Aronia Berry: A Sustainable Organic Crop

Project Overview

FNC05-561
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2005: $5,990.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Vaughn Pittz
Sawmill Hollow Farm

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Fruits: general small fruits

Practices

  • Crop Production: no-till, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, feasibility study, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement, soil stabilization, wildlife
  • Pest Management: mulches - killed, physical control
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, public participation, employment opportunities

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    Sawmill Hollow Organic Farms is located four miles north of Missouri Valley, Iowa in Harrison County. In April of 2006 we had four acres of established Aronia Berry Plants. We currently have a total of twenty-one acres, 13,000 plus Aronia berry plants. Sawmill Hollow Organic Farms, family-owned agribusiness was founded in 1995. We started with 207 plants and in 2000 we received organic certification status. We have been practicing sustainable farming methods by planting Aronia Berry using organic farm methods from 1995 to date.

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION
    The objective of our project is to research the feasibility of the Aronia berry as a value-added, profitable, alternative crop which can be produced in the North Central Region by the small family farm and to develop the opportunity for small family farms to utilize the Aronia berry as a sustainable organic alternative crop.

    GOALS
    1. Educate family farm growers creating awareness and promoting the value of the Aronia berry as a sustainable and productive income-producing crop.
    2. Develop and train other small farm growers concerning organic farming as a healthy alternative.
    3. Establish a network of small family farm growers through seminars, field days, newsletters and shared information and growing techniques.
    4. Increase Aronia berry production to meet the manufacturing demands for the products that have already met success with the manufacturers.

    WORK ACTIVITIES
    In 2006 and 2007 at Sawmill Hollow Organic Farms, to meet our project goals, we planted an additional 8500 plants. We applied wheat straw mulch to two fields for weed control and moisture retention, we installed water pump irrigation for fields #1, #2 and #3, we developed a business relationship with two nurseries to assist with the propagation of the organic Aronia berry plants using soft wood cuttings from our stock. We continued to research and develop five Aronia berry products: Aronia Jelly, Aronia Cayenne Sauce, Aronia BBQ Sauce, Aronia Syrup and an Aronia Salsa.

    OUTREACH
    Outreach methods we used for telling others about our project included speaking engagements, phone calls, and newspaper press releases.

    Sawmill Hollow Organic Farms presented two Aronia Field Day workshops in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Dr. Eldon Everhart conducted educational seminars highlighting the Aronia berry as a sustainable, value-added crop, and Vaughn gave tours of the Sawmill Hollow organic Aronia plantation fields, demonstrating hands-on planting, growing and harvesting techniques. Free samples of the new Aronia berry products were available for all in attendance.

    Vaughn and Cindy Pittz attended and presented at the 2006 and 2007 National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference in Columbia, Missouri on behalf of SARE. Presenting gave us the opportunity to reach and to educate more small farmers concerning the potential of the Aronia berry as a sustainable crop and to answer, on a one-to-one basis, specific questions that attendees had. Our presentations were well received.

    PEOPLE
    People who assisted with our project: Harlan Hamernik, owner of Bluebird Nursery participated with us on the propagation of the Aronia berry; also Craig Wilson, owner of Mount Arbor Nurseries, propagated for Sawmill Hollow Organic Farms; Dr. Bobbie Smith, owner of La Buena Vida Vineyards, gave technical assistance in the development of Aronia wine. We consulted Mike DeGrandchamp, blueberry farmer, on equipment and plant spacing. Jenny Wieser of Fischer & Wieser, assisted with the development of Aronia berry products. Clint McDonald County Extension Education Director ISU Extension, Harrison County provided local and statewide media including the Harrison County ISU Extension website to disseminate Aronia Field Day information. Dr. Eldon Everhart, Commercial Horticulture Field Specialist, gave presentations to educate the people that attended the field day about the project, SARE, and sustainable agriculture.

    RESULTS
    North Central region new growers include Iowa – 9, Nebraska – 8, South Dakota – 1, Missouri – 5, and Wisconsin – 1. Sawmill Hollow Farms added an additional 8500 plants. Eighty-five people attended our first Aronia field day, and approximately 150 people attended the 2007 Aronia field day. These results exceeded and met all expectations.

    From this grant we learned there is a great deal of interest and opportunity for developing alternative value-added crops which can be produced through organic farming methods and the organic Aronia berries can offer this opportunity. This SARE grant has affected our farm in positive ways. The support has given Sawmill Hollow Organic Farms the incentive to work harder in continuing our goal of developing this industry for regional commercial growers of the organic Aronia berry. We overcame our identified barriers by increasing the number of plantings at Sawmill Hollow Organic Farms and by increasing the number of new commercial growers. It has been advantageous to us to see the success of implementing a project that has been well received for its environmental, economic, and social success.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.