Superfruit native to Iowa sprouting in 99 counties

posted on Monday, August 26, 2013

Superfruit: common term to refer to fruits with extraordinary nutritional benefits.

Pomegranates, acai berries, cranberries, and exotic goji berries have gained attention as superfruits. Iowa’s native aronia berry is quietly topping the charts. Commonly known as black chokeberry due to the fruit’s unique ability to make your mouth pucker, the aronia berry contains the highest antioxidant level of any fruit recorded by the USDA. Scientists have discovered several compounds in the berry protect against the development of tumors – from the brain to the bladder. So, where does one go to get a dose of aronia?

Aronia Berry
The elusive aronia berry is gaining ground in Iowa farms.

Like the reclusive morel, aronia berry bushes hide in the undergrowth of Iowa’s wet woods, swamps, and roadside ditches. Aficionados can be found wandering the ditches of Iowa’s back country harvesting the ripened purplish berries for home brewed jellies, syrups, wine and tea.

Two decades ago a small family farm nestled among the gravel roads of the Loes Hills began growing the naturally pest-free superfruit, Sawmill Hollow Family Farm. Today aronia berries can be found sprouting all around the state thanks to a springtime 99-county planting tour sponsored by the Sawmill Hollow Family Farms network making Iowa the first state in the country to have the native North American Aronia berry growing in every county. Each plant used during the tour was propagated off of the original 207 cultivated aronia berry bushes, directly connecting each county with America’s first aronia berry farm.

Aronia Berry planting
Community of young gardeners joins Andrew Pittz for an aronia berry planting in Council Bluffs

“The pace was exhausting, but what kept us going were the folks we met and the stories we heard on the road,” Andrew said. In Mount Pleasant, there was the Harvey McKay Envelope Company. “In Carroll I met with old friends at APQS, a sewing manufacturing company that just a year ago literally helped keep me on the road — fixing my bumper after it fell off on the way to yet another delivery.”

Growing health along with a business, Andrew is quick to give credit to others for the tour’s success, “we knew we had to go on tour, it was our way of saying thank you.”

Tom Harkin tasting
Iowa Senator Harken gets a taste of home-grown aronia berry products

The secrets of Sawmill Hollow are out – the Natural Products Industry named this growing Iowa company among the top 51 companies shaping the natural and organic industry. Sawmill Hollow also received top honors being named Iowa’s Rural Business of the Month by Iowa Farm Bureau.

Where’s your county’s aronia berry bush?

Hear more tales of the 99 County Tour at the annual North American Aronia Berry Festival, September 21-22, 2013 or at Visit the original Sawmill Hollow Farm, stomp some aronia berries, take in the countryside and visit with Loess Hills artisans and craftsmen.

Photos courtesy Midwest Aronia Association and Sawmill Hollow Family Farms