What do you do when you have a setback? At Fort Osage Farm we keep moving forward and find new ways to reach our goal. As loyal patrons of our farm you know we suffered a devastating loss to our Scotch Pine tree crop a few seasons back. We estimate we lost 8,000 trees that had finally reached their harvest height 6,7,8'. In case you didn't know, a Christmas tree farmer waits 7 or 8 seasons for a seedling to make it to maturity and be sold. If the seedling can survive . . . too much moisture, not enough moisture, and avoid a host of pests that want to devour it! "Brown Spot" devastated our crop and other kinds of trees across the country. It is a fungal disease that can develop from extremely wet soil and kill the roots. If not treated the whole tree can be consumed and the fungus spores can go airborne and kill a host of trees and plants around it. We had finally produced a crop and with enough trees to meet the demand for fresh cutting at Christmas time. It was devastating for Farmer Bob to remove and burn 8000 trees. He hired help and came in at the end of each day soot covered and smelling of smoke for weeks.
That was our first SERIOUS discussion about diversifying. And we got busy doing just that. In the fall of 2016 we broke ground on White Pine Lodge. A facility large enough to offer wedding receptions. We are creating something very special. As of this writing the inside of the building is 95% complete. As we wait on warmer weather we will be landscaping, painting and improving our grounds. We plan to offer an option for ceremonies within the giant white pines! The lodge is elegant and natural, earth tone colors, with elements of wood and stone. The building will easily accommodate 150 seated, and when the deck is added we can easily raise those numbers well over 200. We have spent most of last year, educating ourselves, researching, obtaining zoning and creating White Pine Lodge. At this time we are not planning to host weddings in Nov/Dec./Jan. This time will be reserved for our Christmas Tree families. We are giving tours to future brides, and have enjoyed meeting many young couples. A young couple may share the most important day of their lives on our farm, and year after year return to the place it all began as they shop for the family tree or a fresh wreath. Imagine how special that would be to sip our Christmas Cheer tea or hot cocoa around the fire and reminisce each year the happy occasion.
At about the same time we broke ground on White Pine Lodge we decided to plant a cash crop with a seasonal harvest each fall. If you know me (Farmer Bob's wife) I was pushing for grape vines. I enjoy wine! But we wanted something EASIER than growing Christmas trees- not so labor intensive as tree growing. We decided on Elderberries.
We researched the fruit and worked with River Hills Harvest (largest Elderberry farm in the nation) University of Missouri Extension agroforestry and horticulture, the Natural Resource Conservation Services and the Missouri Department of Agriculture. The demand for the fruit is high. Elderberries historically are known for their health benefits, and the demand for the fruit must rely on imported fruit from other countries. More elderberry farmers are needed! Harvest Hill Farm will purchase all the berries we can grow.
So, we are learning how to be Elderberry farmers. We began with 200 plants (think BIG!) The first year was an incredible growth (some 5' tall) We learned the first season fruit is not harvested. We will have our first harvest in fall of 2018. Our Elderberry plants are hybrids and produce a clump of fruit like grapes. The first year we propagated our plants and now have 1000 plants. We are in the middle of propagating right now and will have over 3000 plants. Farmer Bob goes out to the rows of stick looking plants and cuts them down. He brings the hardwood cuttings in and snips away at them until he has 6" sections with buds that are inserted back into the soil with a set of buds above the ground. The bottom buds will make roots and the top buds will make leaves. These sections are sanitized and are dipped in dormant oil for planting when the ground is not frozen. He will plant them in the next three weeks. We are planning to sell single plants in 4" pots in the future. Then you can grow your own immunity booster! I challenge you to read about what Hippocrates referred to as "nature's medicine chest" and Dr. Oz sings its praises too.
Our fruit will be sold to River Hills Harvest Farm where they will make it into 100% pure, premium Elderberry Juice, syrups, jams etc. We may also work with wineries who also want to purchase fruit for their Elderberry wine production.
With our first real harvest coming in the fall I will have plenty to write about! We have been educated in the steps of the actual harvest, and have watched the videos supplied by Harvest Hills. Of course everything sounds good in theory! I will keep you posted on what that experience is like!
In the meantime we anticipate a busy spring as we learn many new things. Each day we are grateful for the passion we feel about our farms future. We love this place and we are blessed to have so many kind people like you who follow our journey.
A dip in dormant oil
Bagged and ready to refrigerate and wait until planting.