In celebration of Got to Be N.C. month we are featuring local farms and businesses and their products that are Grown. Raised. Caught. Made. here. This week we focus on Made, highlighting Norm’s Farms in Pittsboro.
Rodger Lenhardt, his wife Ann, and daughter Erin are elderberry farmers who use their crop plus the berries from other growers to make jellies, jams and extracts that are sold in about 60 retail locations in the state. “Our products are produced and distributed in North Carolina but only a small portion of our elderberry is grown here,” Lenhardt said. “We are hoping to change that by working with small farmers who are interested in growing elderberry for us.” Lenhardt sells nursery stock on his website to encourage farmers and homeowners to grow elderberry on their land. It takes about five or six years for an elderberry plant to reach full productivity.
D’vine Foods in Elizabethtown processes the jams, jellies and extracts for Norm’s Farms and then the products are stored at a warehouse in Raleigh. “It’s been a great relationship with them,” Lenhardt said. “They have even helped us with sourcing local blueberries and other commodities for our products. We introduced blueberry-elderberry preserves at the Taste of Charlotte show last month it was a big hit. I think it going to be a great seller.”
Norm’s Farms is a frequent participator in shows and events hosted by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. It was at one of these shows he met buyers from Whole Foods that offered him good advice. He was packaging his elderberry juice in barbecue sauce-style bottles. The problem was they didn’t fit on store shelves except for the very top or bottom, which isn’t an ideal place for selling. Also, calling his product a juice confused the consumer. “They weren’t sure if the product was a juice or a sauce, or how to use it,” Lenhardt said. He took the buyers’ advice and changed the shape and size of the bottle to one that fit on shelves easier, and changed the name of the product to extract instead of juice. “Extract actually is a better description of the product and its use,” he said. At the next Flavors Show, the regional buyer for Whole Foods placed an order that put Norm’s Farm’s Elderberry Extract and Elderberry Wellness Syrup in all 10 North Carolina stores. “We stay busy doing demos at these locations as well as other retail locations we are in,” Lenhardt added.
Norm’s Farms continues to participate in NCDA&CS-sponsored events and shows. These include The Flavors of Carolina, Got to Be N.C. Food and Wine Expo and, Lenhartd’s favorite, The Wide Open Bluegrass Festival. “We were in the Got to Be N.C. section last year and it was a successful show for us,” he said. “It opened a few doors for us to be at other music festival shows that were coming up.”
“Setting up a booth and attending shows is a great way to get your product known with food buyers and the public. It certainly has helped us form relationships with customers, other small businesses and interested buyers. We extend a huge thank you to the NCDA&CS staff that set up and sponsor shows like The Flavors of Carolina.”
Lenhardt’s goals for future growth include growing more elderberry in North Carolina, including finding two or three acres in Chatham County to grow. “We would really like to be a part of the Chatham County Farm Tour,” he said. He is also looking into gaining a few angel investors to help fund test plots in North Carolina in the Piedmont, Mountain and Coastal Plain areas. “We would like to get some national attention for elderberry, and its health benefits, as well.”
Next week: Caught in North Carolina, featuring a Carteret County seafood market and community-supported fishery.