Plant Cutting and Polyphenals
That said, when you have a berry that no one has ever heard of in a market that has yet to be established, selling to the highest bidder wasn’t exactly an option. Instead, we returned to our original purpose of finding a complementary crop small family farms could grow.
Becoming the first aronia berry farm in the United States was the easy part. All that takes is the right timing, luck, and a little courage (In Iowa, we just call that Templeton Rye). But growing the aronia berry was a little like the flea that catches the elephant: Now that you’ve got it, what are you going to do with it?
Traditionally, a farmer’s best bet is to try to sell his crop wholesale. That way, a company with more experience in production and retail takes on the task of marketing the fruit or the final product and the farmer is at least guaranteed to make up what he spent in the first place – not always a guarantee in our profession. As we were told time and time again: Farmers can’t be marketers. We just don’t know how.
Growing the aronia berry was a little like the flea that catches the elephant: Now that you’ve got it, what are you going to do with it?
Creating products before we barely had enough berries to make jam for the farmers’ market may have been putting the cart before horse, but it was the only way we could convince farmers to grow the fruit. Since then, we have helped hundreds of farmers get started from Oregon to Kentucky and everywhere in between.
Convincing farmers that there was a future in a berry that barely had a present wasn’t easy though, and we didn’t have sales brokers or branding consultants to help (we still don’t). What we had, however, was over 100 years of farming experience and a chef-by-trade in the form of my dad, Vaughn.
Having spent his entire life around food, if there was one person we could count on to make the aronia berry not just edible, but enjoyable, it was Vaughn. The tart dark-pigmented berry was a “tweener” – not nearly as sour as a pomegranate or a cranberry, but still not as sweet as a blueberry, and it would take a few delicious mistakes (as well as a few not-so-delicious ones) before he settled on the first Sawmill Hollow recipe: An Aronia-Cayenne Sauce fit for any Iowa BBQ.
The aronia berry was found to be the highest antioxidant fruit
ever tested, tripling Brazil’s acai berry.
That is, if we could find a way to do what had never been done before – grow the industry from the ground up, without multi-million dollar marketers and Big Food importers undercutting family farmers.
After the first ORAC-Antioxidant charts came out, our farming neighbors needed less persuading. First in 2005, and subsequently in 2007 and 2010, the aronia berry was found to be the highest antioxidant fruit ever tested, tripling Brazil’s acai berry. The LA Times even called aronia wine the “healthiest in the world”, although they didn’t know it was available in the United States – when was the last time western California paid attention to western Iowa anyhow?
This discovery was made at the same time the national conversation surrounding nutritionally dense foods began to take shape. So, while doctors were recommending tart cherries for anthocyanins or red wine for resveratrol, we were finding out that aronia berries contained higher
concentrations of both.
Suddenly, between farmer interest on one side and the health benefits on the other, we were not simply a curious family farm growing a strange-sounding berry, but represented the birth of a new American industry.