Pokey Creek Farm Elderberry Exploration

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $14,877.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Western
State: Idaho
Principal Investigator:
Cinda Williams
University of Idaho Extension
Ashley McFarland
University of Idaho Extension

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: berries (other)


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research, workshop, youth education, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, e-commerce, market study, value added, agritourism
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: integrated pest management
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: green manures, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: leadership development, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, public participation, employment opportunities, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    Historically, the richly forested mountains of northern Idaho have been logged to provide a steady source of timbers for the nation’s housing industry. The downturn in the economy has changed all of that, forcing many people in rural Benewah County to seek outside sources of income. In October 2009, the unemployment rate was 19.5% and residents, like us at Pokey Creek Farm, knew our way of life was never going to be the same. My husband and I are owners and operators of Pokey Creek Farm. My husband, Greg Sempel, relied heavily on the income that he made while being a forester, and supplemental income came from my (Leah Sempel) mountain gardening venture. The lack of work in the woods, however, inspired us to diversify our gardening operation in hopes of expanding our marketable products while employing a local workforce. Pokey Creek Farm, which has produced organic produce for over thirty years (registered 3 years), has been an exemplary model of how producers can utilize terrain once perceived unusable, especially for gardening. The farm, comprised of 24 acres of forested land, includes two acres on a southern slope. The high elevation, however, provides a rather short growing season, so green houses and hoop houses are used to capture the highest potential from the sun’s energy. Participating in four local markets, Pokey Creek produce is also marketed to restaurants, grocery stores and co-ops. Because of our high exposure to the gardening community, we have hosted countless individuals who want to learn more about our mountain gardening operation. Elderberries grow wild in the mountains of north Idaho and we have harvested these berries to produce jams and wine. Because of the potential health benefits of elderberries, we decided it would make an excellent plant to try and cultivate on our farm. Blueberries and huckleberries have been a mainstay in the local economy, but no one had explored the potential of the elderberry. We had always wanted to diversify our operations into a new product, and with Greg's lack of work, the opportunity presented itself to start now. We contacted Danny L. Barney, Professor of Horticulture with University of Idaho Extension, to discuss his research he had done with the elderberry plant. He suggested potential cultivars and planting strategies he had developed through his work. We decided that diversification of our mountain gardening into elderberries would be an excellent choice for our operation. We plan to use two varieties, Sambucus caerulea (native) and Sambucus nigra. We will utilize the juice from the berries to produce jellies, wine and soda pop. Appropriate marketing materials will also be developed in order to disseminate the knowledge gained from our operation. By using already established practices of cover cropping, mulching, utilizing manure and other soil amendments, we hope to build the soil, rather than deplete it. Inter-planting techniques will be used between rows of elderberry plants to provide weed control and produce a cash crop while the elderberries are not being productive. In a one acre plot, we will plant 600 elderberry plants of the above mentioned species. We hope that by year three, we will be able to transition from picking wild elderberries to harvesting from our cultivated plants. We hope to eventually produce 40-60 pounds of berries per plant, which will produce 2500 gallons of juice. Successful marketing of various elderberry products would not only generate necessary revenue for Pokey Creek Farm, but also increase exposure to our unconventional farming practices we have on display. Educational tours, workshops and meals would be hosted to showcase the elderberry production we are experimenting with, and to show how people in this region can generate on-land income. Opening up our farm to this extent, is something we did not have the time or resources to do in the past, but we look forward to the opportunity if offered. Furthermore, the operation’s diversification will offer employment to a community that is in desperate need of new jobs. The three main objectives of this project is to (1) experiment with cultivation of elderberries for production of elderberry juice, (2) educate the public on mountain gardening techniques and elderberry cultivation, and (3) develop value added products utilizing elderberry juice, which has the potential for creating jobs. In this grant, we are asking for financial assistance to establish a one acre plot of elderberry cultivars, purchase equipment to assist in the harvesting of the elderberries, develop informational materials, provide educational tours and workshops, and finally, experiment with and provide a market for value-added elderberry products.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    --Successfully cultivate elderberries for a profitable, yet sustainable harvest
    --Open up our operation for tours and workshops to educate interested parties
    --Develop value-added elderberry products

    Year One: The first priority will be the site preparation of a one acre plot where the elderberries will be cultivated. Trees will be cleared, soil amendments will be added and fencing will be built to protect elderberry plants. Experimentation will be done on varying cultivars of elderberry plants, utilizing technical expertise from Danny L. Barney. Trials will be run on varying sustainable pest management techniques to ensure a healthy crop. The plants will not produce a plentiful harvest the first year, so wild elderberries will be harvested near our farm to begin work on juice production and value added recipes, such as jellies, wine and soda. A certified kitchen has been secured for this.

    Year Two: In the second year of this grant, we will work on development of our farm tour strategies. We will also work with our technical advisor to produce materials such as brochures, fact sheets and visual displays of our efforts at Pokey Creek Farm. We plan to schedule two tours that will include workshops and tastings and establish a forum that allows groups (schools, gardening clubs) to schedule farm visits. Work will continue on elderberry products along with our produce sales at local markets. Online venues will also be explored.

    Year Three: The final year of this grant will see the first measurable harvest of the cultivated elderberries. Much will be learned in harvesting techniques. Outside part-time labor will be necessary. We will also host a harvesting workshop where we can distribute the knowledge we have gained in elderberry cultivation. A steady market will be secured for the elderberry products by the completion of this grant.

    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.