Supporting agricultural transformation through elderberry production in rural and urban landscapes

Progress report for GNC21-323

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2021: $14,882.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2024
Grant Recipient: University of Missouri
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Robin Rotman
University of Missouri
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Project Information


Missouri is the number one producer of American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) in the United States.

Current research focuses on understanding the health benefits of elderberry, exploring markets, developing improved cultivars, and technical solutions for processing and harvesting. This project seeks to understand the social and cultural dimensions of elderberry growers’ production practices, what assets and resources they use to work towards stated goals for their elderberry enterprises. Increased knowledge on the cultural and social dimensions of elderberry production can provide insights on how to better align farmers values and preferences with programs (e.g. conservation reserve program, NRCS) meant to increase the resilience and environmental sustainability (e.g. through agroforestry) of agricultural practices.

Additionally, elderberry integration into urban landscapes can introduce urban residents to perennial agricultural practices and increase awareness and interest of the benefits of edible native perennials that provide food and medicinal benefits. The goals are to explore opportunities to integrate elderberry into urban landscapes via home gardens, community gardens, and agricultural parks through the establishment of a medicinal demonstration space at Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture and a workshop demonstrating the production and processing of elderberry in urban spaces and for home use.

Learning outcomes are below:

  • Urban home gardeners will increase their knowledge on elderberry benefits and how to produce and process elderberry through demonstration plot and workshop
  • Agents who work with elderberry growers and those interested in growing elderberry increase their awareness and knowledge on needs of elderberry growers
  • Researcher(s) identify areas for intervention to help elderberry growers achieve goals (e.g. production, market participation, value-added products)
Project Objectives:


  • identify factors that influence elderberry growers to integrate elderberry into their agricultural practices
  • identify knowledge and resource needs of elderberry growers and use social network analysis to identify areas for intervention
  • identify knowledge gaps among agents that work with growers/landowners interested in elderberry adoption
  • educate urban home gardening communities on elderberry production and processing through a medicinal demonstration plot and workshop



Materials and methods:

This project includes semi-structured interviews with elderberry growers in Missouri to access the motivations and objectives for growing elderberry and identify barriers and knowledge gaps that persist and limit growers ability to scale up production. Growers are recruited through public data bases and personal contacts. Research is ongoing and number of participant farmers will increase. Interviews will be coded in NVivo to develop themes that emerge from interviews. Interviews with the growers are ongoing and will inform a survey that will collect information on growers social networks. 

Research results and discussion:

Results will highlight areas for intervention through policy by understanding the different motivations, social, ecological, and economic contexts that elderberry production occurs in. This can inform policy design and approaches to increase the sustainability of elderberry production for current growers and best management practices/approaches for new or prospective growers. Data that's emerging so far indicates management knowledge gaps as well as political factors (eg. regulations) and limitations and access to labor, harvesting and processing equipment are barriers that growers are trying to find solutions to overcome. Growers participation in social networks can help manage, increase knowledge about barriers, so the next phase of research will focus on network constructions that can help manage barriers, knowledge gaps.

Participation Summary
10 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Consultations

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

This portion of the project is being done in collaboration with the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture. I have just finalized a planting plant for a medicinal area that includes Elderberry plantings along with other medicinal that can be used as teas, juices, or salves. The site will be planted early and later spring. American elderberry plants are not available until May.

Additional elderberry plants can be distributed through their GardenPro and/or Opportunity Gardens program where they plant home gardens for people in the community, either free for lower income housholds, or those who pay for the service. There is also opportunity to provide plants with the Columbia Garden Coalition community gardens. The goal is to provide educational materials and a future workshop where new growers are shown how to process elderberries into juices and syrups for personal consumption. Planting plan: herbal medicinal garden . Tours of planting site, along with demonstrations and educational talks from elderberry growers in the area are also anticipated either in the Fall as an event at the annual Harvest Hootenanny or a standalone event in Spring 2024.

Project Outcomes

1 New working collaboration
Project outcomes:

My project is largely driven by exploring ways to enhance the sustainability of elderberry production among growers. It has to fit culturally, economically, with the lifestyle of the farmer and within their own capabilities. Growers are increasingly interested in finding other crops that can be grown in alleyways that can benefit the elderberry plants and the soil. Comfrey is one example, but some growers are experimenting with other n-fixes as well. They are also interested in other plants/flowers to grow alongside elderberry that can help relive pressure from pests like spotted wing drosophila. There are a lot of positive directions within elderberry production, but limitations to market participation, regulations on process/value-added activities are commonly sited barriers and could impact the economic sustainability of elderberry production for growers. It's important that my project also seeks potential solutions and grower created pathways that have helped manage some of these barriers, this is again a focus of the network analysis and possibly other future studies.

Knowledge Gained:

Sustainable agriculture, in my case, elderberry plantings for conservation and economic benefits have to fit the culture, lifestyle and objectives of landowners or they won't work. This is part of the purpose of my research. There is a lot of funding available for sustainable agriculture and climate-smart practices, even specifically for elderberry, but if knowledge on management practices is limited, or access to markets is a significant barrier, growers are not as motivated to continue. They can start out excited and passionate, but if they do not see the benefits fairly quickly, they can lose the motivation. Just in my interviews with growers so far, the importance of social networks with other growers and extension services/NRCS are pivotal in making growers feel capable and motivated to persist. In the case of working with CCUA, plans have to be flexible, negotiations have to happen especially in community spaces that are used by multiple people for a common goal or sustainable food production, but a lot of ancillary goals as well that may need to be negotiated around.

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.