GROTTOES, Va. — Cody and Paige Wilmer knew they wanted something different when they moved to their farm in 2016.
Cody, who grew up on a fruit orchard in Pennsylvania, immediately began to plant elderberry bushes on their Fountain Cave Road property, a site the couple dubbed The Long Acre Farm.
The elderberries soon began to grow and thrive in the rich soil of the Shenandoah Valley, and three years later, the Wilmers took to Dayton Days selling elderberry lemonade as their first commercial experience. Now, The Long Acre Farm is a staple at the Harrisonburg farmer’s market and other local festivals.
“We knew we wanted to do a small farm, and my parents had elderberry bushes on their farm,” Cody said. “Basically, it was just so popular, so it made a lot of sense.”
The whole farm is 21 acres, four of which are devoted to the berries, Cody said. He also estimated about 800 bushes, but only about half of them are mature. It takes about three years for an elderberry bush to mature.
“They grow well natively,” Paige said.
The Long Acre Farm is a no-spray farm. The Wilmers handpick the berries, then clean and destem and freeze them using grape harvesting equipment. The couple rents a kitchen to make elderberry lemonade, traditional elderberry syrup, elderflower syrup and elderberry honey.
“They’re not too difficult to grow, but harvesting them before the bugs and birds get to them is probably the most difficult thing we have to deal with,” Cody said.
The Long Acre Farm was originally a few hundred acres, but now is down to 21 acres. It is a century farm, dating back to about 1825 — making it about a two century farm, Paige joked. The farm house the family lives in was built just before the Civil War, Cody explained, and soldiers and visitors left initials etched in the brick walls.
Although elderberries are native to Virginia, there are “surprisingly few” elderberry farms in the commonwealth, Cody said. Most people who grow elderberries do it on the side.
But the uniqueness of growing elderberries and elderflowers make it that much more worthwhile for the Wilmers, Cody said. He enjoys sharing information about the berries with people.
“I think there are a huge number of people that have heard of elderberries, but they don’t know much about them,” he said.
The reaction to the elderberry products has been positive, Cody said. With elderberry lemonade, children love the bright red drink, and parents like that it’s natural.
The Wilmers will be at the Harrisonburg and Staunton farmer’s markets during the summer. What’s most rewarding, they said, is being a part of the community and interacting with customers and other vendors.
The goals for the farm, Cody said, are to make a living off of it and build it into something productive and profitable enough to leave for their daughter, 1-year-old Mae, should she choose to continue the farm.
“I love just being able to work outside and in the land and watch something grow that we’ve planted,” Paige said. “That is literally rewarding.”