One berry bush at a time, Andrew Pittz, is spreading the word on aronia berries. The sixth-generation Iowa farmer is in the midst of a 99-county Iowa tour promoting a new crop - aronia berries, their health benefits and their economic potential.
He stopped early last Thursday, June 13, to plant an aronia berry bush at the Toledo Public Library - the 50th stop on a month-long promotional tour. He said the bush, if left unpruned, will grow to seven feet tall in 15-20 years.
Pittz is a member of the Sawmill Hollow Family Farm located north of Missouri Valley near Modale and Mondamin in Harrison County in far western Iowa.
Likened to Johnny Appleseed, Andrew Pittz plants an aronia berry bush at the Toledo Public Library on Thursday, June13. Pittz was in the middle of a state-wide tour promoting both the healthful and economic benefits of the berries.
There they reintroduced the aronia bush to commercial farming in 1995 obtaining 207 plants from a nursery in the northwestern sector of the United States.
Since then the aronia berry operation on the farm has grown to include 23 acres this year. The operation supplies berries to Hy-Vee's 235 groceries and are partnered with the La Vida Loca Winery at Indianola in the making of a wine called Aronia Sweet, Pittz said.
In addition, Pittz says their efforts have resulted in 200 farmers adding the aronia berries to their crop production.
The berries can be eaten with cereal, for example, and consumed in much the same manner as blueberries, Pittz said.
According to a Sawmill Hollow news release, "The aronia berry, native to North America, is a dark pigmented fruit that contains the highest antioxidant content of any food in the world, tripling the content of a blueberry and doubling the imported Brazilian acai berry (Source USDA)."
Pittz said this information has made it's way to Governor Terry Branstad who declared September Aronia Berry Month in Iowa and has tied the berry production and consumption to the Iowa Healthiest State initiative.
Pittz also wants to grow the number of producers of aronia berries. He said the first Field Day at Sawmill hollow drew 35 farmers. The September 21 and 22 event this year, the North American Aronia Berry Festival, will draw thousands, Pittz said. Farmers might have a patch of land near their corn or soybeans they might want ot plant aronia bushes, he said.
Not only does Pittz tout aronia berry farming, he envisions other grassroots businesses spinning off from its production.
Admitting, "I'm really good at picking berries," Pittz said this year a company identified as BFI has both a combine-type and pull-behind harvest equipment ready.
He says the "sharing" of ideas is an Iowa tradition - "a shared exchange" which benefits everyone in the state.
Sawmill Hollow Family Farm was named last year as a top 51 company "shaping the natural and organic industry - the only family farm or rural business to make the list" according to its news release.
Pittz wraps up his 99-county tour at the Indianola Winery on June 28, a double reason for celebration - it's also his 28th birthday.