One-Of-A-Kind Berry Farm Ignites An Industry
Andrew Pitz is a sixth generation Iowa farmer whose family operation has gained business notoriety and financial success by growing aronia berries, better known as black chokecherries. “Years ago my father saw that aronia berries had the potential to become an ingredient in many consumer products so he decided to grow them on our farm,” says Andrew. “We found some plants, nurtured them along, and within a few years we were producing a fair amount of fruit.”
  The Pitz family found that growing the berries was only part of their job. They also needed to find a market. Over the years their berries have become ingredients in everything from chili starter to salsa to health supplements. In addition to selling to distributors and food processors, Pitz and his family sell private label products on their Sawmill Hollow website. Organic Aronia Berries, Berry Concentrate, Berry Powder, Jelly, Syrup and several health supplements can be ordered online.
  Pitz says that one of their keys to success has been helping others succeed in the same business. “We’re not an island out here, even though we’re the only farm in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to aronia production,” Andrew says. “I learned early on that to succeed we had to generate interest so more people would grow the product just like we were.”
  Their farm created fun and interesting educational events for students, the general public and potential customers. In 2008 they hosted a North American Aronia Berry Festival, which quickly grew into an annual event. In 2013 it drew more than 3,500 people to the Sawmill Hollow farm the 3rd weekend in September. The event included family friendly activities for children and adults, along with complimentary tastings and even recipe contests. Discussion forums provided advice on growing aronia berries and dietitians presented information on using aronia in healthy food selections.
  “Seeing this operation grow from a single farm into an industry has been especially rewarding,” says Pitz. His family joined with several other growers in 2008 to start the Midwest Aronia Association, a group that now includes several hundred members in 14 states. Members have more than 200,000 plants under cultivation.
  Aronia fruit is produced on a bushy plant that has fragrant blossoms in the spring, bright green leaves in the summer, and dark purple fruit in the fall. The plants are naturally understory and woodland edge species that grow well in forested areas. They’re resistant to drought, insects and disease. Although the fruit alone has an astringent flavor, it can be made into juice, baked into breads and used in salsas and chilis. Aronia is an excellent anti-oxidant with many health benefits.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Andrew Pitz, Sawmill Hollow Valley Farm, 2159 Kennedy Ave., Missouri Valley, Iowa 51555 (ph 712 648-2432;

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2014 - Volume #38, Issue #3