The namesake of Norm’s Farms is Norman Lenhardt, an advocate for farmland preservation who farmed 170 acres in Hartsburg, Missouri. In 2007, Norm asked his son Rodger to take over the farm. At the time, they were growing soybeans and other commodities used for animal feed. Rodger wanted to grow perennials and create a more permanent agricultural system. Together with Ann and Erin Lenhardt, he founded Norm’s Farms and started growing elderberries.
Elderberry bushes are quick to produce berries and can be used in value-added products like jam. They’ve garnered attention because of their historic significance (Hippocrates wrote pages on their value), their role in folklore, their medicinal properties (anti-inflammatory, immune system supporter, and anti-viral, among others), and their high nutrient value (more Vitamin C than oranges, more vitamin A than raisins, plus the water-soluble nutrients are well absorbed in the digestive tract). Ninety percent of the elderberries consumed in the United States are imported, a situation that Rodger would like to remedy.
Rodger’s family decided to continue living in Pittsboro. As a result, the harvested elderberries are cleaned, frozen, and shipped to a processing plant in Elizabethtown, NC. Norm’s Farms currently makes an extract, a syrup (with honey, cinnamon, and clove), and several jellies, jams, and preserves. Norm’s Farms also acts as an elderberry nursery, providing plants and assistance to new growers and creating a network of farmers in the South who might someday supply locally grown berries.
Elderberries are not the culmination of Rodger’s plan. In addition to planting new acres of elderberries, each year he plants about 150 orchard trees on each acre of the elderberry fields, including mulberry, paw paw, persimmon, hazelnut, and service berry. As the trees mature, some elderberries will be phased out and replaced with crops that can grow under the tree canopy. The farm’s commitment to sustainable agriculture includes building the soil with nitrogen-fixing legumes as a cover crop between elderberry rows, grazing small animals in the alleys between the orchards and then adding poultry to scratch and spread the manure and to eat insects, using draft ponies instead of a tractor, and irrigating with a gravity-powered pond.
Visit Norm’s Farms online at http://normsfarms.com/ for elderberry recipes, information on becoming an elderberry grower, news about the annual Carrboro Elderberry Festival, and more. Watch a video of our interview with Rodger below.