, local growers cannot supply these markets with an appropriate quantity of dried elderflower because of the inefficiency of small scale equipment.

Additionally, Elderberry is highly susceptible to Spotted Wing Drosophila. By expanding our dried elderflower enterprise through pre-fruiting flower harvest, we can evaluate the success of reducing SWD overwintering habitat on the long term crop quality.

Project Objectives:
  • Scale up on-farm forced drying equipment for herbals, specifically elderflower to meet current yield and
  • Increase supply of shelf stable, value-added dried elderflower for local and regional food, beverage, and health
  • Share findings with other farmers through field days and conference
  • Long term: reduce on-farm Spotted Wing Drosophila presence in elderberry crop by harvesting pre-fruiting flower and reducing overwintering habitat for
  • Long term: test and expand forced drying equipment ability to include additional specialty crops.

Research

Materials and methods:

The team will first review previous designs and prototypes, and assess shared objectives for scaling processing capacity. Wyatt will build on previous experience by researching local grain bin drying units and work with commercial grain drying equipment professionals to learn about how traditional fan-heater units can be adapted to the needs of dried herb production. Additional research on herb dryers will take place in Everson, WA (Hopewell farm) to observe system engineering and fabrication. The team will then consider site, climate, and crop needs in order to begin initial design and fabrication.

Moisture content, weight, color, and aroma, as well as temperature will be recorded for dried elderflower production in year one to capture overall dryer efficiency and product quality.

Sales data will be collected from year one, two, and three from Sharing Our Roots to capture existing, new and expanded markets as related to increased production capacity. Sales data will be recorded for any additional crops that were dried and sold as a result of this project to capture opportunity for new/expanded value added enterprises.

Team members identify initial design pitfalls and collaborate on improvements in year two. Improvements will take into consideration the needs of additional herb crops in order to maximize overall economic benefit and production efficiency.

Traps will be located in exterior and interior elderberry rows. Traps will be placed before flowering and removed after fruiting ends each year. First/last flowering date and first/last fruiting date will be recorded to capture seasonal and geographic variance. Team will record number of SWD present in traps at the end of each season.

Field day demonstrations will be co-designed with Lindsay Rebhan to include hands-on demonstration of dryer in action, cost of fabrication, and SWD monitoring methods among other topics to benefit farmers.

Participation Summary
4 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Consultations
5 On-farm demonstrations
2 Tours
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

25 Farmers
10 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

In 2021 we were able to host an in-person Elderflower workshop at our farm as well as continue some 1-1 conversations with individuals interested in our work. We also were able to include demonstrations of our dryer to participants of a Climate Land Leaders event and a Minneapolis Foundation staff and donor event hosted at our farm.

Learning Outcomes

3 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

We learned that environmental conditions around the dryer have significant impacts on the quality of dried botanicals when not modifying incoming fresh air. We had experimented briefly with changes to the timing of the bin fan being on but due to no staff living onsite we learned it was nearly impossible to turn the equipment on and off at the appropriate time to avoid periods of high humidity. This led us to moving the bin fan into the container so that we could recirculate the interior air rather than pulling fresh air in from the outside. We also added the largest stand alone dehumidifier we were able to source locally and connected that to a permanent drain hose. These two changes drastically improved the quality and drying time of all the botanicals we tested. We were able to collect preliminary dry time and dry down ratios for a host of crops that we plan to expand on in 2022.

Project Outcomes

4 New working collaborations
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.