This is the second in a series on the Launch-a-Preneur program, taking a look at the stories behind some of the businesses that have taken part in this initiative.
Surrounded by tall evergreens and accessed down a long, narrow gravel driveway, it’s easy to forget that Elderberry Grove is just a stone’s throw from the Trans-Canada Highway outside of Salmon Arm. Located across from the R.J. Haney Heritage Village, Elderberry Grove is an idyllic little slice of treed-in land where two aspiring organic farmers have been ruminating on their obsession with elderberries.
“You hear about these rich, retired guys who start their own wineries down in California,” begins Jedidiah Wiebe, one of Elderberry Grove’s founders. “They always say it’s been their lifelong dream, and it’s kind of a similar wistful desire to grow elderberries that I have had for about eight years.”
Elderberry Grove is the brainchild of Wiebe, who has lived in Salmon Arm most of his life and produced custom-built acoustic guitars before becoming an organic farmer, and Louise Lecouffe, who studied the connection between people and healing plants in Montreal before moving to Salmon Arm.
The pair grow the berries out at the farm and process them into juices and syrups which can be used for cooking, taken as a herbal remedy or added to a drink for a potent punch of flavour and antioxidants. They have been experimenting for a number of years before deciding they were ready turn it into a full-time business.
While Elderberry Grove began as a passion project, the decision to make it a full-time gig was bolstered by the support of the Launch-A-Preneur program, a business mentorship initiative undertaken by students in the Enactus group at Okanagan College’s Salmon Arm Campus.
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“The timing was perfect,” Wiebe says. “We were able to actually be launching our business under the guidance of people. It was our launch… it gave us the confidence and also the push to get us started.”
“It just was supportive and it didn’t feel competitive,” Lecouffe says, noting it was advice given by Launch-a-Preneur mentors that pushed them to take their business out into the world regardless of that being a step out of their comfort zone.
Aside from being one of the less commonly grown berries for commercial purposes, which gives the pair a sort of free-reign of the market, elderberries possess a number of health benefits.
“Elderberry is like the mother of medicinal plants and really to me inspires connection to the land and healing that is all around us,” Lecouffe begins. “It’s a potent antiviral and not comparable to other plant based medicines. Many of them are antibacterial but not many of them are strong antivirals. Studies have shown that if you have a cold or flu taking elderberry syrup on average leads to three days’ fewer symptoms.”
Beyond the health benefits, one reason the pair settled on growing elderberries is because they thrive in the Shuswap soil, even growing wild in the trees surrounding their farm.
“We didn’t want to start a farming endeavour unless we could do something that really contributed to sustainable local food,” Wiebe says. “It’s something that we can grow really well without requiring a lot of inputs or pesticides. We can grow it in harmony with the local wildlife and the biology of the soil and have a net positive impact on the farmland.”
This is a key commitment the pair have chosen to stand by: to grow things simply and naturally, and to contribute to the community of local food producers who share the same values.
“Another value is being part of a new movement, a new way of doing business where we don’t have to cut corners,” Lecouffe says. “I guess we just want to walk our talk, the way that we live our life is how we want to run our business. Sustainable, simple, organic.”
You can visit Elderberry Grove at 540 Highway 97B NE in Salmon Arm, or check them out on Facebook.