PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
I wanted to explore wild berry opportunities and whether there was a market for the wild fruit.
We have a variety of wild fruits on our acreage, although most of these fruits can also be found in abundance in state parks and in natural surroundings available to the public. These fruits include mulberries, wild raspberries, wild plums, chokecherries, and grapes to name a few.
My family and I attended various garden shows and farm tours and learned about growing methods, plant care, various food product samples and organic opportunities. We then experimented with a variety of recipes to see which products are preferred and why.
I learned that there is a market for wild berries and that people truly enjoy the rich flavor in wild fruits compared to what might be available at the supermarket. The wild fruits grow very well on their own, although I’m also exploring various organic fertilizer options, such as fish emulsion that seems to increase productivity and provide the plants additional growth in less time with greater yields.
BACKGROUND. Before receiving this grant, were you involved in any sustainable agriculture activities? If so, briefly describe them.
No. My family and I are really just getting started in sustainable agriculture and the opportunities that exist.
1. Attend sustainable agriculture tours to explore opportunities for our wild berries that grow naturally on our family acreage.
2. Explore whether or not there is a need or market for the wild berries to the general public as a desirable food product.
3. Test recipes for our fruit such as snacks, jams, and sauces for marketability.
4. Review methods and organic options to assist in increasing the fruit production.
My family and I attended two local garden shows – one in Sioux City, IA and one in Sioux Falls, SD and attended several of the speaker events. The two most interesting ones were on raising raspberries and another on the potential for Aronia berries.
I purchased two books on preserving and canning fruits and also reviewed several internet articles and online recipe sites. I then got to work trying out a variety of recipes, which included the following jams and sauces (raspberry preserves, raspberry jalapeno jam, mulberry jam and chocolate mulberry topping, raspberry chocolate topping, strawberry rhubarb jam, Concord grape jam and sauce, chokecherry and wild plum jelly). I learned a lot about canning and setting using pectin and had some failed attempts along with a lot of successes. My favorites were the raspberry products, especially the chocolate raspberry topping. My least favorite was the mulberry chocolate topping as the taste just didn’t blend well together, but it was a lot of fun to try out all the various recipes.
We visited the Nebraska farm tour of Ken Sailors of SuperBerries.com on 7/30/09 and also the Aronia Berry Festival at the home of Cindy and Vaughn Pittz in Missouri Valley, IA on 9/20/09.
There were several great speakers that talked about the health benefits of berries, how easy they are to grow and I especially enjoyed the speaker that discussed organic opportunities, Farmer Kent. Dr. Eldon Everhart from the University of Iowa Horticulture department was also especially knowledgeable about the berries and the potential of them for their health benefits.
Our family planted an additional 500 Aronia berry plants, 100 Saskatoon berry plants and 15 cherry and peach trees throughout the summer on our acreage and tested out the fish fertilizer discussed during the farm tour. The plants all doubled in size over the summer, but it’s too soon to say if that was due to the fish emulsion fertilizer or just natural growth.
Although there has been a lot of great insight learned during the project by various people, speakers and friends and family, the few that really stick out are the following:
• Vaughn and Cindy Pittz have been especially helpful in instructing us about the Aronia berry and its potential as a sustainable, marketable berry
• Dr. Eldon Everhart from the University of Iowa Horticulture dept. was especially knowledgeable on berry production methods and health benefits
• Farmer Kent, a speaker at the Aronia festival, provided us a lot of insight on organic farming methods.
There is certainly a market for wild berry products. The hottest sellers so far seem to be the raspberry jalapeno jam where customers like it with cream cheese on a cracker and chocolate raspberry topping. I found it interesting that although I preferred some of the products over the others, the chokecherry jam was a hot seller primarily because people remember their grandmother’s making it when they were younger and remembering those tastes and memories.
The results were better than I expected as I made approximately 300 jars of jam and sauces and was able to sell over half of what I made. I would like to continue to attend various farm tours in our area and look into additional opportunities with other berry plants, such as elderberries or currants as well as continuing to explore more recipes and to watch how our plants respond to the various organic fertilizers. It’s been a fun project and I would certainly recommend it to others looking for ways on how to use their wild fruit that grows naturally in our area or on their acreages.
Wild fruits and berries grow in abundance in nature, although they are often ignored and fall to the ground or provide food to birds and animals. They truly are a viable food option, offer a healthy snack and offer marketing opportunities to farmers looking for alternative options and additional income. Wild berries grow with very little assistance although organic opportunities are available as well.
I continue to tell anyone I can about what my family is doing with our wild berries and the health benefits that come with eating from nature and eating organically as much as you can. It is important that we grow as much of our own food as we can or buy locally from other farmers around us. I continue to market the food products that my family and I have made and people continue to make requests for more so word of mouth also seems to be working.
Enclosed are a few photos taken while we attended the Aronia Festival where various speakers were present, food tasting was available, and a chance to meet others interested in sustainable and organic agriculture.
It took a little longer than I had expected to be accepted and receive the funds. I had originally planned on going to the All Iowa Horticulture Expo in April, although grant funds were late so instead I was able to attend other farm tours and field days that were extremely beneficial.