As more farmers enter the market and consumer awareness grows, profits will go down as supply meets demand.
“But I would guess that won’t happen for five to 10 years or longer,” he says. “Right now is a great time to plant the crop.”
There are today an estimated 100 Iowa farms that each grow more than 50 aronia berry bushes, according to Patrick O’Malley, a commercial horticulture field specialist with Iowa State University Extension in Iowa City.
That number is up more than 50 percent from a 2009 estimate. O’Malley credits Sawmill Hollow for much of the surge in popularity. “They’ve really helped pique interest.”
Since they started their operation, the Pittz family has met with countless farmers to discuss the aronia. Their annual two-day North American Aronia Festival in the fall draws about 1,400 people, including current and potential producers looking at the aronia as a crop.
Andrew calls it “open-source farming,” with tips and ideas exchanged on an almost daily basis. “We’re hoping the aronia berry will add to rural development,” says Vaughn, “bringing a cash crop to communities.”
Andrew is the face of Sawmill Hollow, traveling in his diesel Volkswagen hatchback throughout Iowa and beyond, selling the aronia and its products at farmers’ markets; in health food stores, grocery cooperatives, and supermarkets; and directly to consumers.
Aronia is a flexible option for producers, he touts. Prospective aronia farmers — beginners pursuing an orchard-style crop, a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm looking to add a few acres for a bulk cash crop, or a corn and soybean operation adding aronias to diversify — can get started with as little as one acre.
The Taste of Tomorrow
Lifelong corn and soybean farmer Kent Friedrichsen of Perry has spent 10 years downsizing his operation and transitioning his crops. He now grows soybeans for soy meal that becomes soymilk. He’s planning to add hazelnuts to his farm.
Friedrichsen met the Pittzes in the spring of 2008 and listened to the gospel of aronia. “I wanted a crop that would go toward health,” he says of his attraction to the antioxidant-rich fruit.
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