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Interview about Aronia Berries with Charlie Caldwell of Black Squirrel Vineyard & Winery in Iowa

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Aronia berry cross sectionThank you to Charlie Caldwell of Black Squirrel Vineyard & Winery for letting us interview him

How did you become interested in growing aronia berries?

Over 20 years ago, my wife Jolene, started her alternative natural health and energetic wellness business. With herbs and farm-grown foods our family had little health issues, we were looking to add a alternative, sustainable crop that would have a high medicinal benefit. The little research at the time (2005) pointed to a native North American shrub called aronia melanocarpa or aronia berries. Plus aronia do not need chemical protection against pathogens, pests, and diseases which makes it an ecological type fruit. Starting with an acre of this nutritional dense food source, we have since added another 6 acres.

aronia berriesCan any one grow aronia berries in a green house? Or are there certain temperatures that they need to grow?

A North American, native plant, aronia berries do well in most climates and soil types. It is somewhat drought resistant and does benefit from some cool weather which helps it go through a dormant cycle. There are growers from Oregon to the East coast, North in Canada and South to Mississippi.

Green house growing is generally done for propagation of new plants. Generally, one year old plants are then transplanted outside to a permanent planting site.  Partial shade to full sunlight locations is preferred with room to expand. Plants send up sucker canes ( 20 to 30 plus) and a mature plant will grow to 8 feet by 8 feet if not pruned. Full production starts the 4 th year with 5lbs to 10lbs and as high as 20lbs plus on mature plants. The varieties of “Viking” and “McKenize” are the most common commercial plantings that produce larger deep purple berries.

aronia berry  bushHow do you eat aronia berries?

Being very astringent tasting, aronia berries can be eaten fresh, or processed. Nothing is thrown away with this berry. If juiced, it can be blended with other berry juices and the left over pulp can be used in foods or dried into a usable powder. Wine makers are finding that aronia berries  make a very earthy, deeply purple colored wine that can also be used as a blending ingredient.

How do you sell your aronia berries?

Generally, aronia berries are sold by the pound. We feel that any processing (heating) of the berry lowers the antioxidant nutritional values.  Buying fresh berries helps support the local grower and you get to know where you food is coming if you are at a “Pick Your Own” farm. Many on line growers are making available fresh frozen berries.

bucket of berriesWhat does it mean to have certified organic aronia berries?

Certified organic aronia berries mean that there is a 3rd party inspection of my operations. We can not use any synthetic products that are not approved the National Organic ProgramOrganic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods. These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.

What process do you have to go through to become certified?

The rules are clearly laid out in the NOP (National Organic Practices) but the land has no synthetic chemicals, etc for 3 years before planting. Then each year after,  our certifying agency approves any amendments that can be used. A detailed Standard Operating Procedure is written and followed by us each year that shows any and all operations that we do plus we follow GAP (Good Agriculture Procedures). Residue testing is being used to test for any contamination for prohibited substances. mature fall colors aronia berryTraceability is provided of our berries while on the farm from first growth of plant to after harvest. This is done every year. Anyone can look at these records when they come to the farm or purchase berries from us.

Why does organic matter?

Organic is an ethical and moral obligation by a grower to grow a nutritional dense food that has not be treated with synthetic, irradiation or genetic engineered materials. “It matters to us because we not only want to provide food for our family, but for our community, our country, and our world. It is also to be respective of this Earth and provide the least possible contamination of the water, soil and air.” (quote from President Obama)

What medical value benefits have people told you they get from eating aronia berries?

aronia berry blossomIt is very hard to conduct studies on humans because of individual diets and life styles but there are many testimonials about lowering cholesterol, reducing diabetic dependency on insulin (natural sugars in aronia berries),  neurodegenerative disease and many more. I personally know of  several individuals with cardiovascular disease and others with cancer that they would not be around today if not for taking aronia berry or its extract. Recovery was easier and quicker when they had been on aronia berries prior to surgery or other forms of treatments that were later followed.
Aronia (chokeberries) are gaining recognition as nature’s antioxidant powerhouse among other fruits and berries with the highest content of anthocyanins and total polyphenols.

Healthy food seems like a no-brainer until you start reading package levels and begin to investigate our own nutritional needs and preferences. Twenty-five centuries ago Hippocrates said, “Let our food be our medicine, and your medicine be your food.” Aronia berries meet this quote 100%.

Charlie Caldwell
caldhome [at]
Certified Organic grower

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randie ross

Sunday 16th of March 2014

I have 475 Viking Aronia bushes coming 4 years old. Looking for a market/buyer and any other info that can help me get on my feet. Hopefully my work schedule will lighten up so I can pursue my my berries. I also have about 500 more that are only a year old. I would love to go an personally visit with some small growers just starting out! Any info would be greatly appreciated! Thanks Randie