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The aronia plant, known botanically as Aronia melanocarpa and more commonly as black chokeberry, produces a fruit rich in antioxidants and hailed as a superfood.

The aronia berry bests the elderberry, cranberry, blueberry, blackberry, and countless other fruit in oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC), a measure of antioxidant strength, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The majority of aronia berry farms in Iowa and beyond are organic, says Andrew, because the crop grows easily without inorganic fertilizers such as nitrogen and without pesticides and herbicides. A bonus: Deer don’t like the taste of the berries.

Eaten raw, the dark purple berry is tart and dry with a somewhat rough texture — not entirely unpalatable, but the aronia lacks the widespread appeal of, say, blueberries or blackberries as a snack.

Sawmill Hollow injects the power of the berries into a wide variety of products. Wine, salsa, jelly, vinaigrette, tea. Aronia syrup, aronia barbecue sauce, aronia cayenne sauce. The fruit is transformed into extract, supplement capsules, smoothie powders, even facial cream. A new chili starter was introduced last fall.

“You can’t really project what the aronia berry market is,” says Andrew about a rising demand that’s fueling more aronia products, “because it’s growing so quickly.”

Eldon Everhart, a former Iowa State University Extension horticulturalist who now runs Everhart Horticulture Consulting, says the aronia market is booming, with net return for growers as high as $12,000 an acre.

“That’s a phenomenally high price right now. Like gold,” he says with a laugh. That high a profit depends on good yields and high-quality growing practices, he stresses, but is definitely attainable. “The time is ripe for aronia berries.”

Corn and soybean prices in 2011 reached $500 per acre in some areas of Iowa and the country, again with the caveat of high yields and best practices, according to Don Roose, president and broker of U.S. Commodities in West Des Moines. Roose says some of the biggest profits in the history of corn growing were made last year.

Everhart says it’s possible to farm aronias on a scale similar to corn and beans. However, the fruit is new to North America and relatively unknown.
 

(Read more about Pioneering the Purple)

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