We had the good fortune of connecting with Katie Reneker and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Katie, what’s something about your industry that outsiders are probably unaware of?
Elderberries are a hot ticket item right now! It seems like syrups and gummies are popping up on every health nut’s feed. And for good reason! It’s a little berry with a powerful punch–more antioxidants than blueberries and anti-viral properties proven to be effective against strains of colds and flus in lab studies. What is not widely known about this super fruit is that nearly every elderberry product made and sold in the US uses imported elderberries! Of the hundreds of thousands of pounds of products and fruit used, only a tiny fraction is grown here in the US. But our company, Carmel Berry Company, is working hard to change that! How? When our founder Katie couldn’t find enough American-grown elderberries she set out to help farmers diversify their crops with elderberries. Not only have we planted our own but we’ve made a major commitment to helping other farmers learn how to cultivate elderberries. In order for a farmer to successfully add a new crop like elderberries, they need research, data, financial tools. A mentor and community forum is an added bonus! Carmel Berry Co partners with university research teams, speaks at farming conferences, and organizes opportunities to grow the elderberry community here on the West Coast and in the US in general. One more point: elderberries are a valued and respected medicinal plant for indigenous communities throughout the US. As we create a community of elderberry growers, we are building partnerships with organizations that uplift and support Native peoples in meaningful ways. With donations and providing support where appropriate to land stewardship and cultural education organizations, we intend to make elderberry growing a source for good. The farm-to-table movement is powerful, consumers want to connect with their food and the people behind it. Buying a healthy elderberry product that keeps small farms vibrant, is produced sustainably, and also supports positive social changes is a win-win!
What should our readers know about your business?
The idea for Carmel Berry Co came to us when our kids were little and we were looking for natural immune boosters. We learned about elderberries (they have more antioxidants than nearly every other fruit and have anti-viral & anti-inflammatory properties too). But all the syrups we tried tasted awful, used imported berries, or contained thickeners and preservatives. Then we learned that elderberries and elderflowers are native to America, as well as Europe! So we began growing our own and making our own syrup and LOVED the taste–fresh local berries makes a difference! That’s when we decided to take the crazy step of starting a food business and committing to using only American raw berries and flowers for our goods. Easier said than done though! When we learned that it’s nearly impossible to source elderberries and flowers that aren’t imported, helping support new elderberry growers here at home became part of our mission. By partnering with university research teams and creating forums and workshops to connect growers, we work actively to bring together new and experienced farmers to share information and provide support. So while the elderberry craze grows, we intend to grow right along with it, making sure we provide a locally sourced sustainable choice for consumers who want to put their money where their values lie!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
We’re nestled back in the Carmel Valley near Monterey. What would a favorite day look like? Get up EARLY, drive down the coast of Big Sur before any of the tourists are awake and on the road. Make a stop at the Big Sur Bakery get an AMAZING pastry (and pick up a bottle of our Elderflower Syrup for an edible souvenir). Take your bakery treat to Whale Hill, make the short climb up and bask in the quintessential Big Sur views. Take in the views, do a short hike, or head back up the coast and head to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for some up close octopus and otter interactions. Lunch most definitely should be at Alta Bakery in the historic Cooper Molera Adobe. Afternoon drive into Carmel Valley where we live, wander the village hitting a few of the tasting rooms and The Quail and Olive or Jerome’s Carmel Valley Market for some Foodie paradise. If I were to stay in Carmel Valley with no budget constraints I’d make it Bernardus Lodge (look for us on the menu!) or Carmel Valley Ranch for some laid back elegance. The restaurants at both hotels are utterly amazing and very conscientiously sourced with local suppliers. Next morning I’d say it’s time to head into Carmel-by-the-Sea for some early morning deliciousness at Carmel Belle (if you haven’t picked up your Carmel Berry Co goodies yet, you can get them here too!) and head to the Carmel Beach. If your overnight trip is wrapping up savor this lovely beach and plan a longer getaway in the area for next time!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Carmel Berry Co is only as strong as the people behind the people, so to speak! I, Katie, would not be nearly as far along in this journey if it weren’t for my husband and team partner, Ben. From the beginning he has supported this rather far-flung idea of an elderberry company, not only in concept, but in all the logistical things that make it happen. In addition to his own full time job, he keeps our household running, makes midnight runs to the kitchen to deliver supplies, and does lots of loading and unloading of deliveries! Time and time again he steps up behind the scenes so that I can keep this business moving forward. And where would I be without the small but mighty community of elderberry farmers? Think about it: this is a very new crop to grow commercially, research-wise, it’s decades behind other crops such as raspberries or strawberries! Best practices for growing, harvesting, propagating are all new and I’ve been blown away by the generosity and community spirit among elderberry growers willing to band together to share knowledge. We are all stronger for it and I’m incredibly grateful.
Tastefully Made LLC