For taste treats from smoothies to jelly to a full-bodied wine, a Mt. Morris couple is growing the right ingredient — with health benefits.
Jeff and Julie Warren are raising aronia berries organically at their 20-acre BerryView Orchard, 7504 W. Midtown Rd., northwest of Mt. Morris.
The Warrens will open their recently established orchard to visitors for a field day on Saturday, June 21 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Jeff said the purpose of the field day is to attract customers to the operation and to interest other people in the area to become aronia growers.
The event will feature field tours and information, as well as samples of aronia products.
Small green berries are already abundant on the 1,600 aronia bushes the Warrens have planted over three years, starting in 2010.
Jeff said they started planting them in the fall of 2010, planted more the following fall, and the last batch in the spring of 2012.
The round berries are similar in size to blueberries and ripen to an almost black purple by early to mid-September.
“I like the health aspect,” Jeff said.
The fruit is noted for being high in anti-oxidants and provides various health benefits.
So far the Warrens have used the berries to make wine, jellies, and various baked goods.
One woman came to pick them to add to smoothies because of the rich purple color, as well as the flavor.
A wholesale buyer comes from western Iowa for berries to use in the various products he makes and sells.
Because the berries have an astringent taste, but are high in natural sugar, Jeff said they are especially good when mixed with other fruit, especially apples and pears.
The Warrens also have more than 500 fruit trees in their orchard. The trees are mostly apple, but they also have pears, cherries, and apricots. None are yet mature enough to produce fruit.
Jeff became interested in raising aronia berries after his niece and her husband planted them.
“I got to looking at it and it intrigued me,” he said. “And ever since I was a kid I’ve wanted to grow apples.”
The now three-foot aronia bushes will eventually grow to about 10 feet tall, Jeff said, similar in size to a lilac.
Jeff said they hope to expand their customer base and eventually offer pick your own products.
“I think it has the potential to be successful,” Julie said.
What is Aronia?
According to information from the Midwest Aronia Association, aronia, also known as black chokeberry (not to be confused with choke cherry), is a deciduous shrub native to North America.
Harvested in late summer, the dark purple berries are juicy with an astringent flavor.
The berries can be eaten fresh, on salads, or blended into smoothies.
Frozen aronia berries, or juice pressed from them, can be substituted for other fruits in baked goods, jellies, yogurt, sorbet, or juice blends.
Other uses include tea, syrup, salsa, spreads, and as natural food coloring.
The berries are high in anti-oxidants and offer many health benefits.