Aronia berries may not be on your grocery lists now, but after visiting an Iowa State University display at the 2008 Farm Progress Show, Aug. 26 through Aug. 28, that may change.
Aronia berries are becoming popular for their health benefits, having a high antioxidant power that may help reduce risk for cancer, heart disease, inflammation and diabetes. In fact, Aronia berries contain higher levels of antioxidants, polyphenols, and anthocyanins than elderberries, cranberries, blueberries, grapes, and most other fruit.
Aronia berries are dark purple or black and grown on a deciduous shrub, native to the Midwest, with great potential for commercial fruit production. European countries have been growing Aronia on a commercial scale for several decades.
At the 2008 Farm Progress Show in Boone, visitors can find out about products containing Aronia berries, as well as the work Iowa State University Extension is doing to develop an Aronia industry in Iowa.
Aronia berries can be eaten fresh, but most people are not sold on the sour or astringent taste. However, once processed into Aronia wine, jams, jellies, juice, salsa, tea, syrup, and baked goods the Aronia takes on a whole new taste of its own. The berries also have a deep natural coloring that can be added to juices, ice cream, yogurt, and other products.
“If you look at the ingredients label on dark colored berry juices in your local grocery stores, you will find some manufactures are using Aronia juice as an ingredient,” said Clint McDonald, Harrison County Extension Director. “This is primarily due to the health benefits of the antioxidants, taste and natural food coloring found in the berries.”
Iowa State University Extension has played a pivotal role in both establishing Aronia berry production in Iowa and developing a local market for the berries.
“ISU Extension is helping to give guidance to a new and hopefully successful farming venture that could be used by family farmers throughout Iowa,” said Eldon Everhart, Extension horticulture field specialist.
Everhart and McDonald encourage farmers to consider Aronia production because the plants are easy to grow and maintain, requiring little input. The plants are disease and insect resistant and very well adapted to Iowa growing conditions.
For the past ten years Everhart has worked with Vaughn and Cindy Pittz, Missouri Valley, Iowa. The Pittz contacted Everhart for advice on a value-added crop for their farmland. Now the Pittz farm, Sawmill Hollow Organic Farms, is the leader in organically grown Aronia berry production in the Midwest and the largest Aronia berry plantation in the United States.
Everhart and McDonald are helping other farmers in Harrison County and elsewhere establish Aronia plantations.
“Several independent land owners have added Aronia shrubs to diversify their farm operation and increase opportunities,” said McDonald. The goal is to create a cooperation of small Aronia growers to be able to purchase equipment and expand the market.
One acre of land can support 700 Aronia plants, with an average yield of 20 pounds per plant, producing a total of 14,000 pounds of fruit per year per acre. The current market value for Aronia berries is $1.00 to $1.45 per pound.
“The number of Aronia growers has increased in the last few years,” said Everhart. “Growing Aronia berries fits nicely with all types of farms. With one to two acres of Aronia plants people can increase their opportunities with this farmer friendly crop.”
Vaughn Pittz is also working to create unique Aronia food products. One product is an Aronia cayenne salsa that when eaten with a little cream cheese on a cracker is really good, commented McDonald. Other products Pittz has created include Aronia syrup, Aronia salsa, and Aronia BBQ sauce.
Eldon Everhart, Extension horticulture field specialist, (712) 755-3104, firstname.lastname@example.org
Clint McDonald, Harrison County Extension Director, (712) 644-2105, email@example.com
Jennifer Scharpe, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-1039, firstname.lastname@example.org