A type of berry most Americans have never heard of is being grown in abundance on a western Iowa farm. It’s a berry which could usurp the blueberry for its reputation for health benefits. Vaughn Pittz has 15 acres of his Harrison County farm devoted to aronia berries, which he says are three-times healthier than blueberries. Pittz says they’re popular in Russia and Poland but never caught on in the U.S. as they’re not very sweet.
"I put it in between a cranberry and a blueberry as far as the taste, the tartness," Pittz says. "A blueberry’s sweet and you can’t really eat a raw cranberry. Aronia berries — you can eat them raw but they’re not a real sweet berry." He says aronia berries are also known as black chokeberries, but aren’t to be confused with choke cherries. The berries, Pittz says, are high in vitamins and antioxidants and are being viewed as an avenue to help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
"The blueberries took off with their health benefits, then more people started doing more research on other dark berries and so we have sent a lot of our berries to the USDA for testing and to different universities for research and they’re finding out just how powerful this berry is," Pittz says. According to Pittz, aronia berries are very versatile and are good in jams, jellies, juice, wine — and even in barbeque sauce. In addition to being durable as commercial production plants, Pittz says aronia berry bushes are good as ornamentals or for windbreaks and are well-adapted to the Iowa climate.
"They are easy to grow and they’re disease-resistant, maintenance-free and after the first couple of years when they get established, all you really need to do is mow around the plants, keep the weeds out of them and they pretty much take care of themselves," he says. Pittz has been growing aronia berries on his farm near Missouri Valley for a dozen years. He says his Sawmill Hollow Farm is Iowa’s only plantation for aronia berries and is likely the largest in the U.S. For more information, visit www.aronianation.com .