AMENIA, N.D. — The Nelson family was drawn to the aronia berry for its health benefits and is sticking with them, despite not yet finding a consistent market for them.
The Nelsons are corn and soybeans growers, along with some alfalfa and rye, near Amenia, North Dakota.
When Greg Nelson was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, a friend who also is pharmacist, recommended trying aronia berries, which are extremely high in antioxidants.
After feeling some improvement, “He goes, ‘Well, we could grow these ourselves,’” recalls Chase Nelson, who farms with dad Greg, and brother-in-law Adam Kapaun.
So they did.
While 20 acres of aronia berries don’t require a lot of work or investment, there also hasn’t been a lot of return.
But they still have hope that demand will develop.
“Our hope is we’re just ahead of the curve,” Chase said.
In the meantime, the farm is working to promote aronia berries with an annual festival in mid-September, about the time the berries are ready to be harvested in North Dakota.
The free event drew an estimated 4,500 visitors this year, with vendors, music, food trucks and the berries. People are able to watch berries get harvested and be turned into smoothies and see other demonstrations on cooking with the berries.
That’s where the real challenge comes in — aronia berries aren’t very tasty when fresh picked and need to be blended with other foods to make them palatable, such as the smoothies or
Wright, of Hutchinson, Minnesota, said “we’ve all kind of had the same struggles,” but said he was a little ahead of the Nelsons in becoming certified organic, which has helped.
“If you want to get in that health food world, it’s got to say certified organic on it,” Wright said.
“I am kind of surprised they haven’t taken off more,” said Kathy Weiderholt of North Dakota State University Extension, who researches aronias and other berries at NDSU’s Carrington research site.
“I don’t understand why it’s so hard to get this new berry going because there’s a lot of people, but mostly grassroots, you know, that are very, very interested,” she said. “There was a lot of press about it like the last five years ago or so. But I don’t know if I see that much about it anymore.”
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