Growers need to be supported with the tools and space to further process and bring their crops into saleable goods–a notion that drives Wil and Carly Crombie and their work at Organic Compound daily.
“One of the keys to building a successful and thriving local regenerative food system is the capacity to create shelf stable products that allow producers to sell year round, direct to the community, as well as expand to grocers and other markets,” says Wil.
Over the years, Organic Compound, situated in the Northfield area of Minnesota, has tried to bridge this gap, hosting educational youth immersions, countless farm tours with local, national and international organizations, and bringing the local community together with a workable garden. “We believe in collaborative land-use and diversifying enterprises,” Carly explains. To anchor the importance of perennial industries, Organic Compound’s project will focus on the American elderberry and hazelnut processing.
These two perennial crops have been a part of research and development in the Midwest for decades, and for good reason: American Elderberry, a native perennial and a North American elderberry (Sambucus nigra canadensis) grows nutrient dense flowers and berries that are well suited for the region. Elderberry is rich in medicinal qualities and nutrient value – it has been used as a medicine for centuries and is a great crop for farmers to integrate into their farm’s biodiversity. Hazelnuts also have significant economic and environmental benefits for the region. There’s a big opportunity here for farmers wanting to build a strong, sustainable business model – the American Elderberries and hazelnuts aren’t just viable crops – they increase the biodiversity of farms, create wildlife habitat, increase beneficial pollinators, slow run-off, build soil and create the health and wealth needed for a thriving farm and farming region. Organic Compound is bringing the support and infrastructure for crops like these to establish a perennial future.
This processing capacity will allow current elderberry and hazelnut producers to increase their production and confidently pursue these crops. The shared-use processing facility provides ample space for elderberry producers to destem and sanitize berries, and dehusk hazelnuts with machinery for communal use.A few things are certain for assuring perennial viability: Systems, access and demand is critical. As farmers enter into growing perennial crops in Minnesota and bordering states, Organic Compound–alongside other industry leaders and nonprofits–seek to assure that the production has the market demand and adequate processing capacity.
Their collaborations extend beyond the neighborhood. The farm partners with the Savanna Institute to host field days and equipment demos to their community of Midwest perennial farmers, researchers and enthusiasts, and their partnership with the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance (RAA) is set to support ecosystem development and perennial crop processing capacity, part of a larger effort to establish a full commercial kitchen.
By partnering with local nonprofits, hosting on-farm events and sharing their story broadly, Wil, Carly and the Organic Compound network hope to engage the community with a deeper understanding of the immense benefits, opportunities and the conversely, common barriers farmers face when entering perennial farming.